Rene Girard on a Cause of Homosexuality

From Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978; English translation, 1987); Book III, Chapter 3, “Mimesis and Sexuality” (Pages 337 – 338)

“If we recognize that the sexual appetite can be affected by the interplay of mimetic interferences, we have no reason to stop at ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ in our critique of false psychiatric labels. Let us grant that the subject can no longer obtain sexual satisfaction without involving the violence of the model or a simulation of that violence – and that the instinctual structures we have inherited from the animals, in the sexual domain, can allow themselves to be inflected by the mimetic game. We then have to ask ourselves [whether] these cases of interference are not likely to have a still more decisive effect and give rise to at least some of the forms of homosexuality.

“We have already come a large part of the way. In effect, we have already talked about homosexuality, at least indirectly since the [model-rival], in the sexual domain, is an individual of the same sex, for the very reason that the object is heterosexual. All sexual rivalry is thus homosexual. What we call homosexuality is, in this case, the total subordination of the sexual appetite to the effects of a mimetic game that concentrates the subject’s powers of attention or absorption upon the individual who is responsible for the double bind – the model as rival, the rival as model.

“To make this genesis even more apparent, we must mention a curious fact that has been noticed by the ethologists. It happens that, among certain types of monkey, a male who recognizes himself to have been beaten by a rival and so renounces the female disputed between them, puts himself in a position (so we are told) of ‘homosexual availability’ towards his victor. This is a gesture of submission, of course, but, in the context of a mimetism that intensifies in the transition from animal to man it seems to mean something more. It does suggest to me the genesis I have just put forward. If there is no ‘genuine’ homosexuality among animals, that is because, with them, mimetism is not intense enough to have a lasting effect on the sexual appetite of the defeated rival. Yet it is already sufficiently intense, when the mimetic rivalries reach paroxysm, to produce something like an adumbration to this effect.

“If I am right, we ought to be able to find, in forms of ritual, the missing link between the vague sketch given by the animal world and homosexuality in the proper sense of the term. In fact, ritualized homosexuality is a fairly frequent phenomenon. It takes place in the paroxysm of the mimetic crisis and can be found in cultures that apparently allot no place to homosexuality outside the context of these religious rites. A comparison between the animal phenomenon, ritualized homosexuality and modern homosexuality cannot fail to signal that mimetism brings in the sexuality and not the other way around!

“Ritualized homosexuality must be compared with a certain form of ritualized cannibalism practised in various cultures where (as with homosexuality) cannibalism does not exist at ordinary times. In both cases, so it seems to me, the instinctual appetite, whether it be for food or sex, becomes fixated on the person or persons who are quarreling. As always, desire tends to be inflected toward the mimetic model. In cannibalism, the rivalry must originally be over food. Within the alimentary context, the growing obsession that the model creates can be translated into an irresistible tendency to see him as something good to eat. Within the sexual context, the same obsession can be translated into an irresistible tendency to see him as a possible object for sexual intercourse.”

**********

“Homosexuality corresponds to an ‘advanced’ stage of mimetic desire, but this stage can also correspond to a form of heterosexuality in which the partners play the roles of model and rival, as well as that of object, for one another. The metamorphosis of the heterosexual object into a rival brings about effects very similar to the metamorphosis of the rival into an object. This is the parallelism that Proust recognizes when he states that you can transcribe a homosexual experience into heterosexual terms without in any way betraying the truth of one desire or the other. Quite clearly, Proust is more correct than those people who for reasons of attraction or repulsion wish to make homosexuality into a kind of essence, and thereby fetishize it.”

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43 thoughts on “Rene Girard on a Cause of Homosexuality

  1. Translation please? I’m not following any of the mimetics stuff as it relates to homosexuality. Also, this author’s writing is terrible. Subject object agreement is not his strong point. I can hardly read this. Is this some kind of attempt at a gay Sokal Hoax?

  2. I am a college teacher, Earl. Part of my job is to provoke people into thinking things through and putting things together by themselves. You might start, in thinking through the implications of Girard’s paragraphs, by contemplating the last sentence, where he refers to those who “wish to make homosexuality into a kind of essence, and thereby fetishize it.” (We necessarily read forwards, but we only ever understand backwards.) Who, in the loud discourse of Anno Domini 2013, “wish[es] to make homosexuality into a kind of essence”? Another way of wording the question is: For whom is homosexuality invariably ontological and therefore un-caused? When you have answered the question in either of its forms, you will be at least halfway towards grasping Girard’s brilliant insight.

    Best, TFB

    P.S. Earl, you can find my numerous commentaries on Girard by conducting a Google search (Bertonneau + Girard), but that is not my point. “Mimesis” is a Greek word for imitation. Aristotle famously defined man as “the most mimetic of animals.” But that is not really my point, either. I am not being coy with you. The PC regime has so severely prevented the discussion of homosexuality in terms of causes that people have responded by not thinking about the topic at all. We need to start thinking again about, well, everything, in terms of causes. There is enough in the quoted paragraphs by themselves to bring you to a conclusion. That conclusion will mean more to you when you arrive at it on your own than it would if I did the thinking for you.

    Best again,

    TFB

      • Earl and khughes44 are smarter than me. I’m pretty sure I would flunk Prof. Bertonneau’s class, because I’m still finding the passage confusing. Competing with a guy over girls can lead you to “translate” your desire from the girl to the guy? I’m having trouble imagining how that would work. It’s like when Freudians go on about desires being “displaced” or “transferred”, as if one could change the object of one’s desire and have it remain the same desire.

      • As a general thought, there’s a lot of “traditionalism” that’s really just warmed over Freudianism. Yesterday’s modernism. I will not comment on whether Prof. Bertonneau intended us to take this kind of theory seriously, or whether it’s all a bit of a lark.

    • Author Leanne Payne ascribes the connection between cannibalism and homosexuality. Interesting reading. One thing here, I would say that the PC regime heavily regulates the discussion, as opposed to preventing it. They do this a) to control the language and therefore the argument, and b) by ridiculing anything that disagrees as ignorant Judeo-Christian babble.

  3. As a Mahāyāna Buddhist I hold that all efficient causality is ethical in nature; ergo, homosexuality is an innate, self-imposed punishment for acts performed in former lives. I may have been born with certain sinful predilections, but I am still responsible for having them and for not acting on them. If I do act on them and do not repent and rectify my life, I know that I will end up in Saṃghāta Hell for a long, unpleasant time. This is an explanation that I can use. The same can be said for explanations given by other ethical religions. They’re not scientific, but they’re useful. Wittgenstein critiqued Freud’s scientific pretensions as “language on holiday;” i.e. Freud is just talking nonsense. I would say the same of Girard. Girard puts forward a hypothesis about the cause of homosexuality that is, even in theory, unverifiable. And what’s worse, I don’t see a use for it.

    • From Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (1978; English translation, 1987); Book III, Chapter 3, “Mimesis and Sexuality” (Page 337)

      Psychiatrist Jean-Michel Oughourlian responds to Girard’s hypothesis: “I can support your demonstration by bringing in the case, which I had occasion to observe recently, of a young man – engaged to a young lady in the most traditional fashion – who fell in love with a man older than himself, taking him first of all (by his own avowal) as a model, then finally as a lover. The lover himself, although ‘exclusively homosexual,’ was to tell me later that he was not at all interested in my patient to start with, but had only become attracted to him as the result of the presence of his fiancée and the triangular situation created on the occasion of a dinner party. When the patient became jealous of his lover, and left his fiancée for him, the lover completely lost interest in him. When I asked him his reasons for this about-face, he told me: ‘Take my word for it – homosexuality is wanting to be what the other is.’”

      • This is my first time commenting on this blog. I’ve been following Prof. Bertonneau for a while now, here and elsewhere and I always enjoy his writing. Given as I myself experience homosexual desires, this topic is naturally of some interest to me. I can only speak for myself, but this excerpt from Girard rings very true for me. There is always a certain amount of envy bound up in my attraction to other men. I would also note that there seems to be a certain fascination with heterosexual men within the gay community, in that the very knowledge of a particular man being straight seems to enhance his desirability.

      • Girard does not give us empirical science; therefore he doesn’t explain causes. What he does is to speak in a mythological language drawn from the poisoned wells of Freud, Darwin, and Levi-Strauss. It is a mythology without the transcendent, a false Gospel, if you will: one that can only be accepted on faith. As a long time Traditionalist, I reject materialism and its false prophets; the traditional world has no need of explanations by those who reject the objective, hierarchical structure of Reality.

        A good, and short, book to look at the problems of taking theory for science is Bouveresse’s Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious.

      • As a heterosexual woman I find this story and Adam L’s comment very compelling. In my youth I fell in and out of love a few times as we all do. I was attracted to a man’s personality, looks, etc. I loved the feeling of being in love. But I also had a deep instinct to find a suitable father for my eventual children. A mate with desirable traits to give me strong, attractive, intelligent babies.

        It would never occur to me to want a man someone else had. I would have no desire to be him. In no way would I be envious of who he was.The qualities that made him special would also make my children special. And make him a good breadwinner. I am enough being the mama, which is the most natural feeling in the world. I find the idea of “wanting to be what the other is” really interesting. Because I’ve never quite understood the attraction a man has for another man. But I completely understand the attraction a woman has for a man.

  4. I believe Girard’s theory is better applied to the more abstract aspects of homosexuality such as twisted Gender roles, but with respect to the carnal aspects human biology plays a bigger role, especially regarding the ability of humans to obtain pleasure from anal intercourse (both passive and active partners) and obviously its own intelligence and flexible anatomy that allows unusual forms of stimuli.

    The lesson is that sexual pleasure is easy for humans and without self-repression you will become a sex addict and a depraved individual.

    • The Episcopal Church, which ordains practicing homosexuals, also calls itself “Christian.”

      I could call myself a Martian, but that doesn’t make me one. Objective standards still apply.

      God does indeed send delusions. (2 Thessalonians 2:11)

      • Compared to Homo Modernus generally, we at The Orthosphere are Martians. It’s Homo Modernus who’s deluded. I glory in the name of Martian. But then, in addition to the Girard course, I teach the Science Fiction course!

      • I’m a Martian not just because I am an Orthospherian in outlook, but also because I wear a jacket and tie, not only for work (where it is not required) but also on the weekends.

        Yet to the average jacket-and-tie wearing Martian, I’m a Neptunian, because I wear fedoras, too!

  5. Nilakantha asserts that only empirical knowledge is knowledge, but that is a positivistic assertion in considerable, perhaps irresolvable, tension with the assumptions of what goes by the label of Traditionalism. I am not accusing Nilakantha of anything. I am merely pointing out the obvious. It is for him to resolve the contradiction to his own satisfaction.

    There is a keen thought-experiment that my friend Richard Cocks performs in his philosophy classroom. Imagine that you are strapped in a chair in a room. A scary looking man enters through the only door with a can of gasoline and book of matches and explains his plans for you. What “empirical argument,” or for that matter, what “logical argument” might you make that would avert him, assuming him to be committed wickedly on his task? None. And yet you know for certain that his plan is wicked and that he should not carry it to realization. Your certainty is knowledge, as much as 2 + 2 = 4 is knowledge. Moral propositions, such as the sanctity of the individual, are not subject to empirical or even to logical verification, the way a physics or chemistry hypothesis or a logical proposition might be. They are axioms and their source is revelation.

    As for Girard, his “Fundamental Anthropology” is derived entirely from his reading of Scripture.

    Adam L. has made a valuable comment. Modernity increases envy. Therefore modernity increases everything that is connected with envy. Speaking to Adam L.: In the late 1970s, I knew a number of men who had been intimate with the film actor Rock Hudson. They were unanimous in what they said: That Hudson, a homosexual with a prodigious appetite, strongly preferred men who had “been with women.” This was an important element in his formula for gratification.

    Nilakantha might note that, in the last paragraph that I quote in the original entry, Girard roundly dismisses Freud. Reading carefully in the assigned text is ninety-per cent of the course.

    By the way, Wittgenstein, whose name has appeared in this thread, was homosexual. I have always found Wittgenstein’s most famous phrase — “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” — sinister. It seems to me that it might well stand at the head of every PC speech code.

    • My epistemology is perfectly orthodox. I accept the traditional Pramāṇavādin view that we know things in three ways: empirical reality is known through sensation and inference; transcendent reality, including metaphysics and ethics, is known through the testimony of an omniscient person, i.e. revelation.

      My central beef with Girard is that he pretends to do science, i.e. give a rational account of causes, when at best he gives us only a novel way of talking about reasons. I usually find the best way to find out why a man behaves in a particular way is to ask him why he does what he does. Very rarely would I be told that his actions are caused by the sexual proclivities of his simian ancestors. I’m much more likely to be told that he wants to make money, have a good time, take vengeance on an enemy, etc.

      The Man Who Was . . . makes a very good point. What place do Darwin and Freud (or their sorry progeny) have in discussions of Traditionalism? They are the mouthpieces of the devil, come to sow the seeds of counter-Tradition. The fundamental lies of biological evolution and of the unconscious have helped turn the world into a nightmare of chaos.

      • Before one says something like, “Girard pretends to do science,” one should read Girard. Girard does anthropology, which, not being physics or chemistry, is not science. In not doing science, Girard is not pretending.

      • IIRC in Girard’s Wikipedia entry a neuro-scientist remarks that he’s found evidence for Girard’s theories in the lab, so to speak. I think it is in a section with other scientists who’ve remarked about similar validations.

        Compare to the completely unfounded, totally falsified, yet still widely popular Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      • You’re right, anthropology is not science, and I agree that Girard does not do science. Girard himself seems a little confused on the issue. In Violence and the Sacred he does make a number of claims to be doing science:

        Whether my theory proves to be true or false, it can, I believe, lay claim to being “scientific,” if only because it allows for a rigorous definition of such terms as divinity, ritual, rite, and religion. p. 315

        Our theory should be approached, then, as one approaches any scientific hypothesis. p. 316

        And if you could highlight the part of your reading that deals with Freud I would be grateful. The final chapter deals with Proust; Freud is nowhere to be found.

    • Heterosexual men are more masculine than gay men and the more masculine you are the more attractive you are to gay men and women both.

      • While what you say is true, so far as it goes, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as you make it seem with your formulation. Yes, of course homosexual men and heterosexual women are going to be attracted to men they perceive as more masculine. Leaving it simply at that though, fails to account for why each experiences this attraction, and how this relates to their self-image vis-a-vis their conception of the masculine.

      • There is no such thing as “gay men.”

        Men are neither sexually averse to females nor sexually attracted to males.

  6. Modernism has also normalized contraception which results in sex now being recognized as essentially for pleasure and release — which can be realized with a person of either sex, with objects or by oneself.

  7. “Who, in the loud discourse of Anno Domini 2013, “wish[es] to make homosexuality into a kind of essence”? Another way of wording the question is: For whom is homosexuality invariably ontological and therefore un-caused? ”

    Does Dr. Bertonneau draw any parallels to doctrines of predestination? In the Weberian interpretation of Calvinism, the rise of capitalism is explained by the pressing spiritual need to discover, by signs of worldly success, that one is already among the chosen, an idea that can blossom in gnosticism. Could one similarly argue that the belief in homosexuality as something innate, leads to a need to prove oneself as having been born with the sign of the now-desired “victim” status? Or is the belief in some homosexual essence less cause than effect of the embrace of homosexuality?

    • One implication of Girard’s analysis of homosexuality would be that the claim of essence is a petulant claim to compensation made by the party who has been ejected from the triangle of desire. The loser re-invents himself as another instance of the all-purpose victim. I would describe political homosexuality as gnostic, but “gnostic” is not a term that Girard uses.

      • So, let me get this straight, being rejected by a girl causes you to have a feminine digit ratio and changes the direction of your hair sworls.

      • the claim of essence is a petulant claim to compensation made by the party who has been ejected from the triangle of desire.

        Or maybe people claim there’s an essence because . . . there’s an essence.

      • TMWW… some things merit derision, but you really are overreacting with your responses here. No one seems to have things figured out on this subject nearly as completely as you claim to, yet you oversimplify and then deride a position your opponent never really took. I never said that a feminine digit ratio was certainly caused by non-biological factors such as one’s habitual behavior, but was merely challenging the idea that such physical attributes must necessarily be solely biologically determined. You don’t demonstrate the absurdity of my question merely by saying it’s absurd to ask it.

        For what it’s worth, in the grand scheme of things, what the origins of homosexuality are may not be important, but at present it does seem important to me (and apparently to many others here) in order hopefully to think better on a subject that presses me day in and day out in this society. If you think I am tending toward the wrong way of thinking on this, you are not helping me to see a better way.

      • I think some people may be getting the impression that what Girard is suggesting here is that homosexuality is a result of a man being out-competed in the pursuit of women, and therefore in his frustration he somehow transfers his sexual desire onto his rival male counterparts. I suspect Girard’s reference to the behavior of monkeys competing over mates is at least partly responsible for this confusion.

        Plus, when Prof. Bertonneau speaks of “the triangle of desire” in the context of sexual desire, people may be inclined to believe he is merely speaking of a love triangle in the conventional sense which, although related and not mutually exclusive, I don’t think is really what he is getting at. The triangle that is that is being referenced is that of the subject, the object desired, and the model/rival who mediates this desire.

        For human beings desire is to a large extent learned, and this includes sexual desire. That’s why inanimate objects, for instance, can be fetishized as sexual symbols. But sexuality isn’t merely the desiring of a member of the opposite sex, and this desire doesn’t just come about ex nihilo. Although biology certainly provides the “groundwork” so to speak, much of our sexual desire is bound up in our concepts of the masculine and feminine, which we learn from others.

        Sexual desire is learned from learning how to be masculine/feminine. In the case of males, their fathers, and later their peers, act as their models of the masculine. But as Girard points out, those qualities that make someone a model, are the same qualities that can make them into a rival. But note what the rivalry is over – it’s not over women, but rather masculinity. This is especially evident in later childhood prior to the onset of puberty. The frustration that Girard is describing is not a failure to attain the apparent (sexual) object of desire (this has not been learned yet), but rather a failure in becoming the model/rival. Girard’s point is that this perceived failure becomes a point of fixation whereby the model/rival, who represents the desired state of being, becomes himself the object of desire.

        Apologies for the length of this comment, and if I am mistaken in my presentation here I would welcome any corrections from Prof. Bertonneau.

      • Is it just me, or does Girard’s model only deal with one role in the homosexual relationship? While I have never personally met an exceptionally masculine homo, I am told they exist. I have noticed that in every male homo relationship I personally know, there is a man-role and a woman-role; a pitcher and a catcher so to speak. I’m seeing Girard attempt to explain the feminized catcher, but not the masculine pitcher. What am I missing?

      • He’s attempting to address them both. The “pitcher,” we’ll say, is the guy who sees the model as rival; the “catcher,” we’ll say, is the guy who sees the rival as model. Or so I deduce.

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