Entitled Opinions: "René Girard on Mimetic Desire"

Girard, René. Interview by Robert Harrison. "René Girard on Mimetic Desire." Podcast. Entitled OpinionsStanford University. 17 Sep. 2005. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. <http://french-italian.stanford.edu/opinions/girard.html>

This hour-long conversation between literary theorist René Girard and Robert Harrison, professor of literature at Stanford University, provides an overview of Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, using a variety of examples from literature, especially Shakespeare and Cervantes.  Rhetoricians should consider that desire is at the heart motivation, so understanding mimetic desire may be helpful for understanding persuasion.

Girard says that desire is mediated, that we do not want objects directly, but we want them because of a third-party: “mimetic desire is fundamentally a desire in which this choice of the object the individual is going to desire is not determined by that object itself as we normally believe but by a third person” (n. pag).

Girard argues that mimetic desire is everywhere, including in human behavior, literature, ideology, and especially conflict, which arises when individuals or groups want the same thing (n. pag). Elaborating on how mimetic desire creates conflict, Girard explains the power of envy: “In a way, envy is a denial of one’s own being, and accepting the fact that you prefer the being of your rival. And this is so hateful to you that it awakens a desire for murder, for murder of that other you envy, and you cannot repress that envy” (n. pag).

Girard states that understanding this can help us “pull back from mimetic situations” as they can lead to continual violence (n. pag). He states: “My vision fundamentally is religious, you know, and I believe in nonviolence. And I believe in the knowledge of violence being able to teach you to reject violence, because it will assure you that we are always getting into a game which is exactly like the previous ones, which is going to be a constant repetition” (n. pag).

RhetoricKatie Ancheta