The mimetic theory community suffered a great loss last month. On November 4th, our teacher, mentor, and friend, René Girard, passed away at age 91. Rene would have turned 92 this week, on Christmas Day.
As we celebrate his amazing life, we continue to mourn his death. One way I find to heal is to listen to the stories of those who knew René well. And so I invited three of his first students, Eric Gans, Andrew McKenna, and Sandor Goodhart to share with us about their relationship with René. Our conversation is below, along with show notes and a biography for Eric, Andrew, and Sandy.
Eric Gans was René Girard’s first student. He is Distinguished Professor of French at UCLA. He teaches literature, critical theory, film, and he is the founder of Generative Anthropology. He is the editor of Anthropoetics: the Journal of Generative Anthropology, which you can find online at anthropoetics.ucla.edu. He is the author or coauthor of many books, including Science and Faith: The Anthropology of Revelation, A New Way of Thinking: Generative Anthropology in Religion, Philosophy and Art, and The Girardian Origins of Generative Anthropology.
Sandor Goodhart is professor of English and Jewish Studies at Purdue University. He is the former president of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, a conference dedicated to exploring mimetic theory. Sandy has written and co-authored many books on mimetic theory, including The Prophetic Law: Essays in Judaism, Girardianism, and Literary Studies and Sacrifice, Scripture, and Substitution: Readings in Ancient Judaism and Christianity.
Andrew McKenna is professor of French literature, culture, and civilization at Loyola University. He is the former editor in chief of Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture. He has written the book Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction. Andrew has written many articles on mimetic theory and Generative Anthropology in academic journals, which you can find on his faculty page at Loyola’s website.
“He never insisted that I follow his method in writing my dissertation. He only insisted that I write clearly … He made no attempt to dominate, or to show me that he had the right approach to things … Girard had a light touch. I really appreciated the way he directed the dissertation.” – Eric Gans
“Once I had René as a teacher, it was over for me … I realized that this is why I love literature.” – Andrew McKenna.
“René’s thinking blew the door off of all kinds of dualism and you began to think relationally about everything.” – Andrew McKenna
“The first words I ever heard René say were ‘Humans fight, not because they are different, but because they are the same. They have made themselves into enemy twins in reciprocal violence.’ That idea just blew me away because I’m a product of the baby boomer generation in which people fight because they are different. And he was saying exactly the opposite. And I suddenly thought that this was going to cause havoc in everything I thought.” – Sandor Goodhart
“I just knew that this man was the most fascinating and interesting man I had ever encountered in my academic life.” – Sandor Goodhart
He was a very charismatic lecturer … He always dramatized the reality of the specific point he was making into something general. I think this was the drive that made him a fascinating figure and a major figure.” – Eric Gans
“Why did we want to work with him? To soak up everything we could about what he was saying and what he was thinking.” – Sandor Goodhart
“René offers us a way of thinking about the most pressing and contemporary and at the same time the most ancient problems of our time and our culture.” Sandor Goodhart
“René created the basis for a real modern anthropology, an anthropology that isn’t just empirical studies of different customs, but the very notion of what the human is.” Eric Gans
“I tend to not like the term ‘mimetic theory.’ It makes René sound too much like a social scientist. I think that René’s notion of anthropology allows us to transcend the notion of social science and empirical science. It’s that intuition of the scene in which we all share … that’s what he theorized for the first time.” – Eric Gans
“The Bible is foundational for Rene. Biblical anthropology is important because that’s where science and faith meet.” – Andrew McKenna
All of our problems with terrorism is about claiming to be the bigger victim. “We are the victims of their terrorism and they are reapprizing because they themselves are the victims of post-colonial oppression, which is a real fact.” – Andrew McKenna
“René’s work calls us to conversion. Conversion from fear to have confidence in the goodness of God and of creation.” – Andrew McKenna