Saturday, March 5, 2011


A literal translation of this book's French title, Mensonge romantique et verite romanesque (Romantic Lie and Novelistic Truth), would've been preferable to the melodramatic Deceit, Desire..., but whatever you call it, it's a disappointing work. It's sad when a book that begins as promisingly as this one crashes so quickly into reiteration and repetition. And reiteration. And repetition. And more repetition... The first chapter is amazingly good, the kind of criticism that forces us to go back and reconsider everything we've ever read in light of Girard's new paradigm of 'triangular' (or 'mimetic,' or 'imitative') desire. But from then on--and for the remainder of Girard's career to his present extreme old age--engaged criticism devolves into paradigmatic application. Girard has spent his entire career seeing mimetic desire everywhere--and probably never once imagining that its ubiquity is a product of projection. If the fox knows many things and the hedgehog knows one big thing, Girard is a hedgehog extraordinare, the intellectual as monomaniac, a dreary Johnny-one-note. (Among contemporary intellectuals, true foxes are rarer than polar bears in Trinidad. Camille Paglia thinks she's a fox, but she's an inverted Socrates who knows less than she thinks she knows. Edward Said could probably be considered a fox. Jean-Paul Sartre was a fox. Beauvoir? Well, The Second Sex was a foxy book. But I can't think of anyone above ground who still fits the bill--an indication of the extreme overspecialization that's crippling the contemporary mind. Noam Chomsky's almost a fox, but his vast knowledge of language, politics, philosophy, history, etc. is not matched by an equal appreciation of music, literature, or the other arts; Edward Said had a breadth of mind Noam does not possess.)

Since this work--and Girard's entire career--can be described in terms of projection and obsession, it's surely notable that in this book about desire and its vicissitudes, the name Sigmund Freud appears only once and is relegated to a footnote. Freud, who recognized mimetic desire half a century before Girard and called it the Oedipus complex and whose life's work was a tracing of the devious deviations of desire, is this book's unacknowledgeable precursor, the Bloomian 'strong father' from whom Girard must swerve into the protective enclave of Structuralist scientism. In the book's own terms, Freud is the secret mediator of Structuralist desire. Freud, as much as Saussure, is the thinker Structuralists imitate while thinking themselves original (in their arguments against originality). Psychoanalysis is the intellectual unconscious of this text, and perhaps of Structuralism generally. Hence, Girard's imprisonment of the Freudian contribution inside the blocky text of a footnote. And so it becomes apparent that Deceit, Desire and the Novel unintentionally exemplifies the very process it describes: Girard's swerve away from Freud is a mark of the deceit in this book's/author's desire to interpret the novel.

1 comment:

welker said...

I've only just discovered this very interesting blog, which certainly gives us plenty to chew on (and some to spit out, reflectively), which is why this comment is so late.
To be fair to Girard, you should take his Violence and the Sacred into account, where he confronts Freud openly. I do not think that to see mimetic rivalry everywhere is the result of a projection. Just read the Bible or the Republican Party handbook.
You are right, though, he doth insist...
I fail to understand your great enthusiasm for Sartre - he is a sort of péché de jeunesse for me.