- After Sacrifice Ontology:The Shared Revelatory Dynamic of Heidegger and Girard
In a relatively little-known interview, conducted by Thomas Bertonneau, Girard remarks that with Heidegger there is an aspect he "would almost call a worship of the old sacred," something that struck him as "pretty scary … sinister." But, almost in the same breath, Girard continues, "And yet there can be no doubt that Heidegger is a genius."1
This doubled attitude to Heidegger, where on the one side the German philosopher is basically a hostile relic of the archaic sacred, and on the other he has contributed something of genius to contemporary thought, has not been sufficiently examined among Girardians. The default position seems to be a dismissal on account of the former and an unwillingness to engage in respect to the latter.2 But if for Girard there is something of genius in Heidegger, it is, I believe, because Girard found dynamic evidence for his own thought in Heidegger's work, and not at all simply as passive demonstration. Indeed, to bring to light this Heideggerean contribution to Girard is to unearth a deeper point, one that promises finally a far greater degree of positive significance than any vein of antagonism. Once the overlay of the sacred (or re-sacralization) is stripped away, a deep structure of thought is left in Heidegger of exceptional interest to [End Page 119] Girardian revelatory anthropology. It is possible in fact that Heidegger's ontology can be seen to underlie Girardian thought, in a kind of refracted and yet authentic image, and so lead us to the threshold of an entirely new, nonviolent thought of being.3 Hence, I think, Girard's ascription of genius.
Heidegger can be seen as a thinker with whom Girard has always been centrally in dialogue. A direct connection is made by Girard in his book Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World,4 and in a highly significant way. We will turn to this in our core reflection below, but the implicit relationship is perhaps at least as revealing. Heidegger came to prominence with the 1927 publication of Being and Time, a landmark work that used the tools of phenomenology to explore the meaning and shape of human existence; or, more properly, the meaning of "Dasein" (existence), the name he gives to the (human) being for whom be[-ing] is a question. Heidegger in fact consistently claims that his object of study is "being," not humanity.5 Thus he begins his book with the statement that the question of be[-ing] has been forgotten. It is accordingly his task to bring that question back to the level of main concern and reflection. All the same, the vivid descriptions of human existence and temporality as the place where be[-ing] becomes a question lent the work a deeply human feel, and it is out of their vigor that the philosophy of existentialism was born. It is, therefore, this rich mixture of the human situation and the claim of a vital underlying truth that until now has been cast in oblivion that provides the first layer of structural continuity between Heidegger and Girard, a mutual frame of thought that is as unmissable as it is characteristic in both thinkers.
There is clearly not the space here for an exposition in detail of Heidegger's philosophy; key elements will emerge as we go along. At this point we will simply name further continuities. Both thinkers challenge metaphysical orthodoxies that have been upheld as the foundation of human meaning. They both articulate a primordial "event" character to reality. Their thought pivots around the theme of "difference." They return to ancient Greek texts for critical evidence. And they succeed overall in asking profound, destabilizing questions about the nature of human existence. Now, if this continuity or shared dynamic is true, there is a possible highly significant consequence. The unity of structure can be seen bearing reciprocally on each thinker's thought. It can show Heidegger's "worship of the sacred" to be ultimately a willful and transparent re-sacralization of what has been first set free from the sacred. At the same time it suggests dramatic...