Thursday, July 29, 2004

More Rene Girard

I am getting to the end of I See Satan Fall Like Lightning . The next to the last chapter, "The Twofold Nietzschean Heritage", is quite powerful. Disturbing, even, because I have always deliberately avoided Nietzsche.

Girard says Nietzsche was the first philosopher to discover the same truth that Girard repeats over and over again in his work: that in the Dionysian passion and in the Passion of Jesus there is the same collective violence, but the interpretation is different. He quotes Nietzsche in THE WILL TO POWER:

Dionysos versus the "Crucified": there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom -- it is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering - the "Crucified as the innocent one"-- counts as an objection to this life, as a formula to its condemnation. - Nietzsche

Girard goes on to write, "This is exactly what I have said and keep on saying: myths are based on a unanimous persecution. Judaism and Christianity destroy this unanimity in order to defend the victims unjustly condemned and to condemn the executioners unjustly legitimated. ... [Nietzsche] sees perfectly well that one is dealing with the same violence in both cases ("there is not a difference in regard to their martydom"), but he doesn't see or want to see the injustice of the violence. He doesn't see or want to admit that the unanimity always prevailing in the myths has to be based on mimetic contagion which possesses the participants and which they don't recognize, whereas the Gospels recognize and denounce violence contagion, as do the story of Joseph and the other great biblical texts."

Girard goes on to say that this refusal of Nietzsche to see the true implications of the Judaeo-Christian concern for victims drove him mad, ultimately, because he perceived what others had not - that both the myths and Judaeo-Christianity deal with the same basic violent contagion that has driven humankind forever -- but he did not perceive that the Judaeo-Christian interpretation exposed and revealed the mimetic contagion and the destruction then reassembling of culture through scapegoating.

I am barely explaining this but I admit to being surprised to hear Nietzsche given his due as in my mind I've always thought Nietzsche=Naziism. As indeed Girard explains:

"To elude his own discovery and to defend mythological violence, Nietzsche is obliged to justify human sacrifice, and he doesn't hesitate to do so, resorting to horrifying arguments. He raises the stakes even on the worst social Darwiism. He suggests that to avoid degenerating, societies must get rid of humans who are waste, who hinder and weigh them down:

"Through Christianity, the individual was made so important, so absolute, that he could no longer be sacrificed: but the species endures only through human sacrifice... Genuine charity demands sacrifice for the good of the species-- it is hard, it is full of self-overcoming, because it needs human sacrifice. And this pseudo-humaneness called Christianity wants it established that no one should be sacrificed."- Nietzsche

Girard goes on to call Nietzsche "a true Don Quixote of death", condemning every measure in favor of the weak and the disinherited. By attacking Christian civilization's concern for the victim, and "insanely condemning the real greatness of our world, not only did Nietzsche destroy himself, but he suggested the terrible destruction that was later done by National Socialism. "

"Nietzsche is the author of the only texts capable of clarifying the Nazi horror," Girard says, despite the "mountains of clever but false arguments" that some post-war intellectuals have offered to acquit their favorite thinker of any responsibility in the National Socialist catastrophe. "The Nazis perceived acutely that the grotesque 'genealogy' of Nietzsche would not be enough to vanquist the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Nazis could not wait for the superior human, Nietzsche's Overman, to emerge through peaceful historical events. After their conquest of power, they disposed of resources much superior to those of an unhappy philosopher gone mad."

Big sigh. Strange and terrible words and ideas in the last chapters of Girard's book.

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