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Metadata of Note

Type: 🍃 Leaf [Nomenclature present here.]

Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Tags: #Rene Girard #mimeticdesires #AAA: Mimetic Theory

Date: June 7th, 2022


Girard calls ‘mediation’ the process in which a person influences the desires and preferences of another person.

Thus, whenever a person’s desire is imitated by someone else, she becomes a ‘mediator’ or ‘model’.

Girard points out that this is very evident in publicity and marketing techniques: whenever a product is promoted, some celebrity is used to ‘mediate’ consumers’ desires: in a sense, the celebrity is inviting people to imitate him in his desire of the product.

The product is not promoted on the basis of its inherent qualities, but simply because of the fact that some celebrity desires it.


External Mediation

In his studies on literature, Girard highlights this type of relationship in his literary studies, for example in his study of Don Quixote.

Don Quixote is mediated by Amadis de Gaula. Don Quixote becomes an errant knight, not really because he autonomously desires to, but in order to imitate Amadis. Nevertheless, Amadis and Don Quixote are characters on different planes. They will never meet, and in such a manner, they never become rivals.

The same can be said of the relation between Sancho and Don Quixote. Sancho desires to be governor of an island, mostly because Don Quixote has suggested to Sancho that that is what he should desire. Again, although they interact continuously, Sancho and Don Quixote belong to two different worlds: Don Quixote is a very complex man, and Sancho is simple in extreme.

Girard calls ‘external mediation’ the situation when the mediator and the person mediated are on different planes. Don Quixote is an ‘external mediator’ to Sancho, inasmuch as he mediates his desires ‘from the outside; that is, Don Quixote never becomes an obstacle in Sancho’s attempts to satisfy his desires.

External mediation does not carry the risk of rivalry between subjects, because they belong to different worlds.

Although the source of Sancho’s desire to be governor of an island is in fact Don Quixote, they never desire the same object.

Don Quixote desires things Sancho does not desire, and vice versa. Hence, they never become rivals.

Girard believes ‘external mediation’ is a frequent feature of the psychology of desire: from our earliest phase as infants, we look up in imitation to our elders, and eventually, most of what we desire is mediated by them.


Internal Mediation

In ‘internal mediation’, the ‘mediator’ and the person mediated are no longer abysmally separated and hence, do not belong to different worlds. In fact, they come to resemble each other to the point that they end up desiring the same things. But, precisely because they are no longer in different worlds and now reach for the same objects of desire, they become rivals.

We are fully aware that competition is fiercer when competitors resemble each other.

Thus, in internal mediation, the subject imitates the model’s desires, but ultimately, unlike in external mediation, the subject falls into rivalry with the model/mediator.

Consider this example: a toddler imitates his father in his occupations, and he desires to pursue his father’s career when he grows up. This will hardly cause any rivalry (although it may account for Freud’s Oedipus Complex; see section 2.d). This is, as we have seen, a case of external mediation.

But, now consider a Ph.D. candidate that learns a great deal from his supervisor, and seeks to imitate every aspect of his work, and even his life. Eventually, they may become rivals, especially if both are looking for scholarly recognition.

Or, consider further the case of a toddler that is playing with a toy, and another toddler that, out of imitation, desires that very same toy: they will eventually become rivals for the control of the toy.

This is ‘internal mediation’; that is the person is mediated from the ‘inside’ of his world, and therefore, may easily become his mediator’s rival. This rivalry often has tragic consequences, and Girard considers this a major theme in modern novels.

In Girard’s view, this literary theme is in fact a portrait of human nature: very often, people will desire something as a result of imitating other people, but eventually, this imitation will lead to rivalries with the very person imitated in the first place.


Metaphysical Desires

In Girard’s view, the mimetic desire may grow to such a degree, that a person may eventually desire to be her mediator.

Again, publicity is illustrative: sometimes, consumers do not just desire a product for its inherent qualities, but rather, desire to be the celebrity that promotes such a product.

Girard considers that a person may desire an object only as part of a larger desire; that is, to be her mediator. Girard calls the desire to be other people, ‘metaphysical desire. Furthermore, acquisitive desire leads to metaphysical desire, and the original object of desire becomes a token representing the “larger” desire of having the being of the model/rival.

Whereas external mediation does not lead to rivalries, internal mediation does lead to rivalries. But, metaphysical desire leads a person not just to rivalry with her mediator; actually, it leads to a total obsession with and resentment of the mediator.

For, the mediator becomes the main obstacle to the satisfaction of the person’s metaphysical desire. Inasmuch as the person desires to be his mediator, such desire will never be satisfied. For nobody can be someone else. Eventually, the person developing a metaphysical desire comes to appreciate that the main obstacle to being the mediator is the mediator himself.