Saturday, February 21, 2009

In refusing the mimetic interpretation...we minimize the Christian significance

René Girard I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

Those who look for the causes of Peter's threefold denial only in the "temperament" of the apostle or in his "psychology" are on the wrong track, in my opinion. They do not see anything in the episode that goes beyond Peter as an individual. They believe, therefore, that they can make a "portrait" of the apostle. They attribute to him a "temperament particularly impressionable and impulsive," or owing to other formulas of the same kind, they destroy the typical character of the event and minimize its Christian significance. The main thing, I repeat, cannot be the psychology of the individual named Peter. In succumbing to the violent contagion that does not spare any of the witnesses of the Passion, Peter is not distinguished from any of the other disciples in a psychological sense.

Resorting to a psychological explanation is less innocent than it appears. In refusing the mimetic interpretation, in looking for the failure of Peter in purely individual causes, we attempt to demonstrate, unconsciously of course, that in Peter's place we would have responded differently; we would not have denied Jesus. Jesus reproaches the Pharisees for an older version of the same ploy when he sees them build tombs for the prophets that their fathers killed. The spectacular demonstrations of piety toward the victims of our predecessors frequently conceal a wish to justify ourselves at their expense: "If we had lived in the time of our fathers," the Pharisees say, "we would not have joined them in spelling blood of the prophets."

The children repeat the crimes of their fathers precisely because they believe they are morally superior to them. This false difference is already the mimetic illusion of modern individualism, which represents the greatest resistance to the mimetic truth that is reenacted again and again in human relations. The paradox is that the resistance itself brings about the reenactment.

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