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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Oedipus Unbound: Selected Writings on Rivalry and Desire by René Girard, edited and with an introduction by Mark R. Anspach (Stanford University Press) Did Oedipus really kill his father and marry his mother?

Or is he nothing but a scapegoat, set up to take the blame for a crisis afflicting Thebes?

For René Girard, the mythic accusations of patricide and incest are symptomatic of a plague-stricken community's hunt for a culprit to punish.

The hard-to-find writings assembled in Oedipus Unbound, include three major early essays, never before available in English, which afford a behind-the­scenes glimpse at the emergence of Girard's scapegoat theory from his pioneering analysis of rivalry and desire. Girard, prolific writer and Professor Emeritus of French at Stanford University, unbinds the Oedipal triangle from its Freudian moorings, replacing desire for the mother with desire for anyone ­or anything – a rivalry of desires. In a wide-ranging and provocative introduction, Mark R.  Anspach presents fresh evidence for Girard's hypotheses from classical studies, literature, anthropology, and the life of Freud himself.

Presented in chronological order, these previously uncollected essays offer the full spectrus of Rene Girard’s reflections on Oedipus, while illuminating the evolution of his ideas over time. I have updated and completed the source references … – Editor’s Note

Essays include:

  1. From the Novelistic Experience to the Oedipal Myth
  2. Oedipus Analyzed
  3. Symmetry and Dissymmetry in the Myth of Oedipus
  4. Doubles and the Pharmakos: Levi-Strauss, Frye, Derrida, and Shakespeare
  5. The Myth of Oedipus, the Truth of Joseph

The book starts with Anspach’s lengthy, analytical and significant Introduction: Imitating Oedipus. In Oedipus Unbound Girard succeeds in making readers see an age-old myth in a wholly new light.  

I See Satan Falling Like Lightning by Rene Girard, translated by James G. Williams (Orbis)

The Girard Reader by Rene Girard, translated by James G. Williams (Crossroad/Herder & Herder}

This is one book that takes time to fully digest. I first encountered Girard in 1998, and his work becomes more significant for me with each passing year. The basic ideas are pretty easy to grasp, but they have a nasty habit of reorienting any context you place them in. His scapegoat theory has something urgent to say to many disciplines: literature, religion, philosophy, psychology, and ultimately anthropology—Girard engages them all. His analysis of the Judeo-Christian scriptures is definitely the most illuminating that I have read, and there is evidence that his influence is spreading.

If you are looking for a thoughtful book that takes the Bible seriously without the tired liberal/conservative food-fight, this one won't disappoint.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by Rene Girard, translated by Michael Metteer and Stephen Bann (Stanford) It has been now about 20 years since I first read the original version of this fascinating work, as it was published in France. Reading it again today I still have the same feeling of witnessing a major breakthrough in our understanding of the link between human nature, civilization and religion, a landmark of the highest caliber. Only now can I detect its influence in the French intellectual establishment - the 70s being not very favorable to a work that sheds an unexpectedly new and enhancing light on Christianity (yet certainly more unsettling for the religious establishment, I believe.) As a scientific, I was stricken at first by the simplicity and the precision of the mimetic theory and its startling ramifications into the phenomenon of victimization mechanisms, sacralization, religion and foundations of civilization - all of it displaying a clarity and logic that I was more accustomed to find in "hard" sciences, I must say... I advise newcomers to Girard to start with this book that is the most synthetic. A must read for all modern westerners.

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