Renee Girard On the Scapegoat
October 5th, 2005
RH (Robert Harrison)
RG (Renee Girard)
1 RH/ This is KZSU Stanford. Welcome to Entitled Opinions. My name is Robert Harrison. We’re coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
Warning. The following is an un-adulterated unusually concentrated intellectual discussion. It should be avoided by anyone who does not have a very high tolerance for thinking. If you have an aversion to the exchange of ideas, if you are deficient in curiosity, if you suffer from common America anti-intellectualism than please, tune out now. This show promotes the narcotic of intelligent conversation. It takes us into the garden and seats us at the banquet table of ideas. Where we feast on the bread of angels. Clear and distinct thinking, intuitive analysis, and an enriched use of English. We bring them all to bear on the pursuit of self-knowledge. So be warned we don’t dumb things down around here. We ratchet up and let it rip.
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@2:35/ Nay ma propheta in patria sua. No one is a prophet in his own country. That is largely true I suppose but it doesn’t apply to this program. The prophets on this show are mostly our own Stanford faculty and colleagues. They have as much to say about literature and ideas as anyone anywhere. If you don’t believe me just sit back and listen to what’s coming up. I have with me in the studio Professor Renee Girard who has taught for almost 30 years in the department of French and Italian here at Stanford. Renee, by any measure is one of the giants of 20th century thought. Just this year his native country of France saw fit to recognize his remarkable achievements by inducting him into the French Academy, La Cademe Francaise. This is the highest honor a French intellectual can receive in France. I’ve said it before and I will say it again Professor Girard’s appointment to the Academe Francaise, means that Stanford’s department of French and Italian has not only one but two so called immortals among it’s faculty: Renee Girard and Michele Sere. No other department in the country with the exception of Chicago has even one. Nay ma propheta in patria sua, doesn’t apply here.
Renee welcome to the show, or should I say welcome to the show again.
2 RG @3:55/ It’s a pleasure to be here.
3 RH/ We had you on air a couple of weeks ago where we talked about your theory of mimetic desire as you worked it out in your first book: Deceit, Desire and the Novel. We deliberately limited our discussion last time to mimetic desire as you saw it at work in European fiction and in Shakespeare and we held off for this second installment of our conversation the remarkable sort of turn that your career took after that first book where you went into hitherto unexplored territories for you. Which was in religious studies and in anthropology, in fact your career is quite unusual and exceptional where a literary scholar through the study of literature stumbles upon an insight into mimetic desire that then you subsequently brought into these other spheres and began to plummet the depths of how mimetic desire becomes and organizing principle of societies as a whole and especially for religions, primitive religions.
I suppose we should begin with your concept of religion. I think it’s fair to say for you religion is not a collection of beliefs or creeds or explanations of the world, the mystery of the cosmos. Rather it’s a set of practices first and foremost. Do I get that right?
4 RG @5:33/ Yes, and these practices are called rituals. Ritual is very important in the sense that it is understood by all archaic people as something indispensable to the survival and well being of the community. Of course the main, the only type of ritual is sacrifice, violent sacrifice, the killing of a victim.
5 RH/ The only kind of ritual is sacrifice I, …mmm, that’s …
6 RG/ It’s not true, of course. But the original type of ritual is the killing of a victim by a priest in the presence of the entire community.
7 RH @6:26/ So this is the cornerstone of your theory. The foundation of ritual, that it entails the scapegoating of a victim by a collective. Can you say how you went from mimetic desire in …
8 RG/ Well what we found last time, the main thing in a way is that mimetic desire when it spreads, spreads violence with itself, conflict among people, rivalry. It means that people all desire the same thing. Now how far can that go? There are signs that communities are subject, archaic communities, but even modern communities, all communities are subject to disturbances which tend to spread to the entire community contagiously through a form of mimetic desire. If you have two people who desire the same thing you will soon have three. When you have three, they contaminate the rest of the community faster and faster. Therefore you’re going to have a disturbance of that entire community. As they become contaminated with mimetic desire the differences which separate them the fact that there are barriers to the type of intercourse that mimetic desire produces these collapse and therefore you go toward what I call a mimetic crisis. A mimetic crisis is the moment when everybody at the same time is fighting over some thing, the same object. Even if that object disappears they will go on fighting because they will become obsessed with each other. As that conflict arose it threatens to destroy the whole community. Therefore at that point the part of my theory which is most of a conjecture is really that precise point, what happens to end that sort of crisis?
My answer to this is that at some point there is a contamination upon a victim, one particular victim seems to more and more people to be responsible for the whole problem. In other words the mimetic contagion moves from desire to a specific victim. We could be more technical you know and give the detail of this but it would not be interesting. When this happens everybody is going to become hostile to that victim and ultimately that victim is going to be, there is the only technical term exists in English; lynching. The lynching of a victim of a single victim will cause the community to be reconciled against that victim. Therefore that victim is hated as if it were responsible for the trouble, but immediately after if the trouble ends there, that victim will be worshipped as the one who resolved that conflict. In my view the main characteristic of an archaic god or even ancient gods is that it is both bad and good. That duality is extremely important. It’s a sign that behind that victim there is the quote unquote, “scapegoat” of that community. In other words the victim universally chosen, who in fact is not really responsible for anything, but is chosen by the mimetic contagion, therefore is perceived first as guilty and then as a savior, a god.
9 RH @10:25/ How does a natural disaster like a plague unleash this mimetic contagion among a community?
10 RG/ Well, because it causes, .. here we have lots of description ancient and modern. Many people, if you read descriptions of plagues in the middle ages, in the Renaissance, you will see that many people understand that scapegoat phenomena are connected with this phenomena. Of course as long as the real plague is going on a scapegoat is not going to solve the problem. But the problem that it will solve is the total disunion, disruption, of the community which is caused by the mimetic belief of everybody that everybody else is responsible.
11 RH/ So if you’re, We’re talking about religion that arises out of these practices. I take it that you believe whatever creeds or beliefs religion sponsors or gives rise to really come after the fact of these acts. And you want really to commit yourself to in a literal way to the actual practice of a lynching or scapegoating as being the foundation for archaic religion…
12 RG/ That’s true.
13 RH @11:52/ …now, we’re not talking about some archaic religions, you hold this as…
14 RG/ All of them.
15 RH/ … as a universal, yeah.
16 RG @11:55/ Of course what is universally observed is that sacrifice is the main religious institution of all archaic religion. One has never really found religion without sacrifice. What is sacrifice? Sacrifice is not what I just described. What I just described, the actual scapegoat phenomenon, is the foundation of sacrifice. When a community is reconciled by a scapegoat it’s very happy at first. But it very quickly discovers that rivalries reappear. Then what is it going to do? It’s going to remember that that single victim destroyed the fighting, brought back the peace. So what a community is doing, what all communities do, is to pick a victim and kill that victim in the same way that this first victim was killed.
17 RH/ So this would be the introduction of ritualization of violence.
18 RG @12:56/ That’s right. You see the thing which amazes anthropologists about the ritualization of violence is that sacrifices are usually proceeded by a free for all in which the entire community becomes disrupted. So they don’t understand why in order to stop this disruption you should go into with greater disruption. But what you do is to imitate the whole process of crisis and resolution. This is what ritual is. Indeed it works.
19 RH/ It works in terms of restoring a order ….
20 RG/ Of restoring an order. Yeah, the order which was created by the original scapegoat.
21 RH @13:35/ What evidence do you rely on? In order to argue for the fact that prior to the institution of ritual there was a, there’s lynching?
22 RG/ Well, the order is ritual and myth. Because if you look at myths seriously you will see that you always have the story of some kind of scoundrel who disrupts a community, who is punished by the entire community and after that turns out to be a god.
Now, if you assume this is the misunderstanding of the process which creates the community.
23 RH @14:16/ Where’s the misunderstanding? In the stories that are told about it?
24 RG/ No, in the fact that the people believe that the victim is really guilty. What is characteristic of sacrificial societies is that they believe that the god is really as much as a good god; a bad god, who can and does disrupt a community in order to punish the community. Then save it through his own action. Through the disruption itself.
25 RH/ If you were to take as an example, uh there’s a distinction now between myth and ritual. Ritual is a set of practices you’ve just described. Myth, I take it to be a recounting in another mode of the events that have their foundation in ritual.
26 RG/ Sure.
27 RH/ Your theory of myth is very interesting to me because it suggests that myths, archaic myths above all, have a, they reveal the mechanisms you are talking about on the one had, but they camouflage them on the other.
28 RG @15:26/ Yeah, they don’t reveal it. Because if they had revealed it we would know about it.
29 RH/ But they must reveal it at least to the extent that you’re able to deduce …
30 RG/ mmm hum
31 RH/ …the existence of these mechanisms through your reading of myth.
32 RG @15:35/ Well, you can see that the more myth you take as examples the more you realize that you always have the same thing. Now in Greece the most revealing system of myth, you know, accumulation of myth is the Dyonisiac cycle. In the Dyonisiac cycle you have a lynching each time. What is amazing is not really the fact that I noticed this , is the fact that no one noticed it before. The religious system which would be entirely based on a bunch of myth at the center of which there is a lynching, the lynching becomes the most important factor which should be taken into account by the interpreters and never was because our society is very reluctant to think that there might be something in humans beings which would fundamentally lead to violence. This is what indeed these myth demonstrate. That societies have a tendency to go wrong when you have more and more mimetic rivalry. That is why all rules of societies are an effort to prevent mimetic rivalry.
If you look at primitive communities for instance. Why do they have such complicated marriage rules? In order to prevent the people who would fight about the same women to gather on these women and to desire them together. If brother incest is always forbidden it’s because it would lead to a battle between these brothers. So, whereas human being, animals in general would tend to go to the easiest way to get something, you know, human beings always take the distant way. They always go get their wives as far as possible. They get their food separately. They must not eat together so they will not fight about the food. This is true of everything.
33 RH @17:48/ I’d like to get clear about myth, wether it’s because you begin with a theory about the foundations of ritual that you’re able to read the myths the way you read them. Or is it by reading the myths that you come to the conclusion that a scapegoating ritual is always somewhere hidden behind the stories …
34 RG/ Inevitably it’s a little of both you know. They started to discover of prehistorical remnants of animals which were very revealing thanks to the Darwinian theory, but not before. You have to have a theory in order to verify it. And you have to have that verification also. But it’s a dual process.
35 RH @18:37/ How did you come to your theory in the first place?
36 RG/ The fact that I read at the same time a large part of the entire body of findings by the British anthropologists in English Colonies you know. You find that religious phenomena are the same everywhere. Theories in a way have not recognized it. They are the same everywhere and they use the same vocabulary, but they have to repeat the same thing about phenomena which repeat themselves constantly but there is no way to theorize them. So I’m absolutely convinced that there must be a correct theory of these facts.
37 RH/ Well, I like the idea that there is a correct theory of certain facts but let me read you something that you said in an interview you gave with Diacritics awhile ago where you’re talking about myth and you say:
It is true that many interpretations of the same mythical text are possible but they are all false. One interpretation alone is true, the one that reveals the structuring power of the persecutors standpoint to which all the others remain blind.
Now, would you say in retrospect that you over stated the case there?
38 RG @20:04/ The case is overstated if the evidence that goes with it is not mentioned which is the case now. See what I mean? You have to see the evidence. I mean the reversal …, to understand that in order to have scapegoat phenomenon in a text, a real one, no scapegoat must be mentioned. Because people must believe in the guilt of the victim. At the same time the god being a scapegoat this victim is both a scapegoat very bad and very good. How can you make sense out of that continuously without something like the scapegoat phenomenon? How could not the view of the sacrificial crisis in which everybody is against everybody else ultimately be solvable through this principle of the single scapegoat which in mimetic desire, you know, mimetic desire spreads around in diverse ways until it gets all people together and fighting in a situation of conflict. The only way to solve this type of conflict is through a single victim. A single victim is possible because at that point everybody is doing the same thing everybody, therefore it is always possible. You see I could reply with a question, do you believe there are scapegoats in our society?
39 RH/ umm hum
40 RG/ If there are scapegoats in our society it’s obvious that in an archaic society these scapegoats will be total victims, will be killed.
41 RH @21:43/ One can admit that but let’s say on a common sensical reading of mythology, for example Ovids Metampophosis a text that we teach a lot and that is a compendium of all sorts of different kinds of …
42 RG/ Yeah, but it’s a compendium without the (N?) generally. Because Ovid is doing something very literary and very different from a myth. He’s collecting them for the picturesqueness. He’s very popular with us because precisely because he takes the teeth out of them and turns them into stories. So thanks to people like Ovid, we can say that myth are nothing but stories. See what I mean?
43 RH @22:20/ So the myths that you have in mind are which ones? Are they particular to the archaic myth, the oldest ones?
44 RG/ Well, sure if you look at really archaic countries you know we don’t have to many myth because it was very difficult for westerners in the 19th century to obtain from the natives that they would tell their myth in an intelligible way. But there were people who were extremely gifted for that and we have enough myth to understand that they are scapegoat stories. They are all misunderstood scapegoat stories.
45 RH/ Let’s take one myth. The Oedipus myth was huge for Freud, he built a whole theory of the unconscious on it. You have your own reading of a myth like that.
46 Rg @23:03/ You know, as a matter of fact that reading was discovered before me. It was, now her name escapes me, but there was a French woman I think it was the 20’s who had exactly the same theory. All scholars said to her they were believers in text, you know like our literary critics. They said, but there is absolutely no evidence in the Oedipus myth that Oedipus is a scapegoat, is an innocent victim. She didn’t know how to answer. She should have answered, it’s precisely part of the evidence that the evidence is not there in that case.
47 RH/ (Chuckles) But at the same time it is the perfect mimetic crisis situation that you were describing earlier there’s a plague going on …
48 RG @23:54/ Sure. there is a plague going on. It’s described. And the tragedy …
49 RH/ So do you think behind the Oedipus myth the original, the archaic one, there was …
50 RG/ Of course. There was probably also a sacred kingship. In the sacred kingship the king was a god, therefore he had to be guilty like a god, had to commit incest and patricide. He had to commit all sorts of crimes. We saw with our own eyes at the beginning of colonization you know that there were sacred kingships in Africa just like the Oedipus myth. Because when you appointed the king you had him commit incest with his sister and his mother and he was told he had to do it. He had to do it in order to scare his own people into believing that he was both a dangerous man and a savior for the reason that mythical heroes are.
51 RH/ Well, here one gets a sense of how then the, … you bring a very special hermeneutic to bear on the ancient texts and the archaic myths that we’re dealing with. Where on the one hand there are distortions of some originary event. On the other hand they have power to reveal what’s at work in there. I take it that the archaic societies that were founded on this connection between violence and the sacred, here you know I’m using the title of your book Violence and the Sacred, where you see violence as inextricable to forms of the sacred. That they come together in a way that actually enables societies to survive these crisis, by committing measured ritualized acts of violence, they preserve the collective from devouring, cannibalizing themselves.
52 RG @25:56/ The proof that it works is that even someone as intelligent, as modern in many ways as Aristotle, thought that the tragic hero, who was killed at the end, was guilty, fundamentally guilty. You know the word harmatia, indicates that mythical guilt which no one had ever identified really. Which is the guilt of Oedipus.
53 RH/ So if we take this concept of harmatia or guilt connected to myth and move our discussion now to the Hebrew Bible. You have an understanding of the Hebrew Bible as the beginning of a demystification of myth and the violent origins of the sacred that are in there in myth. That therefore it is already starting to do the work of hermeneutics. Do I understand you correctly when I say that you read the Hebrew Bible as …
54 RG @27:00/ Yes. The fundamental text from that point of view in the Jewish Bible is of course in the part of the prophet Isaiah which is called the second Isaiah. Which is much later than the first. In there there are the famous songs of the suffering servant. The suffering servant is very good prophet, very weak and at the same time he’s described as the type of people who is always unpopular in a society that people will turn against without reason. Finally he’s killed by the whole people in a kind of lynching which has been seen as a matter of fact as a model for the Christian Passion. Other people say rightly that it’s not a model, but it is the same process. It is, I think the overturning in mythology, the discovery of what mythology is about. For the first time in mythical texts instead of being treated like a myth. In other words being read by people who don’t understand that the victim is guilty, is innocent, therefore represented the victim as guilty. That victim is represented as hated by the whole people and nevertheless killed by people who make a mistake just as in the Gospels, you know, when Jesus says, “forgive them O Lord for they know not what they do”, we have to take these words literally. They are not words of pity, words of being nice you know to these poor befuddled people and so forth, they are the actual revelation of the thing. These people really believe they are guilty. Peter too, when he talks to the crowd in Jerusalem says you’re not as guilty as now your going to think. Before you felt you were innocent because your victim was guilty. Now you’re going to think you are guilty. But this happens all the time and you are not as guilty as you think. But you must change your behavior. You must no longer get together against victims the way you have down in the past. We are entering a new world in which this type of truth will be visible. It will be a much more difficult world. But it will be much better.
55 RH @29:17/ Yeah. I want to talk about the Christian scriptures shortly but first two myths, myths!, two stories from the Hebrew Bible. The sacrifice of Isaac …
56 RG/ There we’re going back much farther than the suffering servant of course …
57 RH/ Yes. I’d like you to talk a little bit about that as well as the story of Joseph.
58 Rg @29:40/ Well the thing which is interesting in the Bible is that we are always going towards less violence, less archaic stuff. The beginning of the Bible is very archaic. The background is one of child sacrifice unquestionably. Therefore this child sacrifice is still there in the sense that Abraham hears the call.
My reading is not at all like Kierkegaard. Who thinks that God is playing some kind of trick on the father in order to test his obedience. That’s an incredibly modern reading which has no relationship with the archaic text. In the archaic text every, we know now that human sacrifice, sacrifice of the first born especially was much more wide spread. There was quite a bit by the way in North and South America. You see, so it’s avery important phenomenon and there we see it in the case of Isaac. So, what the story, …it’s a fantastic thing, it’s the only document in the world which documents the shift from human sacrifice of the first born to animal sacrifice. Because Isaac is finally replaced. And this is presented as a divine action. This is the whole movement of the Bible is toward that. To reveal the guilt of sacrifice and replace it either with a lesser victim or with no victim at all.
59 RH/ Can an animal play the role of a scapegoat?
60 RG @31:16/ An animal to a certain extent can play the role of a scapegoat when we can still see in our world, you know the employee who goes to his job, and who is mis-treated by his boss. He’s so afraid to loose his job that he will do nothing, but when he gets back home if he’s really mad he will kick the dog. If he’s even more mad he will slap his child. And if he’s really insanely mad he will hurt his wife. The sacrificial instinct is so visible in us that as we say this you know it makes us laugh in a way but it’s a kind of sinister laugh.
But the sacrificial hierarchies of the archaic world are present in our psychology. They are of course the reactions to anger.
61 RH/ So you think we can fall back at any moment to these kind of archaic forms of behavior …
62 RG @32:10/ We still have quite a bit. Everytime even when you break a plate or when, ..you, you are really going back to sacrifice.
63 RH/ What about the story of Joseph? In the Bible.
64 RG/ This is one of the most magnificent stories. Because there, you see Joseph is a scapegoat.
65 RH/ Can you tell our listeners … the story of Joseph
66 RG @32:54/ The story of Joseph is fascinating because in a way it’s a hidden scapegoat. Because it’s a scapegoat of a community. You have so many brothers that it’s like a community. You have twelve brothers and one of them is hated by all the other ones. So you must not try to explain that hatred. It’s enough to say his father likes him because he’s better because he’s more intelligent than his brothers because he dominates them. So they all get together in order to get rid of him. They try to kill him, but finally one of the twelve, Judah, whose a little more humane than his brothers says let’s sell him into slavery. They send him to Egypt. In Egypt pretty much the same thing happens to him. He’s so full of talent. He’s a bright young jewish boy that becomes very powerful in the household where he is sent as a slave. Which is the household of Potiphar who is the great civil servant of Pharaoh. One fine day because he’s handsome and nice, the lady Potiphar, the wife of Potiphar tries to make love to him. She fails because he’s completely faithful to his master. But when she denounces him as having tried to make love to her, he’s sent to jail. Therefore he becomes a scapegoat a second time. There he is saved by the fact that like Oedipus in a way he’s a kind of prophet. He can foretell the future. He has two dreams in which he reveals there will be a great famine to Pharaoh. Therefore Pharaoh appoints him as the prime minister of Egypt. During the seven years in which there is a lot of food he gathers that food and after that time people come from all over the middle east in order to get, to be saved by him. Among these people who show up, twice in a row there are the brothers. He recognizes them. Joseph recognizes them. But they do not recognize him because he’s dressed like an Egyptian. He’s an incredibly powerful man. He puts them to a scapegoat test. He says he wants to keep the youngest one, the last one, the one who is equivalent to him who is named Benjamin. He slanders Benjamin he says that Benjamin has stolen his cup. Then finally what happens? Judah, you know, who already more or less saved Joseph, says you know I can’t stand it I’m going to stand in the place of my brother, you keep me and you let Benjamin go. Because if Benjamin doesn’t go back, our old father Jacob will die. And there he’s so touched, Joseph is so touched that he forgives all his brothers.
In that story you have the whole movement of the Bible toward the revelation of the scapegoat and the giving of oneself as a scapegoat in order to reveal the system to reveal the truth, to abolish the scapegoat system. It’s one of the most beautiful stories ever written. And in which the whole spirit of Judaism and Christianity is present. That’s why from a technical viewpoint the Christians say it is a perfect prophecy of the death of Jesus.
67 RH/ We’re talking to Renee Girard. We’re gonna be right back.
68 RH @37:52/ Renee I want to move to the modern era. But before that a word or two about the role of the Christian scriptures in your thinking. Is it fair to say that you read the Christian scriptures as not just a halfway revelation but a full revelation of the scapegoat mechanism of ancient religions. That through the lynching, scapegoating of Jesus, you have finally the open revelation of this the violent origins of …
69 RG @38:26/ That’s it. Just let me give an example because it’s very often it’s a reading of jewish Bible passages, of the Psalms for instance. Just before his passion, Jesus asks the people with him why don’t you explain to me this sentence, you know the sentence that is in Psalm 118 I think: The stone that the builders rejected has become the key stone.
Now tell me that the scapegoat is not the foundation of society. Because, obviously that sentence is about that. You know and the people who listen to Jesus, never answer his question. And theologians are lost in all sorts of Greek stuff and they’ve never answered this question since. Ask a theologian what that sentence means just like Jesus did. The stone that the builders rejected has become the key stone. Or ask a theologian why in the Gospel of John, Ciaphas says, it is better that one man dies and the whole people be saved. This is regarded as a prophetic line. Why? If the scapegoat is not important to human culture and religion. The Bible is full of things like that. The great parables, the parable of the murderous wine makers for instance is nothing but that. You know the wine makers, the master of the vineyard always send messengers to them. They kill them and say, after we kill them, we’ll be the masters of our own world. We’ll be our own foundation.
70 RH @40:16/ In orthodox Christian theology the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is perceived to have redemptive value. I take it for you it’s not so much the redemption that takes place on the cross but rather a revelation of the scandal, what you call the scandal, the scandalon. How do you answer theologians who say well where is the salvational aspect?
71 RG @40:40/ Turn it around. No, but let them tell me where the salvation is. I believe it just as they do but they have not yet explained that. And what you talking about is really the theory of St. Anselm. You know in the 12th century.
72 RH/ St. Paul as well.
73 RG/ Oh no. St.Paul never does it in the same way. You know as a matter of fact if you look at the church the church has dogmas, plenty of dogmas. But there is no official theory of redemption, of how the cross works. So you are allowed to make guesses and try to understand it. But of course I say what can be understood is the human side of it. You see what I mean. But I do not deny, … I don’t deal with theology. I deal with the anthropology of religions. And I think the fault of both theologians and anthropologists is that they haven’t seen that they are talking about the same thing in different languages.
74 RH @41:45/ A huge jump forward. We don’t have all that much time left. Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century marks a huge shift in western culture especially with his war that he waged against Christianity. Writing a book called The Anti-Christ for example. His whole denunciation of Christianity as a religion for the, a slave religion, founded on resentment and frustration. How, …you have worked a lot on Nietzsche and you have a very interesting relationship to him because for you he’s not just a wrong or mad in his insights. But he saw a lot there that you think needs to be rescued, but perhaps in a way that there was an ultimate blind spot.
75 RG @42:42/ He’s so wrong that in some ways he’s right.
76 RH/ And what was he wrong about principally?
77 RG/ For instance, just one year before his death. Now that we have the complete works of Nietzsche thanks to the Italian …
78 RH/ Colli and Montanari.
79 RG/ Colli and Montanari, we have a text of Nietzsche, you know we have only one version of this. Very often in the and this text says: “Dionysus and Jesus? Same death.” Same collective death. The difference is that Dionysus does not accept sacrifice, Oh, no, no, no, …that Jesus, that Christianity does not accept sacrifice, doesn’t want anyone to die. Whereas Dionysus accepts it. Therefore Dionysus is life, you know. Dionysus, …what he should say if he were really honest, he would say Dionysus is the crowd I’m talking about. Dionysus is the lynching of that crowd which makes it the religion of the slaves par excellence. We know very well that in a way it’s the destruction of the most ancient social system that revived or invented Dionysus. Dionysus is par excellence the religion of the crowd. Nietzsche inverted that because he hated so much Christianity. But that hatred was so close to that profound love that he’s always talking about the right subjects. Very often he’s inverting a solution which is completely obvious. It look today there are very few people who are Christian. Christianity has never been the religion of the elite as much as it is today. Especially in Europe there are very few people who dare be for Christianity. Christianity is in a way the religion of the people who refuse that lynching crowd, that ultimately Nietzsche accepts and glorifies.
80 RH @45:00/ When he collapsed in Turin and he wrote a number of brilliantly lucid but mad letters, some of them he signed Dionysus, others he signed The Crucified. What does that tells us?
81 RG/ Yeah. I think that there it’s a very important, it has to be analyzed in detail. But I think it’s finally the collapse of his system. Because he instead he’s been trying to build up that difference in favor of Dionysus and now at the end it collapses completely. Both have become equivalent but Nietzsche cannot stand it and literally falls into the hands of the living God which is a very dangerous fate as the Jews well knew. You see, he uh, … but deep down I feel that Nietzsche is saved. Because he thinks beyond his lucid thought. And the moment he does that is precisely when he can sign either way. In other words his whole world collapses. One could say that the entire effort of his life was to demonstrate the superiority of Dionysus over Christ, you know. At that moment I would say it collapses.
82 RH @46:24/ In 1966 another German thinker, Heidegger, gave an interview to the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel. Where he was asked about his politics and his view of modern technology, and so called modern nihilism, the forces of nihilism, that’s a word that’s also dear to you as well, although you understand it in a very different way than Heidegger did. The interviewers at a certain point ask him well what can the philosophers do in order to offset nihilism or do something about the destructive forces of technology and to re-humanize politics, the world and so forth. Heidegger answers that, there’s nothing the philosophers can do, there’s nothing anyone can do. “Only a god can save us.”
83 RG @47:20/ …only a god. And what precisely the modern world is not going to produce is a new god. What Heidegger asserts in that way, he asserts that the great succession of archaic gods was not destroyed by Judaism and Christianity. In other words was not revealed as the lie that it is. And if it were not revealed you know indeed there could be a new archaic gods. And that’s what Heidegger was talking about. If there cannot be any archaic gods it means we are deprived of sacrifices. It means we are threatened if we continue to be as violent as we are by the destruction of the world.
84 RH/ For you that’s a good thing.
85 RG @48:07/ It’s not a question of a good thing, but the Christian and Jewish documents always contain apocalyptic material which is not about the destruction of the world by God, as the fundamentalists believe, but the destruction of the world by human beings themselves. If you read the great apocalyptic chapters of the Gospels, which are much more important than the apocalypse of John, which are part of the main revelation, you will see that it’s always a world which becomes more and more violent which finally destroys itself. Not the responsibility of God as we here today. The texts should be revived. It is a great lack a fault of the churches that they don’t talk about that.
86 RH/ Two questions then. If Heidegger is wrong to say only a god can save us, your answer is that only we can save ourselves. Is that right?
87 RG @49:12/ Only we can save ourselves. I’m much more of a humanist than he is.
88 RH/ And what prescriptions do you put forward for this sort of self-help by which we can come to our own rescue?
89 RG/ Well, the one which is at the beginning of the Gospel. Which is non-retaliation, which is peace. If you don’t have sacrifices to return peace to you, you have to do it by yourself. And we know what the recipe is. It’s a very difficult one. It’s non-retaliation. It’s the rules defined by the four, by the three synoptic Gospels as the rules of the kingdom of God.
90 RH @49:49/ The other part of Heideggers dictum, only a god can save us is that we live in a world which is completely desacralized and that some dimension of the Holy would be brought forth by such a god. So do you think that we can live, that human beings are, would be comfortable in themselves and living in a world which had no dimension of the sacred, no dimension of the holy and is there a possible sacred without violence without the contamination of violence in it?
91 RG @50:21/ Wait a minute. No, no. Well I prefer not to use the word sacred. My answer to your question is yes. And this real divineness, you know this real holiness will come out of de-sacralization itself. The sacralization for which Heidegger is asking is a return to the archaic. He knows that himself. Therefore he knows fully that it is impossible. The modern is not bad as Heidegger thinks. The modern is made bad by the badness of man, but in itself it is a good thing. It is a good development. It is more intelligence to man, more humaneness, you know because in spite of all the bad aspects of the world it is also true that our world is the best the world as ever known. In many ways. Therefore it’s this world which must be saved. It can be saved as you just said only by human beings getting along together.
92 RH/ Well that’s easy to say but when it comes to…
93 RG @51:32/ Oh I don’t say it is easy to do. Probably it’s not going to happen.
94 RH/ What sort of recipes does one concretely speaking put forward to…
95 RG/ There cannot be any recipe. There cannot be any recipe because this is the reason why the Gospels begin with the kingdom of God, the offer of the kingdom of God and the attempt to convince human beings that they should refrain from retaliation.
96 RH/ Is the Christian Gospel essential to your notion of human beings being able to come to their own rescue or can one arrive at the same result independently of that particular body of texts?
97 RG @52:20/ I think that body of texts includes the Jewish Bible and the Prophets and the Christian Gospels which are truly indispensable. What we need is to complete the theological reading with an anthropological reading that would make it intelligible on the human plane. It’s very difficult because people are not interested in it. Because people are trying to fight it back. I think in my view that the real unconscious is there, the real defense mechanisms you know, the rejection of an awareness of our own violence. Especially in terms of national and international intercourse of course. Where the other nation is always available for insults, vilification and scapegoating. This is true in all countries ‘till today. This is probably the most essential thing. The experience of international life today should, I mean shows this to us absolutely marvelously. I’m in France today I have to treat Iraq as it it were the fault of every American. I’m in America today I have to treat every Frenchman as if he were a traitor to America, as if being a traitor to America were significant in France. (Chuckles)
98 RH/ Last week we had Dan Edelstein on the program and we were talking about the Enlightenment, this hugely complex phenomena we call the Enlightenment. I don’t recall you giving any particular sustained attention to that except for various authors. Do you see the Enlightenment as growing out of the tradition that we’ve been talking about or is it something…
99 RG @54:20/ Yes of course. I think it’s a complex question. I think in the Enlightenment people understand many things about Christianity which are not specifically religious, are just good human relations. They are convinced that they will be able to establish these relationships simply because human beings are “good”, quote unquote. You know, human beings are “good will”, quote unquote. That is the reaso n we don’t read anthropology as it really is today. Because we believe that the Enlightenment, the discovery of the goodness of man must take place against religion which has been an obstacle to it. In reality it’s the action of religion which made it possible to reach the Enlightenment. Therefore this action seems unnecessary. Indeed it is in a way unnecessary. We understand today that sacrifice is crazy. To have substitute victims you know, we can’t believe in them. Therefore the Enlightenment is to say human beings don’t need that. Human beings are good and let them be good. Religion is really the obstacle of that goodness. They see something quite real in the idea of the moment but they see it wrongly because they don’t understand history and they don’t understand that they have reached that point because the action of sacrifice has made them very slowly, better. They should indeed get rid of sacrifice but not in a spirit of anti-religion because there is a huge illusion about there own goodness.
100 RH/ Yeah. I’m reminded of something Vico says in his New Science, an 18th century work where he’s quoting Polibius who said if there were more philosophers in the world we not need religion. Vico says if there had not been religion in the world there would have been no commonwealth and if there were no commonwealth there would have been no philosophers. But about the Enlightenment, if it’s the case that we have to come to our own rescue that human beings are the perpetrators of the woes of the social and existential woes that befall us. The Enlightenment in many ways was a call to this sort of self responsibility was it not?
101 RG @56:39/ Sure. Yes. This is good. There is no doubt that Voltaire was right when he said that the persecution of Calas, he was more Christians than his Christian opponents. There is no denying of that. Indeed all the churches have reached that point. Therefore what we must be very careful of is not to think in terms of shut and open categories you see what I mean. History is a very difficult discipline.
102 RH/ Well, Renee it’s been a very fascinating discussion and it is to be continued. Let me tell our listeners that next week we are going to shift gears a little bit. We are going to have Professor Cebit Boyvee on the program. We’ll be talking about Franco-phone literature. Literature written in French in non-French countries; Africa, the Caribbean and so forth. You are going to want to tune in to that. Next week Tuesday at 5:00pm. Thanks also to our production assistant David Loomis whose been helping out.
Renee, thanks a lot we will continue this.
103 RG/ Thank you. Enjoyed it.
104 RH/ See you next week.