Brief Review: BATTLING TO THE END by René Girard [Vol. 3, #30]

August 20, 2010 — 3 Comments

 

A Brief Review of

Battling to the End:
Conversations with Benoît Chantre.

René Girard.
Paperback: Michigan State Univ. Press, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

For several years now, I have been intrigued by René Girard’s mimetic theory and the way in which it portrays our human proclivities to violence.  Thus, I was excited to hear about his newest book Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre, which captures a conversation about a little-known military text of the nineteenth century, Carl von Clausevitz’s On War, and its relevance for understanding the world today.  Although this book does require that the reader have some background understanding of Girard’s mimetic theory, Battling to the End is, in its conversational format, perhaps the most readable of Girard’s books.  This new volume is also a divergence from Girard’s previous work in that it examines mimetic theory in the context of recent historical events, whereas Girard’s previous works have focused on developing mimesis within literary or biblical texts.  Girard’s keen exposition of recent history, makes this book essential reading for those of us who seek to understand the place of Christianity in a world of escalating violence.  Consider, for instance, the following passage:

In a French newspaper I said concerning September 11 that Muslims and Westerners were twins.  That was nothing new.  In fact, we can wonder to what extent the excesses of the Crusades in the thirteenth century were not mimetic responses to the Jihad, of which we are now suffering the consequences in Europe and the Middle East. … We need to undertake historical studies, both longitudinal and at different levels, of the conditions for the trend to the extremes.  This would show that it is against that baleful tendency that the institution of war (as we know it today) was gradually established in an attempt to control what was less and less controllable.  The rise in violence happens behind the actors’ backs (41 – parenthesis added for clarification).

Girard emphasizes throughout his work that Christianity is distinct among the faiths in the way that understands violence.  In our age of ever-escalating violence, the time has come for the Church to reflect on Girard’s work.  When read in conjunction with one of his earlier works in which he more clearly defines mimetic theory (e.g., Violence and the Sacred), Battling to the End would serve as an excellent guide to lead us into conversation about the meaning of our faith in a violent world.  Maybe, just maybe, Girard’s work will serve – to use the words with which he concludes this volume – to “wake up our sleeping consciences”!

 
  • Excellent review, Chris. This is a challenging and controversial book. Your brief review is very helpful. Thank you!

  • You might enjoy my own review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

    http://bit.ly/9tsWpH

    You said Battling to the End requires some background on Girard’s mimetic theory — I found that I was stumped more by the details of military strategy.

    At any rate, several other of Girard’s books have a Q&A format, most notably Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. You might also enjoy this short piece I wrote today, after Girard made a rather odd appearance in Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

    http://bit.ly/c8ty4o