Title

Violence as grace: A Theopoietic reading of mimetic violence in Rene Girard and Flannery O'Connor

Date of Award

1992

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religion

Advisor(s)

David L. Miller

Keywords

Rene Girard, Flannery O'Connor, France

Subject Categories

Religion

Abstract

Flannery O'Connor's fiction assaults the reader by juxtaposing realistic and grotesque imagery, evoking a violence which strikes the reader not only as appropriate to her narratives, but as a necessary correlative to human experience as well. To read Flannery O'Connor, one must reckon with the necessity of violence.

The critical work of Rene Girard serves the study of O'Connor admirably. Girard identifies violence as chief among the forces which elude human mastery--a force so elusive that he imagines it as "the heart and secret soul of the sacred." For Girard, violence is not the primordial reality, but is itself the product of a mimetic rivalry whose reciprocity can only be terminated by a community's turn against a surrogate victim.

Girard thus opens mimesis toward a richly technical meaning which far exceeds its traditional understanding as a basic mechanism of plot development. From a vast array of textual traditions, Girard develops an understanding of mimesis as a universal mechanism of social formation which erases its underlying violence by concealing itself within the play of those structures which it engenders.

The importance of this understanding for the interpretation of narrative is that it discourages superficial readings, compelling the reader to delve deeply into the text to discover the "unsaid" which "ghosts" the play of images within the text. Through O'Connor's fiction, I identify a realism of a different order which preserves the mystery and integrity of the text and its textuality.

Girard's and O'Connor's call to re-examine mimesis leads me to recover a history of the term. I trace its development recursively: beginning with Plato's fateful distinction between "good (representation) and bad (fantasy) mimesis" and following its course through Aristotle, Horace, and the literary critics of the Italian Renaissance, I return once again to Aristotle.

A revisionary reading of Aristotle, in turn, deflects me toward Heraclitus, through whom I again engage Girard. I argue that fantasy and mimesis belong together and that one might regard the violence resident in O'Connor's fiction as an inscription of their conjunction.

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