The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 25, 2015

December 25, 1923

When Stanford University wrote an obituary for Rene Girard (December 25, 1923 to November 4, 2015) they characterized his intellectual contributions this way:

A member of the prestigious Académie Française, René Girard was called "the new Darwin of the human sciences." His many books offered a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

Like other pioneers of human thinking Girard's concerns were not classifiable in the standard disciplines. Stanford called him a "theorist" and pointed out that as a member of the Academie Francaise, he held one of only 40 seats available to honor French accomplishment.
Only a death can lead to a new member of that organization.

His connection as a faculty member at Stanford began in 1981.

.....Girard was interested in the causes of conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behavior. Our desires, he wrote, are not our own; we want what others want. These duplicated desires lead to rivalry and violence. He argued that human conflict was not caused by our differences, but rather by our sameness. Individuals and societies offload blame and culpability onto an outsider, a scapegoat, whose elimination reconciles antagonists and restores unity.

According to author Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature at Stanford....
"The best analogy for what René represents in anthropology and sociology is Heinrich Schliemann, who took Homer under his arm and discovered Troy," ....[and Harrison recalled] that Girard formed many of his controversial conclusions by a close reading of literary, historical and other texts. "René had the same blind faith that the literary text held the literal truth. Like Schliemann, his major discovery was excoriated for using the wrong methods. Academic disciplines are more committed to methodology than truth."
....
[Of his first book ]...., Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English),....[the author said] "People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory"....

In 1972, he spurred international controversy with Violence and the Sacred (1977 in English), which explored the role of archaic religions in suppressing social violence through scapegoating and sacrifice.

It is this last book that is quotable here: Girard in this book recalls the words of  Anthony Storr :

"The physiology of violence varies little from one individual to another, even from one culture to another...Nothing resembles an angry cat or man so much as an angry cat or man."

The obituary continues:

He was the author of nearly 30 books, which have been widely translated, including .... Oedipus Unbound and A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare.

Some mention is made of Girard's biography:

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923.
His father was curator of Avignon's Musée Calvet and later the city's Palais des Papes, France's biggest medieval fortress and the pontifical residence during the Avignon papacy. Girard followed in his footsteps at l'École des Chartes, a training ground for archivists and librarians, with a dissertation on marriage and private life in 15th-century Avignon. He graduated as an archiviste-paléographe in 1947.

The New York Times attempted to assess Girard's work, but got off to a bad start when they mistakenly credited Girard with inventing the idea of mimesis.

Professor Girard, who was born in France, had lived and taught in the United States since 1950 but continued to write in French, amassing close to 30 works of analysis, essays and interviews. Writers like Karen Armstrong, Simon Schama and J. M. Coetzee have cited his work, and Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal, the digital payment company, credits Professor Girard with inspiring him to switch careers and become an early, and well-rewarded, investor in Facebook.....He gave Facebook its first $100,000 investment, he said, because he saw Professor Girard’s theories being validated in the concept of social media.

Professor Girard’s central idea was that human motivation is based on desire. People are free, he believed, but seek things in life based on what other people want. Their imitation of those desires, which he termed mimesis, is imitated by others in turn, leading to escalating and often destructive competition....

Professor Girard expanded his theory through the study of myths, looking at the ways groups of people often create scapegoats — tormenting and sacrificing them — as a means to establish unity. Published in French in 1972 and in English in 1977 as
“Violence and the Sacred,” the book argued that a scapegoat’s death can foster social order....

He obtained an advanced degree in Medieval studies at the École Nationale des Chartes in 1947. On a lark he took a position in the French department at Indiana University, where he met his wife, a student in one of his classes....

A nonpracticing Roman Catholic, Professor Girard underwent a religious awakening after a cancer scare in 1959, while working on the conclusion of his first book....
Much recognition came to Professor Girard late in life. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013 he received the Order of Isabella the Catholic from the king of Spain for his work in philosophy and anthropology.

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