Friendship and Enmity in Desperate Housewives

Valentine and Proteus can be friends only by desiring alike and, if they do, they are enemies. […] This Gordian knot is its own explanation, in the sense that any effort to bypass the mimetic double bind, short of total renunciation, must produce some kind of “monster”, a false reconciliation of entities that should remain irreconcilable.[1]

It seems that we generally assume that conflicts arise because of our differences between each other. In the above quote on Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona from A Theater of Envy and throughout his oeuvre René Girard claims the opposite. As long as we are different, conflict cannot occur as our desires remain isolated from each other. It is only once our desires merge on the same object that potentially conflict can develop. However, conflict does not originate from the desire for an object but from the desire for the rival’s being. Only when we are no longer different, when we desire to be like our neighbour, can our desires converge on the same object. Conflict is thus a result of the loss of differences due to imitated desire.

This is exactly the situation as we find it in the following excerpt from an episode of Desperate Housewives(Season 4, Episode 12). Bree Van de Kamp, played by Marcia Cross, explains to her rival Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany) that the reason why she and her friends can get along without conflict, is because they each have their niche. Their differences protect them from rivalry. Katherine on the other hand occupies the same niche as Bree. While it is true that their being alike potentially opens the way for a much closer friendship, there is also the risk of a much fiercer rivalry. This is the Gordian Knot Girard talks about. This is why the most vicious conflicts are between “enemy brothers”, or in this case “enemy sisters”, – because they once were the best of friends.

However, as the narrator accurately observes at the end of the episode, we are usually blind to the fact that friendship and enmity emerge from the same source, which is the imitation of desire.

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[1] René Girard, A Theater of Envy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 16f.

1 reply
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