Monday, February 14, 2022

37.1995

The Mimetic, the Anti-Mimetic, and a Quote

The Mimetic

Often times “The Mimetic” portion of this email calls out something silly or destructively mimetic, but mimetic desire can (and should) be a positive thing. I want to highlight more of those examples. One of the greatest source of positive models for me has been literature. One example: I was deeply shaped by the Alessandro Manzoni novel “The Betrothed“, and I viewed Fra Cristoforo—a heroic friar who acts as a moral compass for Renzo and Lucia—as a character around which to model my own desires. I was more inspired by his generosity than anyone that I knew in the real world, for better or worse. And that’s the beauty of great art: the ability to shape the moral imagination or a person, and even of an entire culture. I must admit: I haven’t read a book in a very long time—certainly nothing contemporary—that has this kind of effect on me. Am I missing something that I should know about?

The Anti-Mimetic

Looking at the world with a healthy ambivalence—escaping the absolutizing tendencies of popular culture—and seeing that two different ways of looking at something may be simultaneously true. I wrote about this idea at length here. The core idea worth reflecting on could be summed up in this quote from René Girard:

“We easily say that everything people say about world is true: it is by the worst of all worlds. They say repeatedly—and this is not false—that no world has made more victims than it has. But the opposite proposition is equally true: our world is also and by far the best of all worlds, the one that saves more victims than any other. In order to describe our world, we must multiply all sorts of propositions that should be incompatible but now are true simultaneously.”

Holding two seemingly paradoxical things in our minds at the same time and wrestling with them is an anti-mimetic action in a world in which nearly all thought converges quickly onto one thing or the other without allowing two ideas, or two people, to co-exist long enough to see them for what they are.

Quote of the Week

“Bullies, oppressors and all men who do violence to the rights of others are guilty not only of their own crimes, but also of the corruption they bring into the hearts of their victims.” —Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed

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