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  • IntroductionIntersubjectivity, Desire, and Mimetic Theory:René Girard and Psychoanalysis
  • Pierpaolo Antonello (bio) and Alessandra Diazzi (bio)

The aim of this special collection of essays, titled Intersubjectivity, Desire, and Mimetic Theory: René Girard and Psychoanalysis, is to reappraise the relationship between René Girard's thought and the psychoanalytic tradition. The tripartite structure of the title clearly echoes the English title of Girard's first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel, with which he introduced the psychological dynamics of mimetic desire as represented in modern European novels.1 Through the reference to the intentionally broad notions of "intersubjectivity," "desire," and "mimetic theory," our title also signals the intention to cover the multifarious aspects and issues that inform Girard's thinking in relation to core issues of psychoanalysis, by casting the net very broadly and exploring the theoretical implications of the encounter between the mimetic and the psychoanalytic discourse in a variety of fields and disciplines, such as philosophy, literary criticism, anthropology, psychotherapy, neuropsychology, and socio-psychology. On the one hand, this collection discusses the potential theoretical and discursive integrations that mimetic theory would need in order to account for various psychological manifestations, including psychopathologies of different kinds, and social phenomena; on the other hand, the collection [End Page 1] brings to light contentious issues within the psychoanalytic literature that a mimetic approach to individual psyche and collective behavior might contribute to illuminating.

The critical literature in the field of psychology and psychoanalysis increasingly seems to recognize the intersubjective makeup of our psyche, which is in fact, as Girard stated more than 50 years ago, preverbal and dialogic. This view was recently substantiated from a neurocognitive standpoint through the discovery of the mirroring mechanism that lies at the base of our capacity for learning, and empathic attunement with others.2 In spite of this evident kinship between mimetic theory and psychological/psychoanalytic findings on psyche, scholarship has almost completely ignored the contribution made by Girard and Girardians to the discussion. As a result, Girard's reassessment of psychoanalysis has only had marginal traction outside of Girardian criticism.

The reason for this oversight is most likely to be found in Girard's own attitude toward psychoanalysis. With the exception of the pages of sharp criticism dedicated to a set of Freudian theories, Girard has never fully engaged with psychoanalysis. The reassessment of Freud is mostly confined to a few chapters of Violence and the Sacred and Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World.3 This also resulted in a cursory dismissal of figures such as Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and Donald Winnicott, despite the potential intersections between the work of these thinkers and Girard's oeuvre.4 This combination of criticism and indifference induced the general overlooking of possible encounters between Girardian and psychoanalytic circles that we have observed in recent decades.

There have been, however, a few valuable exceptions.Jean-Michel Oughourlian has been Girard's closest interlocutor as far as the criticism of Freud from a mimetic point of view is concerned. He made mimetic theory the core of his work as a clinician, putting forward a theory of psyche grounded on the notion of mimesis as the force driving the subject and its social relationship.5 The idea of a "universal mimesis" as a gravitational force that binds us all together is a powerful metaphor, but also an effective heuristic tool that can clarify many of the behavioral oscillations that are so commonly found in psychopathology, in our constant pendularism between imitation and rivalry—the latter being a concept that has not been adequately conceptualized in psychoanalysis.

Carrying further the critique of Freud's psychoanalysis elaborated with Girard, Oughourlian challenged the Freudian supremacy in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy by questioning the notion of the unconscious. In The Puppet of Desire (1982), he claims that "the Freudian unconscious, that mythic hypostasis peopled with all sorts of occult mythic forces in conflict with one [End Page 2] another, … simply does not exist."6 This must be replaced with the idea of "the other"—that is to say, the model—as the concealed force shaping the subject's desires and behavior.7

Eugene Webb, in his work The Self Between...


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