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THE PLACE OF RENE GIRARD IN CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY Guy Vanheeswijck University ofAntwerp and ofLeuven Iwould like to start by quoting a text which is likely to be recognized by everyone, who is even on a superficial level familiar with the work of René Girard: Desire that bears on a natural object is only human to the extent that it is mediated by the desire of another bearing on the same object: it is human to desire what others desire, because they desire it. Thus an object that is perfectly useless from a biological point of view (such as a medal, or the enemy's flag) can be desired because it is the object of other desires. Such a human desire, and human reality as it differs from animal reality, is only created by the action that satisfies such desires. Human history is the history of desires that are desired [Désirs désirés]. Undoubtedly, these could be words written by Girard. However, they are not. These words are quoted from the famous lectures given by Alexandre Kojève on Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes at the Ecole pratique des hautes études between 1933 and 1939. They were followed by what would become the crème ofpost-war French philosophy: Raymond Aron, Georges Bataille, Alexandre Koyré, Pierre Klossowski, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre.' Kojève's interpretation ofHegel has, as generally known, become the point ofreference to the post-war twentieth ' Although Sartre himselfcould not attend the lectures (at that time he taught philosophy in Le Havre en Laon), he must have heard from it by way of Aron or Merleau-Ponty. 96Guy Vanheeswijck century philosophy in France. Before 1930 the word "dialectic" was burdened with an odium of sin, after 1930 it became a word—thanks to Kojève —radiant with prestige. Before 1930 there had been no talk of an Hegelian school whatsoever in France, after 1930 the situation changed so drastically that Merleau-Ponty was able to write these often quoted lines in 1946: Hegel is at the origin of everything that has been great in philosophy for over a century; for example Marxism, Nietzsche, phenomenology and German existentialism, psychoanalysis. He inaugurates the attempt to explore the irrational and to integrate it within a wider rationality that remains the philosophical task of our century. (Sens et non-sens 109-110) Half a century later, these words have lost their self-evident character. While the generation of French thinkers between 1930 and 1960 stresses its dependence on Hegel, the generation after 1960 heavily reacts against him. In 1970 Michel Foucault gave his inaugural speech at the Collège de France. On behalf of his generation he testified to a generalized antiHegelianism at that moment: "Our entire epoch, whether through logic or epistemology, whether through Marx or Nietzsche, seeks to evade Hegel's Imperium [échapper à Hegel] (L'Ordre du discours 74). Obviously, René Girard belongs to the second generation, which, on the one hand, embroiders on the theme ofdesire, borrowed from Kojève's interpretation ofHegel, but, on the other, in its search for answers precisely wishes to get rid of Hegel. But, is it correct to call René Girard a philosopher? His schooling was that of an historian. In 1947 he graduated in Paris as an archivistepal éographe at the Ecole de Chartres: his thesis was "La vie privée à Avignon dans la seconde moitié du XVe siècle." Three years later—in the meantime he had emigrated to the United States—he received his Ph.D. at the faculty of history of the University of Indiana. The topic of his dissertation was "American opinion ofFrance, 1940-1943." However, he has never worked as a professional historian. He owes his reputation first and foremost to his literary analyses, subsequently to his research in anthropology , finally to his exegesis ofthe Bible. Time and again, Girard has expressed his preference for literature to both humanities and philosophy. Human behavior is, in his view, much less elucidated by the conceptual structures of discursive philosophy than by the evocative force of a Greek tragedy, the Biblical passion story or a modern novel. One might retort that René Girard...


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