When concise is impossible

Since reading Rene Girard, I’ve become increasingly exasperated at how difficult it is to explain his theory to other people with a short 1-minute or 1-paragraph answer. I’ve wrestled with how to do this because I think that his ideas are very relevant to Christianity and Biblical Scholarship and I’d like to see them get some more exposure. He’s remarkably underrated. Whenever I bring him up, most people have never heard of him, even in theological circles.

A big part of the problem is that he uses a bunch of special vocabulary that MUST be defined ahead of time. Even his use of the word “sacrifical” is not at all what people are used to. For example, he insists that Jesus’s death was not a sacrifice. This makes people scratch their heads, but it’s because he’s talking about his special definition of sacrifice. How can this be explained without a 20 page essay? The best summary of Girard’s theory I’ve found is still a good 5-6 pages long.

At some point, I would like to rewrite some his work to be more accessible. If someone clever beats me to it though, I’ll be happy.

What reminded me of this was reading Tolkien’s biography.

Concerning his teaching duties at Oxford:

Throughout the nineteen-thirties he continued to give at least twice the statutory number of lectures and classes each year, considerably more than most of his colleagues undertook. [136 hours versus the required 36 hours]

So lectures, and the preparation for them, took up a very large proportion of his time. In fact this heavy teaching load was sometimes more than he could manage efficiently, and occasionally he would abandon a course of lectures because of insufficient time to prepare it. Oxford seized gleefully on this sin and bestowed upon him the reputation of not preparing his lectures properly, whereas the truth was that he prepared them too thoroughly. His deep commitment to the subject prevented him from tackling it in anything less than an exhaustive manner, with the result that he often sidetracked himself into the consideration of subsidiary details, and never managed to finish the treatment of the main topic.

-Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p.140

This is a necessary shortcoming of many brilliant scholars I think. They cannot think outside of an exhaustive foray into their discipline. It is often for other scholars to come after them and pick up the pieces and repackage them in such a way that they can be effectively disseminated to the next generation. As far as I know, someone has yet to do this with Girard. Perhaps because he’s still alive (86 years old and still kickin’).