The ancient trail of the wicked. René Girard and the Book of Job: Introduction

The trail that brought us to this collective work is certainly not ancient, yet not recent either. It began in the first months of 2019 when Marco Stucchi wrote to Anselmo Aportone, the coordinator of the doctoral programs in philosophy at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata” and the University of Roma Tre, about the idea of a seminar concerning René Girard’s text La Route Antique des Hommes Pervers. The proposal raised interest from scholars, professors, and students inside and outside the Philosophy Department of Roma “Tor Vergata” (renowned in the field of the philosophy of religion). The initial idea turned into a doctoral seminar composed of four talks. The first meeting took place on October 30, 2019 and the last on December 13, 2019. Each talk was dedicated to some chapters of Girard’s book, and after a brief speech by a keynote speaker, an open forum took place among the attendees. The seminar raised many questions that could not be elaborated on in just four meetings. Participants realized that Girard’s book, despite its brevity, deserved a much more concerted theoretical and philosophical effort.

Professor Bertini suggested collecting contributions from scholars who had participated in the seminar and from others who would be willing to. We jointly took care of this proposal, which has been welcomed by different researchers and positively assessed by the philosophy review Dialegesthai, whose board of directors is composed of Emilio Baccarini and Giovanni Salmeri, professors at Roma “Tor Vergata” who both hosted the seminar.

Why La Route Antique des Hommes Pervers? The text was published in 1985 and was translated into English as Job, the Victim of his People two years later. One of the reasons why this specific text was chosen is its special position in Girard’s bibliography. On one hand, it is his first text entirely devoted to the Judeo-Christian tradition; on the other hand, it anticipated the ending of the most revolutionary and intellectually intense period of Girard’s production, which closed with his magnificent book on Shakespeare in 1990. Of course, Girard wrote many remarkable works in the following years—above all Achever Clausewitz: Entretiens avec Benoît Chantre (2007) should be mentioned—but the pillars of his mimetic theory were built in the three decades between 1961 and 1991, and his books that represent the biggest breakthroughs belong to this period.

As Isaiah Berlin recalled, “There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’... [T]aken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel—a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance—and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.” The first kind of personality is that of the hedgehog, while the second is that of the fox. At first, Roberto Calasso, in The Ruin of Kasch, included Girard in the category of the hedgehog, recognizing his centripetal and systematic thought—an ordinate, the mimetic desire, and an abscissa, the scapegoat mechanism, from which each point finds its own order, location, and sense of interpretation. And thus in Evolution and Conversion, Pierpaolo Antonello, João Cezar de Castro Rocha, and not least Girard himself came together to agree on that definition.

Indeed, there is something obsessive about Girard’s thought, which resembles the incessant trickle of water that slowly and stubbornly erodes even the stone, or the rivulet that swells and takes in its course everything it encounters. And it is no coincidence that the metaphor of the stream is one of the cornerstones around which the hermeneutic unveiling of the Book of Job revolves and flows, fluidly. Here Girard returns to immerse himself in the biblical text as he used to immerse himself in the reading of the great novels, at the bottom of which the secret of mimetic desire was kept. The hedgehog knows a big thing and once again puts his knowledge to work. Girard is able to catch both Job (the proverbial victim of his people) and the author of his Book (whose name is lost in the sands of time) in his gravitational orbit in one fell swoop. Of the latter, as of Girard—and of every great novelist—it can be said that he is “living in a veritable laboratory of historical and sociological observation” from which he will extract, through trial, error, and experiments, a truth of universal significance. It is a truth as much hidden as it is urgent to reveal. And again, Job’s Book, like every great novel, must be “compared with a later work which will amply justify its perspectives and will make even its more daring aspects seem banal, merely by revealing a more advanced stage.” The aid eventually required at the hands of the typological reading—which puts the parable of either Job and Christ into perspective—will not therefore be a clumsy patch, an extemporary remedy to a theory that does not hold water, as it has often been reproached, but its linear development and most natural outlet. An additional turn of the screw: the same resistance encountered can be told—the same resistance met Job, his narrator, and Girard, who somehow narrates both. And all of that because the fixed, obsessive idea revealed by the hedgehog is, literally, the very secret that needs to be hidden so that each community and culture may find its own fixity and fixation. Bringing it to light from the hidden depths means raising an equally literal disturbance, muddying the waters that were intended to be clear and clean.

And that is the task the authors of the volume undertook together, each from his own perspective: bringing light to the bottom not yet dredged and clarified—nevertheless, or just for this reason, still fruitful. The hedgehog knows only one big thing, but not in a banal sense, with a meaning of something unexpected and unforeseen to announce. Many trails have thereby opened up reflecting further on The Ancient Trail of the Wicked. Some of them intersect Girard’s insights and flow into his stream; some others get the drop on him. Such is the case with Bondi, whose contribution, “Victimism as the Contemporary Form of Ressentiment”, launches an unprecedented discussion on the positive value of resentment, starting from a dialogue with Nietzsche and Scheler. The same can be said of Gericke, who recontextualizes and perhaps smooths out problematic edges of the French philosopher’s interpretation of the Book (Is Girard a philosopher? An anthropologist? A literary critic? This ongoing superimposition of perspectives, all somehow actively clamoring around the biblical text, risks undermining a “sincere” exegesis of the biblical letters).The almost gravitational pull that Girard’s theory exerts on the foreign matter that happens to be within its radius may be strong enough to turn out to be excessive—and vice versa. Gericke again points out the overlap between Job’s lamentation and Girard’s prose, presenting them as surrounded by hostile and adverse voices. In his “Hate Speech in Girard’s Reading of the Book of Job”, Bertini notices further difficulties, in light of a reasoned analysis of slurs and curses—the same ones used by Job’s friends as an effective performance in directing pent-up hatred and violence towards the targeted scapegoat. Other trails, however, lead to different ages and times—that’s the case with Cecere, who casts the intuitions of the victim mechanism in a wide-ranging historical overview, focusing on the concept of authority (no longer sacred nor sacralized) as proposed by modern Philosophes. Leaping even further ahead, Salvati uses ethno-anthropological studies on migrants in Europe as proving ground for Girard’s intuitions; Job thus becomes the archetypal outcast foreshadowing the painful lives of the marginalized to come. Other trails lead to other texts. Bisoni tunes up a Shakespearean countermelody to the Book, casting, through the mediation of Benjamin and Kantorowicz, a melancholic shadow on Job. Nogara Notarianni, starting from his Semitic given name, prompts a reflection on the practice of interpellation as presented by Althusser and Butler. Eventually we go back to the beginning: Marco Stucchi, from whom the whole volume stems, borrows the Girardian picklock (the stiff spine of the said hedgehog?) to prove eventual criticalities inherent in Freudian psychoanalysis, opening a space for techniques and knowledge yet to be imagined.

For the big thing that the hedgehog knows may be not so good. Girard himself raised the alarm against the all-encompassing nature of either the victim mechanism and mimetic desire (Be careful not to get caught, unwittingly, in their whirlwind!) The Ancient Trail of the Wicked is certainly a cyclical and circular one and, unfortunately, history often repeats itself. We do not want to walk along that road but rather to propose, just like Job did, its disruption or at least its suspension. At the heart of all the contributions to this volume is, therefore, the quest for safe passages, the aim to provide loopholes and find ways out.

Coming now to the acknowledgments, we would like to thank the doctoral program in philosophy at the University of Roma “Tor Vergata” and the University of Roma Tre and the two people who coordinated the doctoral program from 2019 to 2021: Anselmo Aportone and Mariannina Failla. They appreciated our initiative and welcomed our seminar in the calendar of doctoral activities. It should not be taken for granted that university departments and doctoral programs let students organize events to which professors respond enthusiastically. A stimulating environment is a fundamental element for a doctoral program, and these departments have managed to offer it. We thank all the attendees of the seminar, including the keynote speakers, moderators, and also the public. Among the seminar attendees and moderators, we would like to offer our thanks to Emilio Baccarini, Daniele Nuccilli, Daniele Bertini, Antonio Cecere, Laura Paulizzi, Giovanni Salmeri, Damiano Bondi, and Stefano Semplici. We also thank the members of Gruppo Studi Girard—the research group of which we are part—who since 2016 have undertaken many projects and organized many events with the aim of spreading awareness of and deepening mimetic theory. Of all the people who joined this group, we are grateful in particular to Mattia Carbone and Pietro Somaini, who, even if they have not taken part in the present volume, played a fundamental role in giving us the strength and the inspiration to foster Girardian initiatives like this one. We are also grateful to two cultural circles, Filosofia in Movimento and Culturificio, which sponsored our doctoral seminar. We are much obliged to the review Dialegesthai and to its board of directors, who believed in our project from beginning to end. We also thank Silvio Morigi and Raffaella Colombo, who, though they did not manage to contribute to this volume, have certainly shown the willingness to be part of this trail. Their Girardian studies, their lessons, and their past collaborations with Gruppo Studi Girard have indubitably and positively influenced our works and our editorship.

The decision to write most of this volume in English has implied a certain struggle since we are not native English speakers. But the authors are convinced that this work deserves to be available to many Girardian scholars from all over the world. If we are able to accomplish this goal, it will also be due to the reviewers and translators who have collaborated with us. So we thank Florence Leborgne, Anna Carruthers, Elisa Solcia, and the website We owe special thank to Leonard Mare.

Lastly, of course, we are very grateful to all who contributed their precious and valuable works to this volume, which successfully challenged a socio-sanitary situation that made life difficult for many scholars, university researchers, professors, and students. If we are honored to be editors of this work, it is due to the professionalism and the quality who all of them have shown. A special mention is owed to Benoît Chantre, one of the most distinguished authors who collaborated with René Girard in person and who has honored us with his insightful preface.

We would like to dedicate this volume to Gianfranco Mormino, who first introduced René Girard’s thought in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Milan—from which we both graduated—as well as to our bookshelves and, especially, our hearts. Mormino brought us onto the path of Girard’s thought, a largely unexplored field through which we are still walking.

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