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The Cycle of Violence and Feminist Constructions of Selfhood Jennifer L. Rike University ofDetroit Mercy Violence is the heart and secret soul ofthe sacred" (Girard 1977, 31). René Girard reaches this shocking conclusion by tracing the dynamics ofthe generation ofviolence in history, and the ingenious ways in which humanity has learned to funnel violence into ritual sacrifice to avoid apocalypse. His argument pivots upon his understanding ofhumanity as inherently flawed, as fated to conflict in the struggle to survive. Ifthe sacred mechanism of ritual sacrifice is not deployed, violence takes on a power and personality all its own: "If left unappeased, violence will accumulate until it overflows its confines and floods the surrounding area. The role ofsacrifice is to stem this rising tide . . . and redirect violence into 'proper' channels" (10). Girard's theory about the violent origins ofthe sacred institutions of ritual sacrifice, law, and myth highlights perhaps the chief paradox of religion: it has been used to promote as much as to oppose violence. Today, as feminists explore how women in particular have been the objects ofsuch violence, they too have turned to Girard to understand this paradox, and yet most have ended up criticizing Girard for falsely universalizing typically Eurocentric and androcentric conceptions of humanity, violence, and religion (Shea, Kirk-Duggan, Nowak 24-6).' While they may be right on certain points, it is also possible that the rush offeminist scholars to charge 1 Nancy Jay has also criticized Girard for androcentrism, in particular because "he still grounds all community and culture on male control of male violence" (130). 22Jennifer L. Rike Girard with androcentrism reflects their own refusals to confront how the dark face of violence appears in women as well as in men. Rather than evaluating specific feminist criticisms ofGirard in this regard, I propose a more global approach—to delineate in greater detail how feminist constructions of selfhood need to be informed by Girard's theory of the violent origins ofthe sacred in order for feminism to achieve its own goals. In Girard's view, the ritual ofsacrifice and the law are generated out ofthe socio-psychological mechanisms ofacquisitive mimesis and scapegoating as the sacred's way of controlling violence. In ways he leaves largely implicit, these mechanisms reflect the devastating cyclical effects of violence upon its victims. Girard stops short of reflecting on the roles gender plays in the cyclical processes of violence, and yet, as my subsequent analyses shall demonstrate, there can be little doubt that women participate in these processes in ways both like and unlike men. Women have been scapegoated throughout history, but not all women end up as victims ofviolence and the rituals constructed to appease it. Nor do many women remain simply victims of the tides of violence: many repeat the cycle of victimization and themselves become perpetrators. Moreover, some escape the cycle ofviolence by a variety ofmeans whose patterns are well worth scrutinizing. My point is that women's modes of participation in the processes through which violence makes and remakes itself are far more complex than has been recognized, and merit our full attention. From the perspective of feminist constructions of selfhood, the question then becomes, how does gender affect one's experience of acquisitive mimesis and scapegoating, victimage and perpetration? To claim that only women are victims and only men—and the women they have co-opted—are perpetrators may be politically correct, but that claim ignores some hard but ultimately helpful truths about what women must do to bring about the changes necessary for revolutionizing our society by transforming its violent ways into peaceful ones. My plan, then, is to suggest how Girard might be used to advance the theory and praxis of feminism further by delving into the psychological mechanisms underlying acquisitive mimesis and scapegoating. I shall argue that using object relations theory to understand the ways in which violence splits the human psyche complements Girard's conception of acquisitive mimesis and scapegoating to disclose the complete dynamics ofthe cycle ofviolence. Such understanding is essential to feminist reconstructions of selfhood, because it makes the defeat of sexism and violence possible by exposing them at their roots. Feminist Constructions ofSelfhood23 My project has four steps...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 21-42
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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