1. Nietzsche and Girard on ressentiment
At first glance, Nietzsche’s and Girard’s genealogies of morality may seem to be almost the opposite of one another. On the one hand, Nietzsche sees resentment as the founding nucleus of Western Judeo–Christian ethics: he notoriously claims that «the beginning of the slaves’ revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values,»1 overturning the values of those who, positively and with vitality, affirmed life, as well as spontaneous power and violence.
On the other hand, Girard says that violence is never spontaneous, but always mimetic, and that it is precisely this mimetic violence that gives birth to any social system of norms and values, through the scapegoat mechanism.
This discrepancy could be mitigated by noticing that Nietzsche gives a philosophical status to what literature already recognized as a force of moral and social production, namely envy, and that Girard, as a literary critic, is very well aware of it.2
In any case, while Nietzsche deplored Christian culture for having given birth to the central values of Western morality (through ressentiment), Girard seems rather to appreciate the Christian revelation for its opposition to the "too human" moral mimetic/dualistic logic, which allows it to go "beyond good and evil."
The definitive revelation of the innocence of the victim, in Christ, is the exit point from the old religious, social, and ethical systems, based on mimetic processes of violence and victimization. According to Girard, Christianity is more a negative force of resistance, one that provides a resistance of truth against the relentless forces of judgment, than a positive constructive power that brings peace and love to human beings.
In this sense, ressentiment can in no way be authentically Christian, for two reasons: first, because it is an "ethics-poietic" forcethat is, a force that builds a moral systemand, second, because it is based on the mimetic sentiments of envy and revenge, which are exactly what Christianity aims to free us from.
«Resentment is merely an illegitimate heir, certainly not the father of Judeo–Christian Scripture,» Girard claims, at odds with Nietzsche.3
2. Max Scheler and the perversion of Christian love
Max Scheler represents a middle ground between them. In his Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen (1915), he provides a phenomenology of resentment, considering it "the core of bourgeois morality"4 and not of the true Christian one. According to Scheler, Nietzsche’s «discovery is one of the most profound which has ever been made on this question and is fully worthy of the most serious consideration,»5 even if, in the end, it is false. In fact, the actual novelty of Christianity is an inversion of the movement of love: while in the Greek universe love is a rising up from below to above, in the Christian universe it is a lowering down from above to below. The Christian God is neither a pure Being, nor an idea of Good which attracts the finite world; He is a Person who loves (and therefore leans toward) the world and human beings, with all of their limits. So much so that He becomes a human being. This new direction of the dynamism of love, for Scheler, provides the theological model for every human relationship: «the idea that love has its origin in God himself, the infinite Being, that he himself is infinite love and mercy, naturally entails the precept of loving both the good and the bad, the just and the sinners, one’s friends and one’s enemies. Genuine love, transcending the natural sphere, is manifested most clearly when we love our enemy.»6 However, even this kind of love can be distorted, thus generating resentment, and the seeds of this corruption can be found even from the very first manifestations of Christian values. In Rom 12:19-20, St. Paul himself says «beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' Rather, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.'»7 Scheler comments only on the second part of the passage, underlining that here the love of neighbor is at the service of shame,8 but the link established by Paul between the two quotations from the Old Testament (the first from Deuteronomy, the second from Proverbs) is even more extreme. According to his words, you should love your enemy not because the enemy could become your friend or could convert her/his own heart, or because you are no better than her/him, or because Christ’s perfect love is merciful and you have to do your best to be like Him, but rather because, in doing so, you will expose your enemy to public shame. Furthermore, you can have faith in a proper God’s revenge. Nietzsche would have an easy time, here, in showing that resentment is what generates morality, even theology. Scheler is well aware of this, noticing that often the order of Heaven is the exact reverse of the earthly order ("the first shall be last"): «we distinctly feel how the ressentiment-laden man transfers to God the vengeance he himself cannot wreak on the great. In this way, he can satisfy his revenge at least in imagination, with the aid of an other-worldly mechanism of rewards and punishments. The core of the ressentiment Christian’s idea of God is still the avenging Jehovah. The only difference is that revenge is now masked as sham love for the 'small.'»9
3. Beyond mimesis?
Here there is a strange link between Nietzsche and Scheler, in the sense that what Scheler calls the true unperverted Christian love has several points in common with the pureness of the Nietzschean "blond beast": vitality, nobility of spirit, and, above all, a propensity to be "active" instead of "reactive." When Scheler deplores bourgeois contemporary ethicsfor example, as expressed by social feeling or altruismand invokes a kind of love which springs «from an abundance of force, nobility and vital power,»10 the traces of a certain late-Romantic aristocratism and naiveté, which are also typical of Nietzsche, are not hard to detect.
In Girard’s early works, he also appears to be in this same camp, speaking about a désir selon soi ("desire according to oneself"), which would be non-mimetic, spontaneous, straightforward, and close to the Nietzschean "fidelity to the heart."11 However, from Shakespeare: les feux de l’envie onwards, and especially in his last work Achever Clausewitz, he became increasingly convinced that we could not escape mimetism: «we always participate in it in some way … I long tried to think of Christianity as in higher position, but I have had to give up on that. I am now persuaded that we have to think from inside mimetism.»12
Here Girard rejects the possibility to genuinely go beyond good and evilthat is, to go beyond the exhibited differentiation processes which dissimulate the violent mimetic indifferentiation. If we have to think from inside mimetism, we have to accept that every difference falls into mimetism, even the Girardian differences: there is no more "romantic lie" or "novelistic truth," but truth can be expressed all the better the more an author is mimeticShakespeare being an example. Mythological obscurantism and Christian revelation are no more polarized, but Christ himself uses a dualistic language (in the parables, or when he speaks of the Devil) precisely to expose any opposition and judgment as being intimately violent. Girard realizes that he has often had a "romantic" attitude towards Christianity, putting it in a higher position and tending to create his own canon, eliminating those too sacrificial or mimetic parts of the Scriptures. But, in the end, the Christian romantic Girard became more realistic and less idealistic, frankly admitting that wherever human beings are, there is mimetism, even in Christianity, which is what aims to reveal it and free us from it. This is true not only because the Gospels were written by men, but because God himself has become a human being, and so must speak in a human language in order to be understood by other people.
This touches a core point of our concern here: "we cannot escape mimetism" also means "we cannot escape ressentiment." Going back to its basic linguistic sense, "re-ssentiment" means a reactive feeling, an emotional response to someone else, a reflective sentiment: in a word, a mimetic posture.
There is no doubt that resentment is at least one of the modalities in which mimetic forces act, springing from the dynamics of envy. But, within the Judeo–Christian context, it takes another form too, strictly linked to victimism, which is that of the "claim for justice." In the French language, from which Nietzsche takes the term ressentiment and in which Girard mostly writes, "claim" is "revendication" (similar to the Italian "rivendicazione"). Here is another term with the "re-" prefix (like re-ssentiment), which, in Latin languages, indicates a reactive or responsive act. Thus, "revendication" means "vengeance in response" or, one might say, "re-venge"an exponentially mimetic concept, indeed.
4. Intra-mundane ressentiment
The story of Job is, obviously, of one who claimed justice. Contrary to the «tendency of the early Christian exegetes to fabricate an imaginary Job who passes for a prefiguration of Christ for his moral goodness and his virtues, especially for his patience,» Girard says that «Job in reality was the personification of impatience.»13 But he is not only impatient, he is also a resentful man, a man full of resentment. And if Girard had not dualistically excluded the "mythological" preface from the revelatory core of the Book of Job, he would probably have grasped the genuine mimetic nature of Job’s resentment, too. In the beginning, God tests Job’s faith, thereafter Job tests God’s justice. Job is truly the victim of his people, and his friends are certainly resentful and envious. But he is also angry with God: he knows that his "defender is there in the height,"14 but he would like to know why this "God of Victims"15 is not there by his side. It is the same question which also bursts from the mouth of Christ on the Cross, in which the most dramatic and extreme expression of any Christian resentment can be found: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"16
In this sense, and almost only this, Job can be seen as a prefiguration of Christ. One could underline a point here, which even the later, hypermimetic, Girard never dealt with, as far as I know: that is, the mimetic nature of the dogma of the Trinity. Although, in Battling to the End, Girard speaks about a "positive imitation"17meaning the imitation of Christ (imitatio Christi), who is the positive model par excellenceand about a "positive undifferentiation" of Christian love, which directly descends from the imitation of Christ and calls everyone to identify with the other and to see Christ in the other,18 nevertheless, he never transposed these concepts to the theological level. And yet, in the language of many theologians of the history of Christianity, the Holy Spirit is often seen as the bond of love who enables the paradox of the difference of the Persons in the undifferentiation of the same divine Substance. Is this just a "human, too human," and thus mimetic, way to imagine the nature of God? Or is it the acknowledgement that each deep love is always imbued with mimetism, from the divine inner lovein which the Son and the Father "are one and the same"19to the highest human one, in which I am called to love the other as (if he was) myself?20 Let us leave these questions, ultimately, to the theologians.
Coming back to the anthropological level, it is clear that, if a positive mimesis can exist, a positive resentment can exist, too. In fact, our Western history is full of examples of positive claims for justice and rights, which have allowed civil and social progress, and which derive, even in their most secular form, from the attention to the victim that we have always had since the revelation of the truth of the victim in Christ.
An interesting dynamic must be noted here. With the process of secularization, the location for the fulfilment of yearnings for justice and equality increasingly passes from the transcendent kingdom of the afterlife to the immanent domain of the world. Therefore, the hope for a heavenly realm of Good turns into the claim for political rights. Recalling Max Weber’s concept of "intra-mundane ascetism" (referring to the search for worldly success and enrichment that the bourgeois class of the modern age interprets as God’s will), we could therefore speak of an "intra-mundane ressentiment." According to this genealogy of Western ethics, Christianity made another contributionthe fostering of secularization. Girard is absolutely clear on this, stating that Christianity is «the destroyer of all religions. The death of God is a Christian phenomenon. In its modern sense, atheism is a Christian invention.»21 Separating God’s domain from Caesar’s, and revealing the scapegoat mechanism, Christianity generates the collapse of the sacred foundation of every society and political power. In Girard’s words again, «the Gospels demolish the entire human religion and the resulting cultures.»22 We can here reply to Karl Marx that, without the Christian "opium of the people," not even Marxism would have been possible!
The labor movement, care for the sick, childcare, feminism, the rights of every minoritythese could be called examples of a "positive Christian ethics of resentment". Nietzsche, obviously, would not agree at all, but his belief in a lost innocence of vital violence is far more illusory and mythical than many religions of the world, and the resulting ethics would be nothing more than a return to the old moral system of "violence and the Sacred." Even Nietzsche’s gods must be declared dead.
One could reply that these positive "resentment-born" Western values are generally shared by the whole of society and must not be claimed only by the "victims." However, this does not mean that they are not actually caused by resentment; on the contrary, this is exactly proof of the validity of Nietzsche’s genealogy of values. The victims win when they impose their perspective on everyone, which they can easily do in our culture, thanks to the first victim whose point of view has been revealed as the true one, in the Gospels.
This point is properly highlighted by Scheler, who even goes beyond Girard in the matter. While, in the beginning, those who are (or feel) inferior envy those whom they see as superior (i.e. their secret models23), in the process of moral building the (re)sentiment transcends people, reaching the sphere of the ethical values that they embody. «It goes beyond such determinate hostilities [and] perverts the sense of values itself. What Nietzsche calls 'falsification of the tablets of value' is built on this foundation.»24 It is the same process illustrated symbolically by Aesop in The Fox and the Grapes: if I cannot grasp the grapes because they are too far away, then I will declare them to be rotten. And since I am a very smart fox, I will convince all the animals that I am right, even those that could reach the grapes. Finally, whoever eats them will be declared as rotten as the grapes themselves and will feel guilty. According to Scheler (and Nietzsche), the "grapes" are the vital values, and the "foxes" are those who naturally lack them and thus substitute them for the opposite values (poverty, suffering, illness and death). Scheler comments:
«This 'sublime revenge' of ressentiment (in Nietzsche’s words) has indeed played a creative role in the history of value systems. It is 'sublime,' for the impulses of revenge against those who are strong, healthy, rich, or handsome now disappear entirely. Ressentiment has brought deliverance from the inner torment of these affects.…When the reversal of values comes to dominate accepted morality and is invested with the power of the ruling ethos, it is transmitted by tradition, suggestion, and education to those who are endowed with the seemingly devaluated qualities. They are struck with a 'bad conscience' and secretly condemn themselves.»25
Let us think of the modern-age value of equality: it is clearly born from a perceived envy. It has been claimed by those lower in the traditional hierarchy, and nowadays it is a common shared value, at least in its legal sense. To recognize the positive power of resentment in the building of an egalitarian ethics means, on the one hand, to highlight the validity of Nietzsche’s and Scheler’s descriptions of the historical development of Western morality while, on the other hand, to refuse their mythological belief in a natural pre-historical vital ethics. Envy and mimetism are intertwined with any non-egalitarian hierarchy, as we can see in human society. Where ethics is, resentment is. The grapes of morality do not grow spontaneously, someone plants them there so that someone else can envy them.
When someone comes who claims, "I am the true vine,"26 the same for all, it suddenly becomes possible to conceive of an equality that transcends hierarchies. Equality also means indifferentiation, of course, and therefore the return of mimetism and potential violence. But this is exactly what Christianity brings to the world: the awareness that we always live in mimetismeven more so the more we think we can avoid itand that, within it, we must try to create positive ways of coexistence among men. Following this insight, the criterion for judging the positiveness of a social ethics is its distance from scapegoat mechanisms. It could be said that seeing the truth of the victim’s point of view is what we call justice.
This is why, for example, a society that maintains the equality of all men before the law is more positive than one in which rights depend on the social class to which one belongs. The abstract impersonality of the law protects against the danger of someone being seen as the incarnation of evil, or of clans pursuing private vendettas. In the same way, feeling an inward sense of guilt is generally more positive than pointing an accusing finger outward at someone else.
We must be clear that the moral positiveness we are talking about is of an "epistemological" nature. It has to do with the truth of people and relationships, and in no way equates to social stability, since social stability is exactly the result of scapegoat mechanisms and rituals. On the contrary, to remain in the awareness of this hypertrophic mimetism means to be exposed to a situation of permanent crisis. That is why, using Levi-Strauss’s well-known terminology, the Western world has always been a very "hot" society, in which everything is in a state of constant change and which can produce violent crises, as well as an unpredictable progress. The same principle would apply to a very "cold" monarchic order, which could be said to be stable compared to our undifferentiated and dynamic democracies.
Examining our hot post-Christian society, we have tracked two forces that have contributed to building the moral system: the omnipresent scapegoat mechanism, and what we called positive resentment. Both are mimetic, but the first is based on the illusory process of victimization, while the second derives from the (Christian) revelation of the illusory nature of the first, and therefore from the propensity to place justice and truth on the side of the victim.
In this framework, "victimism" testifies to the overwhelming force of the victimary mechanism, which even appropriates positive resentment. In fact, victimism is the perverse reversal of the recognition of the truth of the victim: everyone, today, wants to be (seen as) a victim, because being a victim justifies any claim or act, even the most violent ones. In this sense, victimism is the mimetic double of victimization.
Our contemporary mythologies do not present victims as guilty, but as those who have been unjustly harassed, to whom we can therefore allow and excuse everything. This is nothing but a parody of the Gospels, and very reminiscent of the "ancient" victimizing texts: in the latter, one wanted to justify a violent act in the name of an alleged fault of the scapegoat; here, on the contrary, one wants to justify violent acts in the name of the alleged innocence of a scapegoat. The difference is that, in the ancient mythologies, the violence is perpetrated by the persecutors, while in the contemporary mythology of victimism, it is carried out by the "scapegoats" themselves.
Girard traces this dynamic very well in his critique of Camus’s The Stranger (L’Etranger ).27 While the standard critique recognizes in the protagonist, Meursault, a victim of the social and legal system, Girard reverses this perspective: it is too easy to read Mersault as a figura Christi, and thus The Stranger as a revelatory text in the sense of the Gospels. Actually, he says, «L’Etranger was not written for pure art’s sake, nor was it written to vindicate the victims of persecution everywhere,»28 but rather «against the 'judges' or, in other words, against the middle class who are the sole potential readers»29 of Camus’s novel. This middle class was so imbued with Christian ethics that it even forgave a character, well presented as a victim and an eccentric outsider, for having committed murder. This is the point: Mersault really committed a crime, but Camus’s literary genius manages to justify him, and not to show the murder as the core point of his condemnation.
Far from being presented as the objective reason for a social and legal charge, the crime in The Stranger is portrayed as the same kind of thing that children do when they seek attention: «If the child is left alone, his solitude quickly becomes unbearable but pride prevents him from returning meekly to the family circle. What can he do, then, to reestablish contact with the outside world? He must commit an action which will force the attention of the adults but which will not be interpreted as abject surrender, a punishable action, of course.»30
The practitioners of contemporary victimism are like Camus’s Mersault, or like children. In the name of "being victims" many violent speeches and acts are committed, and these actions do nothing but reinforce the perpetrators’ conviction that they are victims. Let us think, for example, of the acts carried out by the Israeli state against Palestinians, and of the acts carried out by Palestinians against Israeli civilians: it is a mimetic race to become the biggest victim and, therefore. more entitled to accuse the other.
We can provide many other examples of victimism, from some extreme forms of feminist revendications (which are mimetic of the patriarchy) to the intimidatory demands aimed at certain American university professors to "wash" the contents of their courses from any "stain" of white-supremacy or microaggressions.31 However, in pointing to these examples we would obviously be accused in turn, and be condemned accordingly, because this is the inescapable circle of mimetic violence! Therefore, we prefer to use a fictional example to illustrate our point: one of our most successful contemporary variations on the theme of The Stranger, i.e. the movie Joker (2019), directed by Todd Phillips, with the central character masterfully interpreted by Joaquin Phoenix.
Like The Stranger, Joker is an accusation against the same people who praised it. The entire plot aims to justify Arthur Fleck in the crimes he starts committing at the end of the movie. He is the innocent alienated, while the social system around him is utterly guilty: he has no responsibility for what he does, nor for what he is.32 Arthur, like Job, is "the victim of his people," andthanks to Christhe no longer needs to cover these people under the name of a "remunerative" God. However, unlike Job, Arthur does not believe that "his defender lives,"33 he does not have faith in the new "God of the victims." He only trusts his broken Ego, and therefore takes the position of the social victim as justification to obtain vengeance, triggering the mimetic spiral of violence and accusation.
We can see that, by washing the heavens clean from the God of violence, Christianity risks making human violence, in its full strength, fall back down to earth. If no other forms of transcendence fill the void left by the ancient gods, then violence will resume the primal place it held prior to the birth of the religious: the social arena. In the beginning, there was violence. And this violence can wear the "all against one" mask (victimization), or the "one against all" mask (victimism).
If we want to properly grasp that victimism is a resentful return of mimetic violence in the post-Christian Western world, we can look at the very "logical" form of it. If I am your victim and I search for revenge, then you must have started it. It was you, it is your fault. Here again is the finger pointed at the other, as in all "classical" victimary mechanisms. Victimization and victimism are nothing but the two (mimetic) sides of the same coin.
In the endechoing Girard’s quotewe can say that resentment is the father of everything, except for Christianity, but victimism is the son of two fathers: resentment and Christianity.
Not by chance, in the Christianized society, justice is always on the side of the victims, of the resentful ones, of those who "come after" and, therefore, have endured. But we have to keep in mind what Girard says at the end of his essay on The Stranger, interpreting another of Camus’s character Clamence from La Chuteas embodying the redemption of Mersault (we could add, like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight does for the Joker):
«Meursault was guilty of judgment but he never found out; Clamence alone found out. The two heroes may be viewed as a single one whose career describes a single itinerary somewhat analogous to the itinerary of the great Dostoevskian heroes. Like Raskolnikov, like Dmitri Karamazov, Meursault-Clamence first pictured himself as the victim of a judicial error, but he finally realized that the sentence was just, even if the judges were personally unjust, because the Self can provide only a grotesque parody of Justice.»34
The aim of this paper is to argue that: ressentiment can be seen as a positive force in the building of Western ethics, at least as important as scapegoat processes; victimism can be interpreted as a particular form of ressentiment, strictly linked to the Christian doctrine. In order to support these arguments, we will develop an original reflection based on a critical discussion and comparison between the thoughts on ressentiment35 of Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Scheler, and René Girard.
«In our world the most advantageous position is almost always that of the victim. Everyone tries to occupy it, frequently without any real justification. But this possibility, used and abused by us all, we owe to the Bible.»36
Following this stance of Girard, the aim of this paper is to argue that:
- ressentiment can be seen as a positive force in the building of Western ethics, at least as important as scapegoat processes.
- victimism can be interpreted as a particular form of ressentiment, strictly linked to the Christian doctrine.
In order to support these arguments, we will develop an original reflection based on a critical discussion and comparison between the thoughts on resentment of Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Scheler, and René Girard. The assumptions of Girard’s fundamental theories of mimetism and the scapegoat process will be taken for granted.37
- R. Girard, La route antique des hommes pervers, 1985, Eng. tr. Job. the victim of his people, Stanford University Press 1987.
- F. Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals (1887), Cambridge University Press 2006.
- R. Girard, Shakespeare: les feux de l’envie (1990), Eng. tr. A theater of envy: William Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 1991.
- M. Scheler, Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen (1915), Eng. tr., Ressentiment, Marquette University Press, 2010.
- Siegfried Morenz, Feurige Kohlen auf dem Haupt, «Theologische Literaturzeitung» 78 (1953), pp. 187–192.
- Steve Vinson, With a Spike and Staff in his Hand, and a Fiery Brazier above his Head: "First Setne" 4.35–4.36 Yet Again, «Enchoria. Zeitschrift fur Demotistik und Koptologie», Band 35, 2016/2017).
- S. Morigi, Un essere "vuoto di essere", "morale e risolutamente manicheo". Il demoniaco e la demonologia come "sapere paradossale" in René Girard, in S. Morigi, P. D. Bubbio (edd.), Male e Redenzione, Edizioni Camilliane, Torino 2008.
- S. Morigi, Fede cristiana e "fedeltà alla terra", in S. Morigi, M. S. Barberi (a cura di), Religioni, laicità, secolarizzazione, Transeuropa, Massa 2009, pp. 235–259.
- B. Strączek, René Girard’s concept of mimetic desire, scapegoat mechanism and biblical demystification. Seminare. Poszukiwania naukowe. 2014(35).
- R. Girard, Achever Clausewitz (2007), Eng. tr. Battling to the End, Michigan State University Press, 2009.
- R. Girard, Origine della cultura e fine della storia, Raffaello Cortina, 2003, Eng. tr. Evolution and Conversion. Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (2008¹), Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.
- D. de Rougemont, Les Personnes du Drame, Pantheon Books, New York 1944¹.
- R. Girard, Le Bouc émissaire, Grasset, Paris 1982, Eng tr. The Scapegoat, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.
- R. Girard, Camus’s Stranger Retried, PMLA, Vol. 79, No. 5 (Dec., 1964).
- G. Wiener, Microaggressions, safe spaces, and trigger warnings, Greenhaven Publishing, 2018.
- S. Žižek, J. Milbank, Paul’s New Moment, Brazos Press 2010.
F. Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals (1887), 1st essay, chap. 10, Cambridge University Press 2006, p. 20. ↩︎
See, for instance, R. Girard, Shakespeare: les feux de l’envie (1990), Eng. tr. A theater of envy: William Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 1991. ↩︎
R. Girard, Job, p. 108. ↩︎
M. Scheler, Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen (1915), Eng. tr., Ressentiment, Marquette University Press, 2010, p. 29. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 34. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 36. ↩︎
Here St. Paul quotes Deut. 32: 35 and Prov. 25: 21–22. The image of "burning coals upon his head,", traditionally associated with shame, is actually quite enigmatic. We know that many parts of the Book of Proverbs are inspired by Egyptian texts (e. g. from Prov. 22, 17 to Prov. 23,11 the biblical text is very close to the Instruction of Amenemope), and some scholars have hypothesized, in this line of research, that the primal source of the "coals upon the head" is the Egyptian popular tale called Setne I. (see Siegfried Morenz, Feurige Kohlen auf dem Haupt, «Theologische Literaturzeitung» 78 (1953), pp. 187–192; Steve Vinson, With a Spike and Staff in his Hand, and a Fiery Brazier above his Head: "First Setne" 4.35–4.36 Yet Again, «Enchoria. Zeitschrift fur Demotistik und Koptologie», Band 35, 2016/2017, pp. 33–68). In this tale, Setne (the mythical name for Khaemweset, son of Ramesses II) steals a powerful book from a tomb, and twice he is told that if he does not return it immediately, he will have to do it with a spike and staff in hand, and a fiery brazier above his head. He refuses, but after being seduced and deceived by a woman-spirit, the pharaoh obliges him to bring back the book with the stick and the brazier. In the end, it is not crystal clear whether this fiery brazier is simply a ritual element or a punishment. However, it can surely be said to be an additional difficulty, one which is highlighted three times. In addition, one should consider that the metaphor of fire is usually a negative one within the context of Egyptian moralizing literature. In any case, the image of the coals upon the head, from here on, will always be associated with shame (that which "makes you blush"). I would like to thank the Egyptologist Ilaria Cariddi for the support in the writing of this note. ↩︎
M. Scheler, Ressentiment, cit., p. 22. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 38. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 22. ↩︎
See S. Morigi, Un essere "vuoto di essere", "morale e risolutamente manicheo". Il demoniaco e la demonologia come "sapere paradossale" in René Girard, in S. Morigi, P. D. Bubbio (edd.), Male e Redenzione, Edizioni Camilliane, Torino 2008; S. Morigi, Fede cristiana e "fedeltà alla terra", in S. Morigi, M. S. Barberi (a cura di), Religioni, laicità, secolarizzazione, Transeuropa, Massa 2009, pp. 235–259; Strączek, Bogumił, René Girard’s concept of mimetic desire, scapegoat mechanism and biblical demystification. Seminare. Poszukiwania naukowe. 2014(35), pp. 47–56. ↩︎
R. Girard, Achever Clausewitz (2007), Eng. tr. Battling to the End, Michigan State University Press, 2009, chapt. IV, p. 82. ↩︎
Girard, Job, p. 165. ↩︎
Job 16:19. ↩︎
Girard, Job, p. 154. ↩︎
Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1. ↩︎
Girard, Battling to the End, p. 120. ↩︎
See Ibid., p. 133. ↩︎
John 10:30. ↩︎
See Mark 12:31. ↩︎
R. Girard, Origine della cultura e fine della storia, Raffaello Cortina, 2003, Eng. tr. Evolution and Conversion. Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (2008¹), Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017, p. 183. We can recall here what the Swiss–French philosopher Denis de Rougemont claimed: "Nietzsche is more Christian than his idea of Christianity." And we could also say that Girard is more Nietzschean than his idea of Nietzsche. (D. de Rougemont, Les Personnes du Drame, Pantheon Books, New York 1944¹, La Baconnière, Neuchatel, 1945, p. 38). ↩︎
R. Girard, Le Bouc émissaire, Grasset, Paris 1982, Eng tr. The Scapegoat, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, p. 101. ↩︎
Scheler even seems to provide the phenomenology of what Girard calls "external mediation": "Again and again the ressentiment man encounters happiness, power, beauty, wit, goodness, and other phenomena of positive life.… When such a quality irresistibly forces itself upon his attention, the very sight suffices to produce an impulse of hatred against its bearer, who has never harmed or insulted him. Dwarfs and cripples, who already feel humiliated by the outward appearance of the others, often show this peculiar hatred—this hyena-like and ever-ready ferocity. Precisely because this kind of hostility is not caused by the “enemy’s" actions and behavior, it is deeper and more irreconcilable than any other. It is not directed against transitory attributes, but against the other person’s very essence and being.” (M. Scheler, Ressentiment, p. 25). ↩︎
M. Scheler, Ressentiment, p. 25. ↩︎
M. Scheler, Ressentiment, p. 26. ↩︎
John 15:5. ↩︎
R. Girard, Camus’s Stranger Retried, PMLA, Vol. 79, No. 5 (Dec., 1964), pp. 519–533. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 524. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 531. ↩︎
Ibid., p. 530. ↩︎
One of the most famous recent furors about hate speech is the case of students’ complaints against Professor Nicholas Christakis at Yale University in 2015: ">https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2016/07/11/yale-university-free-speech-problem/; ">https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/12/01/yale-professors-issue-open-letter-free-speech. More generally, there is great ongoing debate about these issues in the USA: see, for example, ">https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Weida.pdf, G. Wiener, Microaggressions, safe spaces, and trigger warnings, Greenhaven Publishing, 2018. ↩︎
A similar mimetic interpretation could be provided for the film V for Vendetta (2006) and the original graphic novel (1982–1985), in which the main victimistic character, V, claims "What was done to me created me." In this regard, a note by Slavoj Žižek properly grasps the mimetic nature of the story: "In the film [V for Vendetta], Britain is reconstituted as a totalitarian country with a dictator who is only seen through television screens, and a famous masked rebel fights against him. A series of signs hints at the link between the two. If the film had been courageous enough, in the end, when the rebel dies and his mask is removed, we would have seen that the rebel is none other than the dictator, fighting himself. But unfortunately, the film was not radical enough." (S. Žižek, J. Milbank, Paul’s New Moment, Brazos Press 2010, p. 175). ↩︎
R. Girard, Job, p. 138. Girard here uses as a chapter title a quotation from Job 19:25. ↩︎
R. Girard, Camus’s Stranger Retried, p. 533. ↩︎
I prefer to use the French term ressentiment, since the philosophical connotation it has acquired with Nietzsche. Anyway, in a more generic meaning, even the English term "resentment" can be found in the paper. ↩︎
R. Girard, La route antique des hommes pervers, 1985, Eng. tr. Job. the victim of his people, Stanford University Press 1987, p. 139. ↩︎