- The Reception of René Girard's Thought in Italy:1965-Present1
Italy provides an important national cultural context for the global mapping of constantly growing interest in René Girard's thought and in mimetic theory. Girard is widely and unquestionably recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of our times. Interviews, public interventions, and excerpts of his books are featured quite regularly in Italian national newspapers and magazines, and, as a result, Girard's name is known outside narrow academic circles.2 All his books have been translated into Italian, including several unique titles, which are available neither in French nor in English, and which are collections of previously unpublished occasional papers or essays.3 The reception of his thought has not been confined to any specific disciplinary ambit; it has been discussed, among others, by philosophers, literary critics, social scientists, cognitive scientists, theologians, and psychoanalysts.4 This article aims at providing a chronology of Girard's reception in Italy, while surveying the critical literature and the intellectual response to his theory, from the publication of his first book to the present. [End Page 139]
From the 1960s to the 1980s: Lies and Truth (About Girard) and the Early Reception of His Books
The first Italian translation of Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque5 was released by Bompiani in 1965, with a title that was both misleading and symptomatic: Struttura e personaggi del romanzo moderno (Structures and Characters in the Modern Novel). The reference to structuralism, which was the theoretical fashion of the day in Italian literary circles in the mid-1960s, and the pigeonholing of Girard's exegetical scrutiny as novelistic criticism testify emblematically to the difficulty of classification, plus the substantial misunderstanding that the book withstood both in Italy and in other parts of Europe at that time. To omit mensonge and vérité from the title of the Italian edition is to ignore the "truth" of the matter, that the book was also a mediation on the structure of human desire, extending outside the limits of representation and literature, branching out into a theory of human behavior and the social dynamic that had a profound psychological, anthropological, and sociological reach. Moreover, Mensonge romantique is a meditation on modernity (the novel being its most emblematic form of representation) and the consequences of the unleashing of increasing levels of "internal mediation" within bourgeois society. The reception of this volume was quite cold, and it was reprinted only in 1981, after the wave of discussion stirred by the publication of the Italian translation of Violence and the Sacred. The only review published between 1965 and 1979, by the literary critic Enzo Golino, appeared in 1966 in L'Espresso,6 a weekly magazine that has played, and still plays today, a determinant role in the presentation of Girardian texts to the general public in Italy.
Given this minimal reception, it is not surprising that the publication of Girard's groundbreaking work, La Violence et le sacré, in 1972,7 was largely ignored in Italy, in spite of the discussion it stirred in French intellectual quarters and the cultural exchange that Italian intellectuals have always maintained with Parisian cultural circles. The only review that appeared in Italy was by Paola Daniela Giovannelli, a literary critic and an expert on Italian theater, showing that the new work clearly still suffered from the same kind of disciplinary classification and reception as Mensonge romantique. In fact, it appeared in the literary journal Lingua e stile, and it discusses the anthropology of sacrifice and the interdisciplinary perspective, ranging from ethnology to psychoanalysis to myth, that feature in La Violence et le sacré in terms of a "theatricalization" of anthropology, mainly due to Giovannelli's disciplinary interests and the book's focus on Greek tragedies.8 [End Page 140]
However, Girard's name finally burst onto the intellectual scene in Italy in 1980, when the Italian translation of Violence and the Sacred was released by Adelphi, with the title La violenza e il sacro.9 This marks the "official" entrance of Girardian thought into the Italian cultural debate, as the volume was hailed by a series of...