A passage worth quoting from René Girard’s Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World

I recently finished this extraordinary book and whole-heartedly recommend it to everybody who can find the time. It is probably more easily understood after reading his book Violence and the Sacred, but its conversational style (Girard ‘wrote’ it in a series of ‘conversations’ with the French psychiatrists Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort) makes it slightly easier reading than that earlier work. I’m tempted to start up my own summer reading club in order to understand it a little better. I took many notes and have many questions, so I would certainly welcome any help from any scholarly minded folk who happen upon this post. For example, after 450 pages I’m still not clear on what “interdividual psychology” really is, beyond what the words generally imply: psychology as it somehow exists between individuals. Or is it Girard’s attempt to invent a word, rather as Derrida does with “grammatology” and “différance”? More substantively, how is a non-sacrificial reading of the Gospels really possible, not just because of the textual difficulty posed by the Letter to the Hebrews, but because of the Christian tradition and, in fact the Jewish tradition going back to the Passover? Or is this precisely Girard’s point?

In any case, after a book full of chapters with titles such as “The Logos of Heraclitus and the Logos of John”, “Desire without Object” and “Psychoanalytic Mythology”, the last two pages are simply breathtaking. After Oughourlian comments on the barren landscape of our contemporary intellectual climate (“a whole host of epigonal movements so devoid of real crativity that they seem more pathetic than dangerously misleading”), Girard closes with the following:

“I hold that truth is not an empty word, or a mere ‘effect’ as people say nowadays. I hold that everything capable of diverting us from madness and death, from now on, is inextricably linked with this truth. But I do not know how to speak about these matters. I can only approach texts and institutions, and relating them to one another seems to me to throw light in every direction. I am not embarrassed to admit that an ethical and religious dimension exists for me, but it is the result of my thinking rather than an external preconception that determined my research. I have always believed that if I managed to communicate what some of my reading meant to me, the conclusions I was forced to reach would force themselves on other people as well.

“I began to breathe more freely when I discovered that literary and ethnological critiques are inadequate – even if they are not totally worthless – when confronted with the literary and cultural texts they claim to dominate. This was before I came to the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. I never even imagined that those texts were there for the purpose of passive enjoyment, in the same way as we look at a beautiful landscape. I always cherished the hope that meaning and life were one. Present-day thought is leading us in the direction of the valley of death, and it is cataloguing the dry bones one by one. All of us are in this valley but it is up to us to resuscitate meaning b relating all the texts to one another without exception, rather than stopping at just a few of them. All issues of ‘psychological health’ seem to me to take second place to a much greater issue- that of meaning which is being lost or threatened on all sides but simply awaits the breath of the Spirit to be reborn. Now all that is needed is this breath to recreate stage by stage Ezekiel’s experience in the valley of the dead:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, thou knowest.’ Again he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked , there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host (Ezekiel 37, 1-10).


  1. Really interesting blog. How about an exposition on “On The Difference Between A Genius and An Apostle”?

  2. Big Jon, Bully says

    The contrast between meaning and psychological health is quite inspiring.

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