In my previous column, I said that resentment, because it is less originary than love, can be articulated more sharply. Jenny’s song, from which I quoted a line, ends with the heroine sailing off in the ship that has left her the sole survivor of the city that humiliated her–a fantasy nearly identical to one expressed by Achilles to Patroclus in the Iliad. Nothing in the domain of love can bear comparison with the concreteness of resentment. But the dream of destruction, even in its intellectual prolongation as deconstruction, not merely presupposes a prior construction, but tacitly anticipates that it will survive the dream. Not even the Nazis could make Jenny’s fantasy altogether a reality.
Odi et amo, I hate and (yet) I love, as Catullus said (though I misattributed the quote to Ovid in Originary Thinking). All hate is frustrated love. Resentment follows the model of the child who wishes his parents dead precisely because the wish cannot lead to the reality. Hamlet’s fascination with the scene of his mother’s adultery, Alceste with that of Célimène’s salon in Le misanthrope are instances of that “early modern” form of resentment in which the defenders of the traditional order find themselves caught up in the desires acted out by its demolishers.
The same is true at the origin. In a recent exchange, James Williams of Syracuse University (Executive Secretary of the COV&R) pointed out that Girard’s position is really consonant with mine, because the point of departure for both is mimesis, and mimesis at bottom is love. I can’t quarrel with that: originary resentment depends on originary love. The problem is that when one bases one’s anthropology on the self-exhaustion of mimetic rivalry rather than on its deferral, one presupposes that this self-exhaustion is bound to take place. Girard never explains why the emissary murder puts an end to violence. If scapegoating does not occur among animals, why does it occur in humans? The only Girardian precondition of the human is a greater degree of mimesis. But although this precondition explains mimetic concentration of desire on a single desire-object, it fails to explain why this concentration first manifests itself as the concentration of aggression on a single scapegoat. The scapegoat phenomenon provides a persuasive model for sacrifice; but what must be explained in the Girardian system is not the origin of sacrifice, but the origin of the human in sacrifice.
Or to put it in terms of love and resentment: the love for the central victim that reveals it as sacred must precede the resentment aroused by its centrality. But then why did it become a victim, which is to say, a communal focus of resentment, in the first place?
Love cannot express itself with the concreteness of resentment; but precisely for this reason, its expression is a model of the community-creating function of language. The formula “I love you” offers insights into originary language. More about this next week.