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  • Toward a Triangular Aesthetics
  • Eric Gans (bio)
    Translated by Trevor Cribben Merrill (bio)

In 1960, in "The Problem of Method," which serves as the introduction not only to Critique of Dialectical Reason but to all of his recent work, Sartre enrolls himself solemnly under the banner of Marxism, which he considers the unsurpassable philosophy of our era. Today, a dozen years later, the Sartrean position has become open to challenge, it is true, because its deconstruction is underway, but it has not yet been dismissed as absurd. Existentialism, by immolating itself on the altar of praxis, has taken with it phenomenology and the Existenzphilosophie that emerged from it. Heidegger, for example, can be read as the last defender of the bourgeois order fetishized as Being, forced by the triumphal march of the historical dialectic into an increasingly fragmentary vocabulary (obliged, for example, to take account of modern technology without for all that being able to directly address the relations of production). Even the structuralist current, born of the insufficiencies of the historical method in the human sciences, and elevated more recently to the level of a Weltanschauung, is powerless—because of its "scientific" refusal of historical diachrony—to combat Marxism on its own terrain. Even if, according to the "laws of the dialectic," the structuralist antithesis constitutes an element of progress (that [End Page 5] is, contestation) with respect to the Marxist thesis, it is in no way a synthetic transcendence of it, and as a result can always be folded into a predominantly Marxist "parathesis."1 For structuralism, which is by its nature antidialectical, has no internal language capable even of aspiring to surpass historicism, which it thus has no choice but to reject as a whole.

It is particularly surprising, then, that a new form of thought, which puts into question the foundations of all prior reflection, and which appears likely to lead to a qualitatively superior understanding of the human, owes strictly nothing to Marxism, contenting itself with dialoguing with those less philosophically developed currents that are ethnology and Freudianism, while casting here and there a glance in the direction of Heideggerian philosophy. Historical materialism, which thought it had long since de-mystified the prehistory of both society and the individual psyche, suddenly sees itself ousted by an approach that does not even deign to take its own conclusions into account. At first glance two explanations seem possible: either Girard is afraid to engage with Marx, or else, diabolically sure of himself, he intends simply to relegate Marxism to a position of secondary importance among the variously tedious Western "humanisms." There is, however, a third possibility: that the refusal of discussion is an integral part of the Girardian negation of Marxism. Marxist thought, the most ambitious expression of the Western philosophical tradition, would then be supplanted by a reflection that refuses to dialogue with it, not out of weakness or indifference, but because it seeks to put dialogue itself into question. From this vantage point the antithesis offered by Girard would challenge the very legitimacy of the traditional philosophical dialectic.


The center of Girardian thought is not so much "violence" or the "sacred" as a new conception of the human Subject. The Subject of classical dialectic is always defined with respect to the Object, which it may no doubt misapprehend but which in its way it nonetheless grasps. Whether the content of this relationship is cognitive (idealism) or practical (materialism), it is in any case the basis for a Subject/Object dialectic that affirms at every moment the identity of the Subject2 … On the other hand, the point of departure for Girardian thought is a Subject whose most originary relationship to the object passes through the mediation of an Other. This primordial relationship is not an indeterminate "object relation" as is the case in traditional philosophy; it is defined from the start as desire. Whereas classical philosophy, beyond the profusion of its modes and modalities, [End Page 6] always tends toward a cognitive apprehension of the object,3 Girard posits the object in a way at once less determined and more structured: the object is first desired as object-of-the-desire-of...


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