The Genesis of Desire (Book)

Genesis of Desire coverI’m reading Jean-Michel Oughourlian’s The Genesis of Desire (2007/2010, Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture Series) and finding it full of insight and concise reminders about the psychology of mimetic theory. Oughourlian — a psychiatrist, professor of clinical psychopathology, and collaborator with Girard on Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World — focuses more on the ordinary interpersonal aspects of desire, mimesis, rivalry, and violence than Girard does, because his specific interest is love relationships between two people. (He’s in France, where love triangles are reported to be rather more the norm than in the U.S.  But the emotions and the situations he talks about seem the same.)

Despite its emphasis on romantic love, however, I concur with a French reviewer on Amazon who says of the book:

“I see it as the best systematisation of the girardian thesis on mimetic desire. The book deals a bit about man and woman relations, but first of all about human in general. In a more recent book (Psychopolitique), Oughourlian says that the mechanism which controls relations between countries are similar to those which control relations between human beings.”

The introduction offers vignettes of 7 troubled marriages, examples of the “pathologies I encounter in clinical practice (hysterias, phobias, anxieties, destructive passions, obsessional jealousies, anorexias, and so on),” which Oughourlian sees as illnesses of desire. But the illness, as he sees it, “is not situated either in the subject or in his rival but rather in the relation that binds them together.” The purpose of “mimetic psychotherapy” is to “release people who are bound up in those types of endless rivalry, to gradually unmask and unravel their illusory attachments and make them free to choose other models.”

The outline for the rest of the book is as follows:

Chapter One: Oughourlian looks at psychological movement in terms of mimetic desire and interdividual psychology.

Chapter Two: a line-by-line reading, with analysis, of The Fall from the book of Genesis in the Bible, including some targum-like dialogues between Adam and Eve.

Chapter Three: Universal Mimesis, with a section on mirror neurons.

Chapter Four: A return to the 7 relationships in conflict from the Introduction to suggest some solutions.

The Epilogue: “Can One Rescue a Relationship?”

I’ll be offering my notes and excerpts of the concepts and framing that help me most, and also those that surprise me, evoke wonder, confuse me, or relate to something else I’ve been thinking about or experiencing.

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One thought on “The Genesis of Desire (Book)

  1. I look forward to reading your notes on this one. I enjoyed reading it a few months back, but it’s off the beaten path enough that there isn’t much to read (or anyone to talk to!) in response.

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