Triangular desire

By blogging has been a bit befuddled as of late. I don’t know if I’ll be able to develop much off of this material right now, but I’m going to post it just to keep the motor running.

In the opening to A Theater of Envy, Girard states part of his theory in a much less complicated (and much better) way than he is accustomed to.

Like mimetic desire, envy subordinates a desired someTHING to the someONE who enjoys a privileged relationship with it. Envy covets the superior BEING that neither the someone nor something alone, but the conjunction of the two, seems to possess. Envy involuntary testifies to a lack of BEING that puts the envious to shame, especially since the enthronement of metaphysical pride during the Renaissance. That is why envy is the hardest sin to acknowledge.

-Rene Girard, A Theater of Envy, p.4 (emphasis mine)

We think that we desire THINGS, but in fact we are always desiring an enhancement and enlargement of our BEING. We want to be like person X ourselves. Our relation to the thing possessed goes through that mediator. Adam didn’t take the forbidden fruit in Eden because he was a glutton in a land of fruit, but because he wished to be like God. This is in fact exactly the way in which he was tempted. People desire to be rock stars not out of deep objective love of creating and sharing music. The musicians on that level usually find the fame and the road repulsive or terribly distracting at best.

We so often hear that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it is true to say that beauty is, in some sense, relative to the observer. But it is only partially located there. It also lies in a third party. This could be mass media telling us what to regard as beautiful via TV and magazines. Or, actually much more importantly and powerfully, it could be your friends telling you what to regard as beautiful via what THEY uphold and who they are interested in. Does this mean that there is no “objective” or “absolute” beauty? Is everything just relative relational power playing off each other? No, of course not. What we call objective beauty, or true beauty, or natural beauty comes from our desire in relation to GOD, the creator, instead of from our neighbor. This is what Aquinas is talking about when he speaks of natural law. This is what Aristotle is saying when he explains that order is beautiful. Who’s order? The original creators order. To the degree it conforms with that of this preexisting will (clearly observable in the natural world), then it is beautiful by that standard. Since we are part of that world, this world, then we are always chiefly subject to this mediation, even though the mediation provided by our neighbor may feel more forceful at a given moment.

We often brag that no word can scandalize us anymore, but what about “envy”? Our supposedly insatiable appetite for the forbidden stops short of envy. Primitive cultures fear and repress envy so much that they have no word for it; we hardly use the one we have, and this fact must be significant. We no longer prohibit many actions that generate envy, but silently ostracize whatever can remind us of its presence in our midst. Psychic phenomena, we are told, are important in proportion to the resistance they generate toward revelation. If we apply this yardstick to envy as well as to what psychoanalysis designates as repressed, which of the two will make the more plausible candidate for the role of best-defended secret?


Because of the power of envy to guide our own desires, it is also the chief way by which we AFFIRM the choices we’ve already made. Shakespeare knew this. We have to do this to maintain the value of the thing we have poured our time, energy, and money into.

The proudest men want to possess the most desirable objects; they cannot be certain that they have done so, as long as empty flattery alone glorifies their choice; they need more tangible proof, the desire of other men, as numerous and prestigious as possible. They must recklessly expose their richest treasure to these desires.

If too securely possessed, eve the greatest and rarest possessions – wife, mistress, fortune, kingdom, superior knowledge, everything – lose their appeal. Like a gambler, anxious desire desperately attempts to rejuvenate itself.