Monday, June 14, 2021


The good, the bad, and the quotable:

Positive Mimesis

Mimesis is a central theme in the study of poetry and literature going back to Plato and Aristotle, who contrasted the term with diegesis. Mimesis is imitative behavior that is shown but not explained—like characters in a good work of fiction; Diegesis is the view from the outside—the behavior of characters is explained by a narrator, who can put the reader or viewer inside the minds of the actors. It is one layer removed from the action itself. Our lives are a constant movement between mimesis and diegesis; we understand our behavior only in light of periods of recollection (literally re-collecting the pieces of ourselves). Most people are good at the mimesis; not so many at the diegesis. The point is this: mimesis and diegesis, when combined effectively, are a powerful form of positive mimesis.

Negative Mimesis

I can think of no industry more in need of recognizing negative mimesis—yet more incapable of seeing it—than journalism. The Romantic Lie shows up in a vicious way when those who are responsible for reporting don’t understand what’s driving them; when they don’t understand what’s shaping their desire to work on the stories they want to work on in the first place and in what ways those desires may be distorting the truth. I’m often asked what concrete goals I have for writing Wanting. One (of the many) is having mimesis discussed at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism within the next two years. Journalism isn’t going anywhere; we all always need people of integrity with the self-awareness to see themselves in their own work. We can’t technologize that away. The people who design the technology that will try to solve the current problem need to be able to see themselves in the technology, too. There is simply no substitute for awareness. None.


“The Infernal Seesaw: Couples that are bound by jealousy of each other are always prisoners of the same mechanism: their mirroring desires continually oscillate between the positions of dominating or being dominated—the pattern of relation that transactional analysis calls ‘one up’ and ‘one up’.” —Jean-Michel Oughourlian, in The Genesis of Desire

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