Those of you who know me from elsewhere should know by now that I don’t like René Girard. Not him, personally, since I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice human being; but his writings annoy me to no end, especially Violence and the Sacred, which has some currency among cultural theorists. In a nutshell, in order to quell violence, a sacrificial victim (surrogate) has to be killed and then contemplated; but in the act of killing the surrogate, violence can be mistaken for the sacrificial act, throwing more violence into the system. And the more the community contemplates the sacrificial victim, the more they desire it, also creating more strife. (Of course, this is an oversimplification.) The reference to the Eucharist is obvious.
His writings have their uses in cultural theory, and he often gets used to describe issues of desire, consumer vs. mass culture, a framework for discussing the sacred without referencing any one particular religion, and the like. In particular, the expression of creativity can be seen as a violent act:
I see every music-doing act by a socialized person as an act having something for or against me; you doing something for or against you. At the very least, I need to articulate my thoughts out loud among you, to put my music sound out there where others are, to disseminate my articulations of word ideas and music ideas, so that there will be some resonance of my reality, or my ontology, for me to hear coming back at me from within the world I inhabit, too, not just the resonances of everyone else’s, or some generalized resonance of everyone’s. (Benjamin Boretz, “Interface V. The InnerStudio (Strategies for Retrieving Reality in Music Experience and Practice.”)
The notion that I’m somehow imposing myself upon an audience is something I wrestle with. Where is your place, if you know you’re vocation is in some form of the contemplative life, which is by definition hidden and reserved, but also part of the same vocation is, by necessity, extroverted? Some composers don’t have a problem with assaulting the audience with themselves. What Boretz is trying to get at is the relevance of creativity, and how it might be used to reconcile the “me-against-you” danger of composition and creativity. Within his essay, the consideration of the Other is what wards against this danger.
Part of what pisses me off the most (even more than his Paleolithic views on gender role) about Girard’s book is his take on the sacrificial act. In his worldview, we don’t have a choice–we’re compelled by the very thing which brings us peace to use it against other people. In his world, every act of creativity is an act of violence against someone else. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one being sacrificed, or the one drawing the blade over the victim’s throat. But the way out of his feedback cycle of violence is to not play along. From Wednesday’s (the Wednesday after Passion Sunday) Office of Readings:
“What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? This is what the apostle Paul said: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we might follow in his footsteps.
This is what is meant by providing “the same kind of meal.” This is what the blessed martyrs did with such burning love. If we are to give true meaning to our celebration of their memorials, to our approaching the Lord’s table in the very banquet at which they were fed, we must, like them, provide “the same kind of meal.” (From a treatise on John by St. Augustine.)
Girard forgot a four-letter word from his catechism: love. It’s not enough to blindly follow along with the herd in the sacrifice. Out of love, by participating in it, it means becoming it. or put another way by a Dominican who would routinely visit my old parish, to participate in the Eucharist is to break the bread of one’s own life.
Similarly to Boretz’s notion, the Other is my hope. If I exert what might be called “myself” in a piece of music, I’m offering myself, out of love, to the Other. If my life, and everything coming out of it, becomes a reflection of the Eucharist, how can I cause violence to the Other?