Girard’s Ethical Silence

AFTER ANATTA : TOWARDS A GIRARDIAN ETHICS

Part 3.1

As we just saw, both in Buddhism and in Girard’s work, ethics comes first in an embodied form. And in both traditions, it is through ethics that the profound positive effects of mimesis can be felt. Girard confirms that there is such a mimetic wisdom: “There is a mimetic wisdom, which I do not claim to embody, and it is in Christianity that we have to look for it.” 1 But what would be the content of this wisdom, of this sense of Ethics? What, as such, would be ethical? The views of Girard on actual ethical positions are quite sparse. One undoubtedly feels a ‘push’ towards ethical implications at the reading of his oeuvre, but Girard always refrains from being explicit, let alone normative. In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, he comments on this ‘silence’:

“I am not embarrassed to admit that an ethical and religious dimension exists for me, but it is the result of my thinking rather than an external preconception that determined my research. I have always believed that if I managed to communicate what some of my reading meant to me, the conclusions I was forced to reach would force themselves on other people as well.” 2

In other words, Girard acknowledges the ethical potential, its almost “heaviness” in his reflection, and he himself drew personal ethical conclusions from it. But, like the Buddhist master addressing the novice, he does not want to ‘do all the work’: Girard shows the path, he may even be himself a model to some, but it is to the reader to undertake the same journey and reach by herself these self-emerging conclusions.

One could argue that remaining in Girard’s footpath would also imply to keep the ethical conclusions unconcealed. We may second Leo D. Lefebure, who suggests similarly, that the Buddha’s refusal to offer new “views” (that is, dogmatic intellectual perspectives) could be his very own ethical attitude. 3 The scriptures indicate that the Buddha advised his last disciples to forget the teachings he had given and to prefer instead what they, themselves, believed to be the spirit of his message. This way, they could avoid both the attachment to Buddha as their only possible inspiration, and the enhancement of rivalry through competing schools of interpretation.

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Should we, like the Vajrayāna Buddhists, divulge the secrets of a tradition to only those who are ready to consecrate time and effort to profoundly understand and explore them? The whole of the philosophical enterprise, including in its modern, scholarly form, is based on another paradigm, rather opposite to this. The academic project aims as an attempt to clarify, to explicate the intellectual positions available across cultures. But we are in a state of non-explicitness, of a lack of clarity when it comes to Girard and ethics.

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Should we, like the Vajrayāna Buddhists, divulge the secrets of a tradition to only those who are ready to consecrate time and effort to profoundly understand and explore them? The whole of the philosophical enterprise, including in its modern, scholarly form, is based on another paradigm, rather opposite to this. The academic project aims as an attempt to clarify, to explicate the intellectual positions available across cultures. But we are in a state of non-explicitness, of a lack of clarity when it comes to Girard and ethics. Nathan Colborne, among others, has argued that Girard has not given enough direction towards a real, practical political ethic based on the values highlighted by his discoveries. 4 It is within this framework, within this lack of a clear expression, that we can legitimate the present work. My goal, in the following sections, is to clarify a few broad considerations about the possible terrains of a ‘Girardian Ethics.’

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References

Image courtesy: Heather Buchanan

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Footnotes

  1. Girard, Battling to the End, 196.
  2. René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort. Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), 446.
  3. Lefebure, “Mimesis, Violence and Socially Engaged Buddhism” 129 and “Buddhism and Mimetic Theory” 180.
  4. Nathan Colborne, “Engaging Girard – Is a Girardian Political Ethic Necessary?,” Journal of Religion, Conflict and Peace 4 (1), 22 http://www.religionconflictpeace.org/node/73 (accessed 23 May 2012).