- René Girard's Observations on "Homosexuality" in His Major WritingsSome Critical Clarifications
Girard discusses "homosexuality" on three occasions in his oeuvre. Late in the first chapter of Deceit, Desire, & the Novel (DDN) he discusses the relationship between Veltchaninov and Troussotsky, characters in Dostoyevsky's The Eternal Husband. Then in Part III of Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (THFW) the sections entitled "Homosexuality" and "Mimetic Latency and Rivalry" are dedicated to the subject. Indeed, in the latter of these Girard reproduces his discussion of Veltchaninov and Troussotsky from the earlier book (thus making it unnecessary for me to discuss its earlier appearance). Finally, he touches on the matter in Chapter 4 of A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (TEWS), dedicated to Helena and Hermia from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Aufidius and the eponymous protagonist of Coriolanus.1
In each case Girard illustrates the power of literary genius to illuminate and undermine structuralist or Freudian presuppositions. However, he also leaves some hostages to fortune, particularly where in THFW he appears to be suggesting a mimetic etiology for "homosexuality." While Girard is careful to indicate, both in DDN2 and in THFW,3 that he is talking about "some forms of [End Page 55] homosexuality," it is not immediately clear in the latter of the two texts whether one of the forms under discussion is not, in fact, the form alluded to in the typical majority usage of the noun "homosexual": that of someone who has a stable lifelong emotional and erotic orientation toward persons of their own sex.
Given the potential for confusion in this area, and my own personal history in living out some of the scenarios described by Girard, I think it worthwhile to try to give the best possible interpretation of what he is saying here and why he is saying it, and to point out where it is insightful and helpful. Also, if he is saying something that is false, it is worthwhile to point that out and say why I think it is false. I regret that I did not dare seek clarification of the matter with him while he was still living. However, to my great delight, my friend Jean-Michel Oughourlian, one of the original interlocutors of THFW, talked through the matter with me at length and agrees that the question is in need of clarification lest an unintended absurdity be attributed to Girard.4
I think it important to make clear from the outset that what follows is not a discussion of "homosexuality" in general. Girard, both when writing alone and when with his two interlocutors in THFW, seems to discuss only male homosexuality. And my discussion of his comments is that of a gay male writing about straight males talking mostly about males: by no means a universal vision. I want to recognize up front that how women relate to their own homosexuality, or to that of other women, is often far more fluid and far less identity-based than how gay men experience themselves. In what follows I touch neither on the issue of bisexuality, nor on that of lesbianism. While I would expect mimetic desire to be as operative among women as among men, the ways, both benign and harmful, in which it might be lived out doubtless look significantly different. I would wish that my clarifications here would invite, rather than dissuade, a first-person account of these issues from a lesbian, bisexual, or nonbinary gender perspective.
Let me start, then, with what I will call "the case against." This is the reading of what Girard says that sees him as offering a speculative original "etiology" for same-sex sexual orientation. I will attempt to offer it in its strongest form. However, first I will give a backdrop to the discussion in a form that is easy to understand: that of a silly schoolboy joke that I heard in the early 1970s.
"A man and his girlfriend are sitting sunning themselves on a beach when a stronger, fitter man comes along, kicks sand in the face of the man, and goes off with the girlfriend. The jilted man...