Ben Barber is an Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature Studies at United International College: Hong Kong Baptist University – Beijing Normal University. He teaches courses on literary theory, world literature, composition, and rhetoric. His previous publications in Anthropoetics have addressed nineteenth-century British poetry, early modern drama, and the work of Hunter S. Thompson.
Abstract: This paper will explore how interdividual desire in the sacred and aesthetic experience is the basis for the contemporary posthumanist valorization of theories of immanence over and against theories of transcendence. Both René Girard (in his study of social undifferentiation in religious rites) and Generative Anthropology (in its account of the appearance of language) locate the most powerful experiences of interdividuality—as ambivalently both immanent and transcendent—in sacred awe, wherein a mimetically desired centre alternately attracts and repels a periphery of desiring subjects. Deploying both Girard’s anthropology and Eric Gans’s theory of cultural origin, I will suggest that the current posthumanist penchant for theories of language’s immanent embeddedness arises from Nietzsche’s and Bataille’s visions of totality insofar as posthumanism is informed by Derridian deconstruction. Ultimately, I will explore how the primordial self’s encounter with the face of the other—as described by Emmanuel Levinas in Totality and Infinity —brings about the transcendent experience of the infinite via interdividual desire. By setting Nietzsche’s, Bataille’s, and Levinas’s respective theories of immanence and transcendence alongside each other, I will illustrate how the mimetically engendered conception of immanence competes with mimetically generated theories of transcendence. I hope that, by placing these theories in mutual conversation through the medium of Girard’s mimetic theory and GA’s originary thinking, the tension between theories of transcendence and immanence—a tension which signals a kind of ideological mimetic doubling—may be deconstructed.
Keywords: interdividual desire, sacred, René Girard, generative anthropology, immanence, transcendence, Bataille, Levinas
Adam Katz is the editor of The Originary Hypothesis: A Minimal Proposal for Humanistic Inquiry, a collection of essays on Generative Anthropology, and of new editions of Eric Gans’s Science and Faith and The Origin of Language. He publishes regularly in Anthropoetics, and posts often on the GABlog. He teaches writing at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
Abstract: This review brings out the relevance of Chris Bond’s Nemesis for GA. Bond draws upon Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power to develop a model showing how power relations in which the central power (first king, then state) generated modern liberalism, with its abstract, rights-bearing individual. Beyond pointing out the corrosive implications of Nemesis for almost all mainstream accounts of liberalism (which present it as a gradual process of emancipation, rather than centralization and control), the review contends that the book calls on us to open up the discussion of the meaning of the “center” in GA. Eric Gans has argued for an understanding of modern “market society” as an “omnicentric” social order, with “omnicentrism” bearing both empirical and normative valences. That is, the more mature the social order, the more distributed the centers generated within it. This review draws upon Bond’s argument to counter this claim by asserting that what appears to be a distribution of equalized centers is in fact a strengthening of the social center, or central authority, which has been constitutive of every social order since the Big Man, as discussed in Gans’s The End of Culture, first “usurped” the ritual center. One implication would be that ethical and moral discourse needs to be directed away from generated new centers implicitly subversive of the authoritative one and toward the question of how our relations with the social center are to be ordered.
Keywords: center, power, high-low vs. middle, liberalism, individual
Andrew J. McKenna, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins, is professor of French at Loyola University Chicago and a member of the Anthropoetics editorial board. He is the author of Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction (U of Illinois P, 1992), as well as of numerous articles on Molière, Pascal, Racine, Montesquieu, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Fellini, and critical theory. From 1996 through 2006, he was editor in chief of Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture. He is a board member of Raven Foundation and of Imitatio, foundations devoted to research and education in mimetic anthropology.
Abstract: Richard van Oort’s Shakespeare’s Big Men: Tragedy and the Problem of Resentment affords a productive encounter between Girard’s mimetic theory and Gans’s generative anthropology. GA’s structural model of social organization as center/periphery serves as interpretive template for Shakespeare’s play. The king’s abdication of the royal center precipitates a lethal mimetic vortex all along the periphery in this apocalyptic tragedy. By rigorous contrast with Hamlet, it is the king’s resentment that unleashes “a theater of envy,” where madness figures centrally, literally, in letterly way, as cultural meltdown.
Keywords: van Oort, Shakespeare, King Lear, René Girard, tragedy
Richard van Oort is Professor of English at the University of Victoria. In 2014 he organized the GA conference in Victoria and in 2018 was elected to the office of President of the Generative Anthropology Society and Conference. He has published over 20 articles and is the author of two books, The End of Literature: Essays in Anthropological Aesthetics (Davies Group, 2009) and Shakespeare’s Big Men: Tragedy and the Problem of Resentment (University of Toronto Press, 2016). Links to his articles can be found here.
Abstract: Shakespeare’s tragedies tell the story of the hero’s failure to remain constant to love. Brutus ignores Portia’s pleas, Hamlet rejects Ophelia, Othello accuses Desdemona, Lear disowns Cordelia, Macbeth murders his king, and Coriolanus would burn all of Rome. Shakespeare leaves us in no doubt about the consequences of the hero’s decision. He might have been saved, but in the end he fails both himself and those closest to him. Yet it might not have ended this way. The pattern need not have been one of doom to dusty death. Shakespeare wrote life-giving as well as death-dealing plays. The comedies depict a similar struggle with the forces of negativity. Here, too, the protagonist is tested and found wanting. It is clear the story might take the same path as tragedy. But there is a crucial difference. The heroine does not die. She may die a symbolic death, which is Shakespeare’s way of indicating the fragility of the hero’s allegiance to love. The forces of negativity are strong and the threat to the protagonist’s soul constant. But in the end love prevails and resentment is overcome. This fundamental conflict between love and resentment may, I think, be found in all the plays. In this paper, I demonstrate how Shakespeare elaborates the conflict in a single comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
Keywords: Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s heroines, love in Shakespeare, resentment in Shakespeare
Matthew Taylor is Professor of English at Kinjo Gakuin University in Nagoya, Japan. He teaches courses in English as a Foreign Language (EFL), academic writing, teacher training, and culture. He has written on EFL pedagogy, literature, film, social issues, mimetic theory, and generative anthropology. He has co-authored EFL textbooks with National Geographic Learning and Macmillan LanguageHouse. His articles for Anthropoetics have explored social phenomena in Japan, socioeconomic issues, and mimetic elements in Jane Austen’s novels.
Abstract: Mimesis dictates that beauty must be neither objective nor subjective (in the eye of the beholder) but intersubjective: beholding the eye of the beholder. Such dynamics play out constantly in Jane Austen’s novels, and more than superficially; they often propel the plot and determine the fate of principle characters. Yet Austen, focused upon romantic attraction and the marriage market, is too much a realist to ignore the “objective” aspects of beauty. She works with an interplay between objective, subjective and intersubjective aspects of beauty.
With Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park), Austen’s treatment is wryly satirical; Henry is a relatively plain man who quickly becomes the most attractive man anywhere he goes. He is a classic Girardian “pseudo-narcissist.” However, Rebecca Adams has argued that René Girard’s “pseudo-narcissism” can be reconfigured to model something positive, something that confers agency and affirmation. Anne Elliot (Persuasion) and Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) exemplify Adams’ model. They demonstrate the affirming power of mimetic desire, most obviously (but not only) manifested in physical beauty. Anne and Fanny “become beautiful” before our eyes but are in no way trying to achieve this effect. In certain scenes, aware of being admired, they glow reciprocally. This is much more than a “Cinderella factor” to captivate readers (though it certainly is that); it is an outward sign of a positive intersubjective transformation. Austen’s treatment of these mimetic effects makes Adams’ insights concrete and suggests a fresh approach for exploring “positive mimesis,” a longstanding and controversial puzzle in mimetic theory.
Keywords: Jane Austen, René Girard, mimetic theory, intersubjective,“pseudo-narcissism,” Rebecca Adams, positive mimesis