René Girard and Mimetic Desire

From a new series on critical theory by Andrew Gallix
M. C. Escher

In the second of a series of Guardian articles on literature and critical theory, Andrew Gallix outlines René Girard's notion of mimetic desire:
Discovering Deceit, Desire and the Novel is like putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before. Girard's premise is the Romantic myth of "divine autonomy", according to which our desires are freely chosen expressions of our individuality. Don Quixote, for instance, aspires to a chivalric lifestyle. Nothing seems more straightforward but, besides the subject (Don Quixote) and object (chivalry), Girard highlights the vital presence of a model he calls the mediator (Amadis de Gaule in this instance). Don Quixote wants to lead the life of a knight errant because he has read the romances of Amadis de Gaule: far from being spontaneous, his desire stems from, and is mediated through, a third party. Metaphysical desire – as opposed to simple needs or appetites – is triangular, not linear. [Read the article]

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