Being Wrong

Still in Baltimore, enjoying my friends, some sunny warm weather, and (hopefully) being of use. Glad to see my sister and her good friend today, too.

On the train, I read more of The Joy of Being Wrong. I’m through 2 chapters (taking me to page 63 of 310; the two chapters are titled “Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory” and “The Search for a Theological Anthropology”) … it’s very slow going, riddled with words I’ve never seen before (Sabellianism, polysemy, fissiparousness, and so on!) and with ideas that I need time to grasp. And it’s worthwhile slogging through, so far, for those brief moments of crystal insight. Some passages that have struck me particularly follow; I don’t know if they will have the same resonance for someone who’s not read the arguments and thoughts that precede them.

“The ‘I’ or ‘me’ which we all develop is constituted by imitation of the desire of others, which are therefore previous to it. The ‘me’ is a highly mutable construct, radically dependent on the desires of others, a fact which each ‘me’ does not usually recognize except to a very limited extent; rather each ‘me’ insists on the originality of its own desires, seen as proper to and springing from ‘me.'”

“Desire is the ‘interdividual’ living out of a sacrificial crisis without public resolution. Some find this lack of public resolution too hard to bear and come to crystallize in their own lives a visible sacrificial resolution to this desire: addiction, obsession, madness and psychotic behavior are different in degree, not kind, from what drives us all. …The ‘me’ is radically dependent on the desires whose imitation formed it. This means that there is no ‘real me’ at the bottom of it all, when I’ve scraped away all the things I’ve learned, all the influences I’ve undergone. Psychology is what goes on between people, not, in the first place, in any particular individual. … Psychological problems have to do with broken or disturbed relationships, and psychological wholeness has to do with restoring and mending broken relationships.”

Without ‘forgetting’ that we owe our desires to others, the “me” formed by desire could not come into existence. It involves a sort of ‘unknowing,’ a nonrecognition of the other’s role in my genesis, but which does ‘me’ no harm for as long as the other is taken as a model and not as a rival. However, if the other is taken as a rival, not a model, this ‘unknowing’ becomes a self-deception, something pathogenic. It becomes an insistence on the radicality of the ‘me’ as being the origin of its desire and an insistence of the desire on its being prior to the desire of another (who thus becomes the rival rather than the model). That is to say, the ‘me’ tries to identify itself over and against others, in reaction to whom it is constituted. It is this insistence that is at the root of human psychoses and neuroses.”

“There is an ‘ontological need, a radical need to be, a need which draws us to others and to imitate them in order to acquire a sense of being, something felt as a lack. The better we are parented, the more the need is met by the ‘sense of being’ being given. Yet however well we are parented the need is never fully met. We grow up … with a built-in mechanism for shoring up our fragile identity, for producing security and order. … We try to expel the ‘other’ who is our rival. Our ‘I’ is in fact built on that expulsion.

“One of the things revealed by the doctrine of original sin is that it is our capacity to receive gratuitously that was damaged in the fall: not our capacity to receive, because we have to receive in order to exist, but our capacity to receive gratuitously, which is the only way we can share in divine life, because that life can never be other than gratuitous.”

“The process of faith in the life of the person is therefore precisely the learning to relax into the [hypnotic] suggestion of this ‘Other,’ a process that is arduous because what is being undone is the way in which our selves are formed or constituted by the ‘worldly’ other, which is at many points in denial of pacific [non-rivalistic] mimesis, which is the new ‘Other’s’ way into us.” Faith is “a form of learning relaxation in the midst of struggle. It is a reality present while there is still a worldly other forming and pulling us.”

Conversion works as we recognize our complicity in creating victims, cease to regard ourselves as a victim, and begin to see ourselves as covictimizers. … It is only in the degree to which a person comes to recognize the extent to which he or she lives in denial of alterity [how our desires are formed entirely by others] and is constituted by mimetic desire leading to and flowing from victimage that he or she will begin to acquire some sort of understanding of who any of us really are.”


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