EVOLUTION OF DESIRE

A LIFE OF RENÉ GIRARD

From the Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture series

A penetrating account of an important thinker—and as agile, profound, and affecting as its subject.

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A biography provides a portrait of French theorist René Girard.

In her book, Haven (An Invisible Rope, 2011, etc.) recounts the rich details of Girard’s life. He was born on Christmas night in 1923 in Avignon, the second of five siblings. His mother was among the first women in the region to receive a baccalaureate, and his father was an anti-clerical archivist who served in World War I. Girard was a mischievous prankster and inconstant student but still showed precocious signs of his sensitive devotion to literature. Around age 10, the two books that influenced him the most were Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Kipling’sThe Jungle Book. Due to his sickliness, he was later ineligible for military service. He studied at the École des Chartes in Paris in the 1940s while the city was under German occupation. Girard jumped at an opportunity to teach at Indiana University, where he met his wife, Martha McCullough. He was denied tenure, neglecting to take seriously the counsel that publishing was crucial to advancement: “It is under this principle that I started to write, around 1950, after two or three years devoted essentially to female students and cars.” Girard was forced to take a position at Duke University in 1952, well before it was a heralded institution, which furnished plenty of fodder for his thinking on race. In 1961 he published Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, a philosophically sprawling work that covered the likes of Flaubert, Stendhal, and Dostoyevsky. And in 1966 he helped organize the legendary conference “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” which introduced the United States to an established Jacques Lacan as well as Jacques Derrida, a rising star. Girard’s illustrious career was crowned in 2005 with an election to the Académie Française; he died in 2015. Haven was a close friend of Girard’s, and that privileged perch allows her to consider his life both personally and intellectually. Many aspects of his history would be hard to adequately comprehend without this dual perspective. For example, she offers an impressively incisive account of his conversion from atheism to Christianity in 1958 (“It was something no one could have anticipated, least of all himself. ‘Conversion is a form of intelligence, of understanding,’ he said; it’s also a process…and as such would absorb him for the rest of his days”). In addition, her rendering is as panoramic as his thought—she considers a vertiginous array of diverse subjects insightfully, including Girard’s trenchant criticisms of Camus’ The Stranger, the ways in which the French and Americans view each other, and desire’s metaphysical aspects. Furthermore, Haven ably, even elegantly, synopsizes the central tenets of Girard’s beliefs, in particular his pioneering views on mimesis—a kind of updated version of Rousseau’s amour propre—the notion that the desires and violent conflicts that often spring from people have their root cause in the gregarious mimicking of others. In this intimate but philosophically searching book, the author’s writing is marvelously clear. She expertly unpacks Girard’s ideas, making them unusually accessible, even to readers with limited familiarity.

A penetrating account of an important thinker—and as agile, profound, and affecting as its subject.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61186-283-6

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Michigan State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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