The Genesis of Desire: Chapter Two

Chapter Two is a re-reading of the Creation and the Fall. The topic headings below are mine.

Creation of Humans is Mimetic

“Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves.” (Gen 1:26)

“The creation of man is presented not as a fabrication, a construction, a work, or an act of will, as in the case of the preceding acts of creation, but rather as a mimetic process, a mimetic transfer of information from God to His creature made in His image.”

“Yahweh God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7)  “[T]his text seems to me to indicate that the self is pervaded with otherness. … the self is fashioned by the Other that he copies, that he imitates, and it is the Other who breathes into him life, movement, which is to say in psychological terms, desire.”

Eve was created perhaps not from Adam’s rib but from a side of Adam, another possible reading of the text. Josy Eisenberg, quoted herein, notes that many Jewish exegeses interpret the Gen 1:27 text (male and female he created them — but this is before Eve comes along) to say that Adam was created double, androgynous, two sides of one human, similar to the  androgyne in the myth of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium.

No Shame, No Drama

Creation has been created, humans have been created — but “psychologically speaking, nothing is happening.” There is no movement, no desire. Why?

“Now, both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame before each other.” (Gen. 2:25)

They see no difference between each other.

“The absence of desire is manifest ‘clinically,’ one might say, by the absence of shame.  Shame — or sexual modesty — is one of the ingredients of eroticism. Erotic desire is the ultimate example of the ‘mixing’ of good and evil [harkening to the tree of knowledge], positive and negative, attraction and repulsion, tenderness and violence. Desire, which is quintessentially a mixture of two opposites, is absent from paradise for the moment. At this point in the Biblical story, all the elements are in place and still desire has not yet made it appearance. The appetites, needs and instincts of the man and woman are completely satisfied.”

(It strikes me that this is how heaven is often described.)

The Self, Created by Relation

Adam and Eve have true love, just as people describe the first flushes of a romance. That is, they want and need only each other. They feel as if they are the only people in the world (hey, they are!):

“Their being together brings an illusion of eternity. Any separation is unbearable to them [this doesn’t seem so paradisical to me] . … In the framework of mimetic psychology, it is the interdividual relation that engenders by its movement what, in each subject, can be called the self. … It is not the encounter of two selves that creates the relation, but rather the relation that gives birth to each of the selves. Love is this relation that creates in each of the lovers a new self, which is the self-desire of the other. Every separation, every abandonment, therefore, creates a death agony, because  the self-of-desire, if it is not sustained and maintained by the desire of the other, risks really dissolving and disappearing.

In other words, the self really does die when the beloved leaves, because the self was created by the relationship. It doesn’t exist otherwise.

Budding love feels like “having recovered one’s other half,” a “state of fusion.”

Enter the serpent (aka mimetic desire).

The Fall

God warns Adam and Eve about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling them not to eat it because if they do they will be doomed to die. [How would Adam and Eve have any concept of what dying was anyway? But whatever.]  Oughourlian sees God’s words as a “warning, a counsel, a prophecy,” which the serpent turns into a prohibition.

“In the text of Genesis, it is the intervention of a third party who will make the couple leave paradise and enter the world and time. Not in this case the banal rival of ordinary stories, but an allegorical third one who is always there, a third who slithers between them, who insinuates himself into their midst, who separates and divides them from one another. … The third who forms their humanness, who constitutes their psychological and anthropological reality is mimetic desire.”

How the snake does it

1. The snake makes the tree more attractive by drawing Eve’s attention to its difference. In Gen. 3:1-3 the serpent gets Eve to compare the tree in the middle of the garden with the other trees: “From that comparison, as always, difference arises: the difference between that tree and the others is established by the prohibition.” Eve tells the snake that God said not to touch the tree, which isn’t true: “Eve’s confusion about this is a sign that she is beginning to be hooked, to become responsive to the serpent’s power of suggestion; her attention has become focused on the comparison, the difference, and the prohibition, all of which are mimetic mechanisms.

The proof of this is that she experiences and resents that prohibition ‘as a stronger one than it really is.'” (quoting Josy Eisenberg at the end there)  The serpent wants her to feel there is an enormous difference between that tree and the other trees, “and by doing so endow it with a magnetic force that will attract her appropriative mimesis toward it.” In Gen. 3:6, Eve sees the tree in a whole new way.

2. The snake suggests that God is withholding the tree, keeping it as a privilege for Himself, depriving Adam and Eve of its benefits. The snake sets God up as an obstacle to desire, as a rival first, then as a model, who has something important that He won’t allow others to have. Eve comes to feel that God desires the fruit and is keeping it for Himself, and she imitates the desire that she thinks God suggests to her.

“Mimetic desire (the serpent) is not able to bring about the transition from possibility to the act except by creating the illusion that the Other (God) is the Rival who desires the object with such virulence that He forbids it to any other.”

Mimetic desire must make us think that “the model keeps back for himself some additional degree of being, a knowledge and power that he deprives me of.  He is therefore my rival and the cause of injury to me.” (Man, does this sound familiar within the context of marriage!)

The distinction between good and evil is Illusory

“Allegorically speaking, the eating of the forbidden fruit has provoked the simultaneous birth (co-naissance) of good and evil. The difference constituted by these is illusory, and, contrary to what Eve thinks, to know it does not make her into the equal of God, God knows that that difference is fallacious, deceptive, venomous, and not created by Him. He sees what man has not seen since the beginning of the world: that the division between good and evil is the product of a diabolical enterprise. … From now on, in the world Adam and Eve will find themselves plunged into, mimetic rivalry will produce violence, and the illusory distinction between good and evil will provide the justification of that violence: ‘my’ desire will be presumptuously identified with the good, and the other rival’s desire will mendaciously be  identified with evil.In reality, however, those two desires are identical, since they are copied from one another! Only my failure to understand  the truth of mimetic desire makes it possible for me to dress all of this in the costume of morality….”

People always want to return to paradise, Eden, heaven, an idyllic place. For many, such a place will have only good people in it, not evil people. There won’t be anything bad there; otherwise, it wouldn’t be paradise!

“But that ambition is vain, since it is founded on a denial of reality: primal happiness, fusion, the perfect union of the couple, paradise — these all existed before man ate the fruit of the tree that held difference within it.”

In other words, paradise is pre-difference, pre-distinctions-between-good-and-evil. We can’t go back and expel that difference; “all we can try to do is understand its illusoriness and its ever-changing shapes. … We must hope that humanity will eventually manage to digest that fruit and accept that all evil is mixed with good, just as all good is mixed with evil.”


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