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  • Two into Three Won't Go:Mimetic Desire and the Dream of Androgyny in Dancing in the Dark

In a sexist culture the interests of men and women are by definition oppositional—what is good for men is bad for women, and vice versa, given the nature of men's definition of their "good" in a sexist context.

The triangle is a model of a sort, or rather a whole family of models. . . . They always allude to the mystery, transparent yet opaque, of human relations.

It is a perilous voyage between "the Scylla of the disappearance of sexual difference and the Charybdis of the too absolute conception of it" (Moi 26), and the quest for a safe passage between such extremes has preoccupied feminist theorists and challenged feminine readers. Difficulties become especially acute when triangular paradigms are used to explain dualistic, oppositional patterns of sexuality, for such models perpetuate an asymmetry that seems to doom egalitarian relations between men and women. Problems inherent in Freud's Oedipal triangle (see Figure One) are well known, and feminists struggle constantly with the implications of the female's role as a narcissistic love-object whose main function is [End Page 387] to awaken the male's anaclitic desire.1 René Girard's revision of the Oedipal triangle (see Figure Two) obliterates anaclitic and narcissistic modes of desire through an emphasis on mimetic interaction between mediators/models,2 but the structure creates a new array of problems, for even though Girard insists that his triangle can account for masculine and feminine mimetic desire, feminists have a difficult time understanding how a structure defined by two rivals' mimetic desire for an object can leave a woman anywhere but in the position occupied by Freud's narcissistic love-object, especially when Girard characterizes Don Juan as the perfect mediator in such a triangle (Moi 23). Women might be able to defend themselves against structural "immasculation"3 by mystifying their status as object in Freud's triangle,4 but there is no compensatory heightening of the feminine in Girard's triangle because the role of the object is reduced to something of almost no importance as Girard focuses on the rivals' mimetic double bind as a force that necessitates sacrifice (Kofman 41-44).

One possible solution to problems posed by Girard's devaulation of the object would be to change the sex of the mediator in the triangle, to replace the Don Juan figure with a powerful woman. Toril Moi argues for such a maneuver, asserting that feminine desire can be accounted for by finding the origin of the triangle of mimetic desire in preoedipal stages of development, that is, when the children's desire is mediated through the mother's attitudes and behavior (see Figure Three). The only difficulty with such a paradigm is that even though it can account for feminine desire, it predicts universal male homosexuality because young boys would [End Page 388]

Figure One. Freud's Oedipal Triangle. According to Freud's "On Narcissism: An Introduction," only males transcend primary narcissism, developing a desire for a love-object that is outside the self (anaclitic desire). Women, on the other hand, are characterized as being basically narcissistic, loving "only themselves" with "an intensity comparable to that of the man's love for them." Women's desire, then, is said to lie not "in the direction of loving, but of being loved" .
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Figure One.

Freud's Oedipal Triangle. According to Freud's "On Narcissism: An Introduction," only males transcend primary narcissism, developing a desire for a love-object that is outside the self (anaclitic desire). Women, on the other hand, are characterized as being basically narcissistic, loving "only themselves" with "an intensity comparable to that of the man's love for them." Women's desire, then, is said to lie not "in the direction of loving, but of being loved" (Standard Edition 14: 88-89).

Figure Two. Patterns of Mimetic Desire. (A) The basic pattern of triangular desire involves a disciple's desire for an object being deflected, via mimesis, through a mediator's desire for the same object. (B) A double bind occurs when the disciple and mediator become rivals for the same object, sending each other conflicting messages. In Violence, Girard hypothesizes that mimetic double binds become almost numberless in a society and that the potential for destruction becomes so great that the practices of scapegoating and sacrifice have developed as means of preventing universal violence. [End Page 389]
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Figure Two.

Patterns of Mimetic Desire. (A) The basic pattern of triangular desire involves a disciple's desire for an object being deflected, via mimesis, through a mediator's desire for the same object. (B) A double bind occurs when the disciple and mediator become rivals for the same object, sending each other conflicting messages. In Violence, Girard hypothesizes that mimetic double binds become almost numberless in a society and that the potential for destruction becomes so great that the practices of scapegoating and sacrifice have developed as means of preventing universal violence. [End Page 389]

have their desire for the father mediated...

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