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  • "Even now, now, very now"Mimesis's and Imitation's Temporalities
  • João Cezar de Castro Rocha (bio)

Had we but world enough and time.

—Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"


In the contemporary world our lives seem to become ever more Girardian, and to such an extent that even everyday language speaks of this circumstance. I think especially of a tool that is omnipresent in our societies: One just has to listen carefully to the concepts employed daily by billions of users of the digital universal, and more particularly pay attention to the naturalization of an extremely aggressive behavior by the users of social networks.

Is it not true that we all want our posts and tweets and photos to go viral? Haven't we all have lost some precious time looking at an infinity of memes scrolling down mechanically screen after screen? In political science, there is even a new approach, memetic, specialized in the study of the production [End Page 47] of memes and above all in understanding the overwhelming impact of their reception—notably in the political arena. Among so many possible examples, the Italian movement Cinque Stelle, the election of both Donald Trump in the United States (2016) and Jair Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil (2018), and the outcome of the Brexit plebiscite (2016) are events intrinsically (although not exclusively) related to a sort of mass production of memes and other gadgets typical of social networks.

And that is not all: The word contagion is commonly employed by users in almost a technical Girardian sense. The paroxysm of a world for which social relations are dominated by aggravated internal mediation also deepens the mimetic drive underlying the digital universe. What is one to say of a new "profession" that is flourishing nowadays? I am referring to the digital influencer, whose only possible parallel is given by the uncontrollable multiplication of coaches for every single aspect of life. The reader of René Girard's fundamental work cannot but close her eyes and anticipate the next step. Digital influencers and coaches are only successful if they present themselves as an authentic skandalon to billions of users around the globe, for their lifestyle, although seemingly inaccessible or precisely because of it, becomes the explicit object of desire of their followers. Girardian concepts come naturally to mind: Metaphysical desire defines the profile of such followers—they want to be exactly like the coaches and influencers they admire. The double-bind nature of this predicament is a perfect recipe for the escalation of symbolic violence and abusive language that permeates the digital universe. Influencers and coaches are, so to speak, active nonreaders of Gregory Bateson's work, urging their followers to adopt them as undisputable models, but at the same time, because they are the coaches and the influencers, they are making it clear that the followers will not be able to achieve what nonetheless they are led to covet because of the same influencers and coaches. Otherwise, if every follower became a coach, the "profession" would at once reach its apogee and its destruction!

(You understand that redundancy imposes itself here because it is a powerful mimetic machine.)

In Bateson's words, the double bind is "a situation in which no matter what a person does, he 'can't win.' It is hypothesized that a person caught in the double bind may develop schizophrenic symptoms."1 This paradoxical structure evokes the classic situation of the fable, in which the character who desires everything [End Page 48] gains nothing; finding himself midway between two treasures, he is unable to settle on one for fear of losing the other. This is a conflictive situation provoked by the digital universe on a daily basis and on a planetary scale in an unprecedented manner.

The "best" is yet to come: This troubling escalation of mimetic rivalry and therefore mimetic violence, although entangled in embarrassingly trite matters, has a shocking outcome: the obsessive repetition of the mimetic resolution offered by the so-called "virtual lynching," and the omnipresence of the "cancel or call-out culture," an obvious variation of the scapegoat mechanism, widely employed and rendered properly epidemic due to an...