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

EVOLUTION OF DESIRE

A LIFE OF RENÉ GIRARD

From the Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture series

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’s The 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 University Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

NIGHT

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

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