Christopher S. Morrissey
“Hold the Apocalypse”: René Girard on Violent Truths in Greek Tragedy and Shakespeare
René Girard finds evidence in drama for his mimetic theory about the constitutive role in human culture of scapegoating. The political truth, says Girard, about how violence is used to control violence, is encoded in a culture’s works of art. Girard’s theoretical model of politics is apocalyptic because it unveils the earthly regime (“scapegoating”) inherited from archaic religion. Art is mimetic. The more mimetic it is, argues Girard, the more it can reveal the mimetic structures of desire, rivalry, and even scapegoating. Mimesis, while leading to conflict in daily life, becomes good in art. It holds a mirror up to ourselves, with which we can see our own mimetic behavior. The problem is that in the telling of art and myth we may fail to recognize the mimetic structure revealed and thus we do not escape from the romantic lie that our desire is our own and not mimetic. But is it only in becoming an artist, or being so immersed in the artist’s world so that we undergo—as Girard describes it—the same revelation that the great novelists had when they composed their works, that we may we escape from our mimetic illusions? This paper argues that positive mimesis is achieved not only by artists, but also by statesmen and stateswomen—who can then be commemorated in art. It argues that “prudential esthetic consciousness” is a form of positive mimesis, to be found exemplified in Greek tragedy and in Shakespeare. Within the fundamental semiotic scene of culture, the statesman or stateswoman formally represents how the scene of scapegoating will operate. In this manner, the political leader “holds the apocalypse.” Aeschylus’ Athens and Shakespeare’s England illustrate how the role played by a statesman or stateswoman, through “positive mimesis,” can redefine the way violence is to be wielded in culture.
C. S. Morrissey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College and specializes in the Latin philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and his commentatorial tradition. His current research interest is Global Semiotics, especially that aspect of the semiotic scene unveiled by the mimetic theory of René Girard. This is a pursuit traditionally expressed (from Augustine of Hippo to Thomas Aquinas to John of St. Thomas and beyond) in Metaphysics, that interdisciplinary, intercultural enterprise of Metascience that Aristotle first discovered via the Philosophy of Nature as the foundational part of Natural Science. In connection with this, Morrissey is a certified member of the Institute for Advanced Physics. Metascience in our day is called to build upon traditional metaphysics with “applied metaphysics”, as W. Norris Clarke describes in his article, “Metaphysics as Mediator between Revelation and the Natural Sciences,” Communio: International Catholic Review 28, no. 3
(2001): 464-87. Benedict Ashley, in The Way toward Wisdom, p.440, describes this as “the most radical change” required “in present university education and in our culture”: “a rethinking of the foundations of natural science.” This rethinking is already underway with the Metascience of Global Semiotics that studies Purely Objective Reality—a semiotic web.