René Girard on "Triangular" Desire

From Deceit, Desire and the Novel:

“… Amadis was the pole, the star, the sun for brave and amorous knights, and we others who fight under the banner of love and chivalry should imitate him. Thus, my friend Sancho, I reckon that whoever imitates him best will come closest to perfect chivalry. ~ Don Quixote

Don Quixote has surrendered to Amadis the individual’s fundamental prerogative: he no longer choosess teh objects of his own desire – Amadis must choose for him.

The disciple pursues objects which are determined for him, or at least seem to be determined for him, by the model of all chivalry. We shall call this model the mediator of desire. Chivalric existence is the imitation of Amadis in the same sense that the Christian’s existence is the imitation of Christ.

In most works of fiction, the characters have desires which are simpler than Don Quixote’s. There is no mediator, there is only the subject and the object. When the “nature” of the object inspiring the passion is not sufficient to account for the desire, one must turn to the impassioned subject. Either his “psychology” is examined or his “liberty” invoked. But desire is always spontaneous. It can always be portrayed by a simple straight line which joins subject and object.

The straight line is present in the desire of Don Quixote, but it is not essential. The mediator is there, above that line, radiating toward both the subject and the object. The spatial metaphor which expresses this triple relationship is obviously the tirangle. The object changes with each adventure but the triangle remains. The barber’s basin or Master Peter’s puppets replace the windmills; but Amadis is always present.

The triangle is no Gestalt. The real structures are intersubjective. They cannot be localized anywhere; the triangle has no reality whatever; it is a systematic metaphor, systematically pursued.

Don Quixote, in Cervantes’ novel, is a typical example of the victim of triangular desire, but he is far from being the only one. Next to him the most affected is his squire, Sancho Panza. Some of Sancho’s desires are not imitated, for example, thosse aroused by the sight of a piece of cheese or a goatskin of wine. But Sancho has other ambitions besides filling his stomach. Ever since he has been with Don Quixote he has been dreaming of an “island” of which he would be governor, and he wants teh title of duchess for his daughter. These desires do not come spontaeously to a simple man like Sancho. It is Don Quixote who has put them into his head.

This time the suggestion is not literary, but oral. But the difference has little importance. These new desires form a new triangle of which the imaginary island, Don Quixote, and Sancho occupy the angles. Don Quixote is Sancho’s mediator. The effects of triangular desire are the same in the two characters. From the moment the mediator’s influence is felt, the sense of reality is lost and judgment paralyzed.” ~ Deceit, Desire and the Novel, Pp 1 – 4

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