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  • Queering Girard—De-Freuding ButlerA Theoretical Encounter between Judith Butler’s Gender Performativity and René Girard’s Mimetic Theory
  • Iwona Janicka (bio)

Judith Butler, René Girard, Sigmund Freud, transgender, queer, mimesis, gender, performativity

This article attempts to respond to the fractional presence of feminist discourse around René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire. I will first briefly examine the relevant critical stands on mimesis and then proceed to rehabilitate it for feminism via an analysis of Judith Butler’s theory of performative gender. By bringing together selected aspects of Girard and Butler’s work, it will be possible to build a constructive dialogue between the two thinkers. Due to the scope of the paper I will not be able to give an exhaustive account of the respective theories, and hence I will discuss only the most relevant aspects. Girard is concerned with giving an account of conflictual mimetic desire in social and cultural formation. I will follow a slightly different direction and concentrate on nonacquisitive, peaceful mimesis in identity formation, particularly with regard to gender. What is more, I will treat gender as a particular case of mimesis starting from an assumption that we perform gender as we perform mimesis. This will act as a kind of intellectual experiment that will allow me to explore the [End Page 43] complexities of the relationship between gender and mimetic desire. The theories of Butler and Girard can be productively read together to explore new ways of thinking about gender. I will show that the “failure” in mimesis—that is, the constant approximation to the perfect imitation—guarantees unrestricted differentiation in gender, for which Butler argues. This combination of Girard and Butler aims to open up Girardian theory to exchanges with feminism and queer and transgender studies. In the second part of this article I will present a case study featuring Sigmund Freud’s masculine “little girl.” There I will demonstrate how a Girardian reading solves theoretical problems that both Freud and Butler encounter in interpreting this masculine “little girl.” I will argue that Girard’s theory of mimesis offers Butler new possibilities for thinking about gender and identification. My claim will be that the psychoanalytical framework that Butler draws upon is the cause of theoretical impasses that she encounters and that Girard’s theory allows for overcoming these deadlocks.


The concept of mimetic desire developed by René Girard has not invited an eager feminist response thus far. This is evident if we consider the relative scarcity of the material published on the topic. Since Girard’s theory was conceived as one of universal validity applicable to all human beings, sexual difference has not been considered relevant to it.

Two feminist theoreticians, Toril Moi and Sarah Kofman, have responded to this insensitivity toward the questions of gender and sexual difference. Moi argues that Girard is mainly concerned with the male-male-female constellation, where men are always the subjects and mediators and the woman is the object of desire. She suggests that in his literary analyses Girard tends to ignore women writers, to misread novels with females as protagonists and misinterpret their desire.1 Moi also detects problems in Girard’s critique of Freud, insisting that Girard’s refutation of the Oedipus complex relies on the devaluation of the mother and privileging of the father.2 Girard ignores the preoedipal stage in the development of a child,3 because “the weaknesses of [his] theory are clearly exposed”4 if it is used to examine the preoedipal stage. Moi claims that “if Girard’s mimetic theory is applied to the preoedipal stage, one is obliged to posit the woman’s desire as original, [and then as a result] the mother’s desire becomes paradigmatic of all desire.”5 This, in turn, would lead to the conclusion that all males should be homosexual. The only solution to this problem, according to Moi, would [End Page 44] be to claim that heterosexuality is an “inborn instinct,” but this in turn would contradict Girard’s central thesis that desire is never autonomous but stems from rivalry or imitation.6 Moi’s main contention against Girard’s “proud, patriarchal and monolithic” theory...


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