Spinoza and Mimetic Desire

The romantic vaniteux always wants to convince him­self that his desire is written into the nature of things, or, which amounts to the same thing, that it is the emanation of a serene subjectivity, the creation ex nihilo of a quasi­ divine ego. Desire . . . is rooted in the subject; it is certainly not rooted the Other.

Against this, Girard advances a completely opposing view: almost all human desire is mimetic. What we desire, we desire because we imagine that somebody else desires it. This, for Girard, is the fundamental truth of human psychology, which the great novelists, playwrights, and poets recognised and to which the philosophers and social scientists were blind.

Once his basic needs are satisfied (indeed, sometimes even before), man is subject to intense desires, though he may not know precisely for what. The reason is that he desires being, something he himself lacks and which some other person seems to possess. The subject thus looks to that other person to inform him of what he should desire in order to acquire that being. If the model, who is apparently already endowed with superior being, desires some object, the object must surely be capable of conferring an even greater plenitude of being.

The subject’s desire for ‘being’ cannot itself be mimetic, otherwise Girard’s explanation would be circular: the desire for being is what explains mimesis; it can’t also be explained by it. Thus Girard does not, as commonly supposed, believe that all desire is mimetic.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alexander Douglas

Alexander Douglas

Lecturer in Philosophy, University of St. Andrews — personal website: https://axdouglas.com/