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SENOR HIRSCH AS SACRIFICIAL VICTIM AND THE MODERNISM OF CONRAD'S NOSTROMO Andrew Bartlett University ofBritish Columbia One of René Girard's more pithy definitions of mimetic desire reads: "The model designates the desirable while at the same time desiring it. Desire is always imitation ofanother desire, desire for the same object, and, therefore, an inexhaustible source of conflicts and rivalries" {Double Business Bound 39). The notation that desire is an "inexhaustible" source of conflicts hints at the political pessimism expressed more openly elsewhere in Girard's writing. In 1961, he said it like this: "Whatever political or social system is somehow imposed on them, men will never achieve the peace and happiness of which the revolutionaries dream, nor the bleating harmony which so scares the reactionaries. They will always get on togetherjust enough to enable them never to agree" (Deceit 110-11). This is a Girard who, suspicious of political rhetoric, speaks with audacious cynicism even of democracy: "Who is there left to imitate after the tyrant? Henceforth men shall copy each other... Democracy is one vast middle-class court where the courtiers are everywhere and the king is nowhere" (Deceit 119). This Girard has remained consistent in his thematization of the impurity of all political compromises: "men are only capable ofreconciling their differences at the expense of a third party. The best men can hope for in their quest for nonviolence is the unanimity-minus-one ofthe surrogate victim" (Violence 259). Girard's political skepticism seems to be a result of his conviction that arbitrary victims ofviolent unanimity are the "ingredient" in political thought that allows each community to be flattered by the illusion of its political innocence, the illusion of the justifiability of its violence. 48Andrew Bartlett Modem political thought cannot dispense with morals, but it cannot become purely moral without ceasing to be political. Another ingredient must therefore be mixed with morals. If we really tried to identify what this is we would inevitably end up with formulas like Caiaphas': "It is better that this man or those die so that the community may survive" (Scapegoat 116). Political institutions, in establishing power relations between dominant and subordinate people, always exercise force, violence (Beetham 47-48). A perfectly moral politics seems as impossible as a perfectly nonviolent politics. Girard's refusal to plant his feet in the wet cement of any single political party's rhetoric is the outcome, in part, of his preference for a religious perspective on human affairs. The religious is his fundamental category ofanalysis; and religion in Girard's view is not an unenlightened form of belief to be superseded by political wisdom, but rather the fundamental mode of human social organization, the political only a secular displacement of it. I hasten to add that Girard's pessimism about political arrangements arises not from any stoical indifference to their victims, but rather from his respect for victims—a respect that is finally religious in character. A related sub-clause of Girard's political pessimism is the incompatibility ofmimetic theory and "identity politics," broadly defined so as to include nationalist or ethnic politics based on historical grievances and desires for vengeance. I have in mind here Girard's idea that the distinct identity of the surrogate victim is not strictly relevant to the effects of collective violence. Violence belongs to all men, and thus to none in particular. It is futile to look for the secret ofthe redemptive process in distinctions between the surrogate victim and other members of the community. The crucial fact is that the choice ofthe victim is arbitrary (Violence 257). The stabilizing effects of political scapegoating thus depend on the degree of unanimity in the community's violence, not on the identity ofthe victim. The identity of the sacrificial victim is not essential in scapegoating; the essential in scapegoating is the unanimity ofthe collective violence itself (cf. Violence 84, 150). Perhaps because of this priority of violent unanimity over victim identity, Girard has measured his distance from specific political causes (Scapegoat 19-20). We must confront what I would call the formal equivalence of scapegoats. The arbitrary victim of a sacrificial political process may be anyone: scandalously rich or scandalously...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 47-66
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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