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Girard Watch

A couple of recent items popped up in a recent Google search for Girard. Stanford’s provocative immortel begins with this great anecdote:

In 2004, Jean-Pierre Dupuy, a professor of French at Stanford, is attending a conference in Berlin when he is confronted by a man in a café who asks, “Why did you become a Girardian?” Dupuy replies in a beat: “Because it’s cheaper than psychoanalysis.”

And Bad Catholics at a time near the end of the world might also be interested in learning that Girard has a new book coming out:

Girard’s Achever Clausewitz, published last year in France by Editions Carnets Nord, will be published in English by Michigan State University Press this winter. The book, which takes as its point of departure the Prussian military historian and theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), is considered by many to be groundbreaking. Its implications place Girard, known mostly for his studies of literature and archaic cultures, squarely in the 21st century.

“It doesn’t take much insight to realize that wars have been getting worse every time—worse from the point of view of the civilian, more and more destructive, more and more total. Well, Clausewitz is about that,” Girard explained. “Therefore my book is a very end-of-the-world sort of thing.”

A review of Achever Clausewitz may be found here. Here are a few words to brighten your day:

If much of Girard’s oeuvre addresses the alpha point of human origins, the present book considers the frightening possibility that humanity may be evolving toward an omega point. Having entered a post-Cold War era of terrorism, genocide, and climate change, our species now finds itself confronted with potential self-annihilation. The best summary of the book probably comes in the first lines of Girard’s introduction:

Le livre que voici est un livre bizarre. Il se présente comme une excursion du côté de l’Allemagne et des rapports franco-allemands depuis les deux derniers siècles. Il avance en même temps des choses jamais dites avec la violence et la clarté qu’elles exigent. La possibilité d’une fin de l’Europe, du monde occidental et du monde dans son ensemble. Ce possible est aujourd’hui devenu réel. C’est dire s’il s’agit d’un livre apocalyptique (p. 9).

It is the heavy weight of this possible end that Girard wants his readers to feel hanging over Europe and indeed the entire world. His book seeks to make this weight tangible by plunging into the heart of European romanticism—a movement that his past books have tended to hold at arm’s length (cf. the “romantic lie”). Achever Clausewitz thus reveals another side of René Girard—the chartiste and the historian, and even the repressed romantic (“J’entre dans Clausewitz par Chopin,” he writes on page 193). Having once looked upon Christianity as a panoramic vantage point from which to survey the errors of both archaic religion and modern rationalist utopian projects, Girard has revised his point of view. He no longer seeks to establish a conceptual distinction between “non-violent” Biblical texts and violent “historical” Christianity. He now appears to see the errors of historical Christianity, from the Crusades to the papacy’s sins of omission during World War II, as forming an indissoluble part of Christianity as a whole, impossible to elide by means of a theoretical “third way”. He had already begun this self-revision in an essay on mimetic theory and theology published in Celui par qui le scandale arrive. But in this book he voices his conviction with renewed force, presenting us with a humanity trapped in history, faced with the difficult choice between violence and renunciation:

J’ai longtemps essayé de penser le christianisme comme une position de surplomb, et j’ai dû y renoncer. J’ai maintenant la conviction que c’est de l’intérieur même du mimétisme qu’il faut penser. (p. 153)

I, for one, can’t wait.

For the book, I mean.


  1. Hadn’t heard of Girard. Sounds interesting. Will try and understand his ideas when I have some time.

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