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  • From Mimetic Rivalry to Mutual RecognitionGirardian Theory and Contemporary Psychoanalysis
  • Scott R. Garrels (bio) and Joy M. Bustrum (bio)


Throughout his career, René Girard consistently positioned his mimetic theory as a far more cohesive account of the wide range of phenomena previously addressed by Sigmund Freud, from the nature of human desire all the way to the origin and structure of human culture and religion. Subsequent theories that took shape in psychoanalysis after Freud were not a part of Girard's ongoing discourse for at least two main reasons: (1) Psycho-analysis was seen as a misguided endeavor with fundamentally incompatible concepts and philosophical assumptions, and (2) as psychoanalysis seemed only to be going further in one direction—focusing on the intrapsychic mechanisms of the individual unconscious—Girard's interests went in the opposite direction, broadening outward to the fields of anthropology, sociology, theology, and human history.

Girard's skeptical attitude toward psychoanalytic theory and practice, combined with the strength of his own mimetic theory, seems to have steered the next generation of mimetic scholars away from a sustained engagement [End Page 9] with psychoanalysis as a rich and viable field of study. This is regrettable since many contemporary schools of psychoanalysis approximate the interdividual psychology1 of Girard in strikingly similar ways. Not only that, but they have also contributed significantly to our understanding of nonexclusionary (or nonsacrificial) modes of relating that are indispensible to facilitating what Girard has referred to as the novelistic conversion—a profound, life-altering understanding of the relationship between self and other.

Unaware of these developments, many mimetic scholars still perceive psychoanalysis as a rival cultural theory, part of the great romantic lie of modern times. While there has been some dialogue between these two bodies of research over the last 60 years, it has been limited primarily to the thought of Girard, Freud, and Jacques Lacan. One important exception is the writing of Martha Reineke,2 who not only provides an important critique of Girard's treatment of Freud, but also introduces the post-Freudian contributions of Donald Winnicott and Julia Kristeva. Regardless, as a whole, either mimetic scholars appear unaware of contemporary developments in psychoanalysis, or they do not utilize its unique contributions.

This article aims to bridge this gap by providing (1) a brief evaluation of some of the major developments in contemporary (North American) psycho-analysis and their affinity to Girard's interdividual psychology, (2) a case illustration demonstrating how a contemporary psychoanalyst thinks and works, and (3) some reflections on the importance of a renewed engagement between these two substantial bodies of scholarship. Overall, we are arguing that, rather than rivals, mimetic scholars and psychoanalysts are now positioned, like never before, to benefit mutually from the other's perspective and relative strengths.


Early in their relationship, as the authors of this paper began dating, they found themselves having one of their first arguments, which happened to be about mimetic theory versus psychoanalysis. They were both early career psychologists at the time. Scott was also a budding mimetic scholar, while Joy had been taking classes at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. As Scott, with great excitement, began to explain Girard's interindividual psychology to Joy, she countered him at every turn, arguing that what he was describing didn't sound so unique, and that from what she had been reading psychoanalysis had already "been there, done that." Scott felt that perhaps he had not explained Girard's theory and critique of psychoanalysis well enough, [End Page 10] or perhaps Joy wasn't being open-minded. Joy felt that Scott wasn't being open-minded, or perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she too knew something that he didn't. They dug their heels in and argued their positions more adamantly. Their argument turned from a collegial discussion to sour feelings. They wondered, "Who is this person that is so easily threatened by new ideas, who can't have an intellectual discussion without getting so defensive?" They each felt it was the other who had it wrong. While there is much to Girard's thought that is unique and not accounted for...


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