A literary critic explores ""mimetic desire"" and the sacred in Dostoevsky's novels. Girard, an emeritus professor of French...



A literary critic explores ""mimetic desire"" and the sacred in Dostoevsky's novels. Girard, an emeritus professor of French at Stanford University, first published this book in France in 1963 and revised it in 1976; it is this revision that is now being issued in an English translation. With one foot in anthropology and another in religious studies, Girard remains a literary critic out of step with the majority of his colleagues, who are mostly concerned with such secular matters as ideology. Girard unabashedly holds that literature has been able ""to preserve some of the original power of the sacred"" that has otherwise been lost to our post-religious technological era. Dostoevsky is a key case in point. Editor and translator Williams (Religious Studies/Syracuse Univ.) offers a helpful prologue that situates the book in Girard's body of work. The critic's central thesis is that desire is mimetic. Contrary to the conventional view that instinct dominates our desires, Girard argues that we instinctively copy desire: ""To say that our desires are imitative or mimetic is to root them neither in their objects nor ourselves but in a third party, the model or mediator, whose desire we imitate in the hope of resembling him or her, in the hope that our two beings will be 'fused', as some Dostoevskyan characters love to say."" Girard is able to show exactly how this works in Dostoevsky's fiction over the entire course of the writer's career. Clear as this picture may be, Girard's highly specialized monograph is not for the casual Dostoevsky enthusiast. His readings of the later works, especially Demons and The Brothers Karamazov, take up explicitly religious interpretations of the ""mimetic desire"" thesis. The book is marred by opaque generalizations and a few excessively compressed forays into intellectual history. Girard can be hard to follow. He can also be persuasive. Alternately infuriating and engrossing, this messy little book is worth reading for its scattering of imaginative, challenging, and fruitful insights.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997


Page Count: 168

Publisher: Crossroad

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

Close Quickview