Girard, Rene. "Triangular Desire." Girard, Rene.

Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1965. 1-52.

The discipline pursues objects which are determined for him, or at least seem to be determined for him, but the model of all chivalry. We shall call this model the mediator of desire. On Literary Criticism

The triangle is no Gestalt. The real structures are inter-subjective. They cannot be localized anywhere the triangle has no reality whatever; it is a systematic metaphor, systematically pursued. Because changes in size and shape do not destroy the identity of this figure, as we will see later, the diversity as well as the unity of the works can be simultaneously illustrated. The purpose and limitations of this structural geometry may become clearer through a reference to ‘structural models.’ The triangle is a model of a sort, or rather a whole family of models. But these models are not ‘mechanical’ like those of Claude Levi-Strauss. They will allude to the mystery, transparent yet opaque, of human relations. All types of structural thinking assume that human reality is intelligible; it is a logos, and as such, it is an incipient logic, or it degrades itself into a logic. It can thus be systematized, at least up top a point, however unsystematic, irrational, and chaotic it may appear even to those, or rather especially to those who operate the system. A basic contention of this essay is that the great writers comprehend intuitively and concretely, through the medium of their art, if not formally, the system in which they were first imprisoned together with their contemporaries. Literary interpretation must be systematic because it is the continuation of literature. It should formalize implicit or already halfexplicit systems. To maintain that criticism will never be real knowledge. The value of a critical thought dpends not on how it cleverly manages to disguise its own systematic nature or on how many fundamental issues it manages to shirk or to dissolve but on how much literary substance it really embraces, comprehends, and makes articulate. The goal may be too ambitious but it is not outside the scope of literary criticism. It is the very essence of literary criticism. Failure to reach it should be condemned but not the attempt. Everything else has already been done. (Girard, p. 3)

Definition of Desire Desire according to the Other and the ‘seminal’ function of literature are also found in the novels of Flaubert. Emma Bovary desires through the romantic heroines who fill her imagination. The second-rate books which she devoured in her youth have destroyed her spontaneity. We must turn to Jules de Gaultier for the definition of this ‘bovarysm’ which he reveals in every one of Flaubert’s characters: ‘The same ignorance, the same inconsistency, the same absence of individual reaction seem to make them fated to obey the suggestion of an
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it suggests to all Stendhal’s characters feelings and. entitled Bovarysm. on the other hand. grouped into two fundamental categories---but within these categories there can be an infinite number of secondary distinctions. When he enters the service of the Renal family. the desires of models they have freely chosen.’ In his famous essay. can steal the tutor from the M. and dress. 6) Vaniteux A vaniteux will desire any object so long as he is convinced that it is already desired by another person whom he admires. it is even this very desire. The mediator can no longer act his role of model without also acting or appearing to act the role of the obstacle. The mediator here is a rival. real or presumed. or of Madame Bovary…Valenod. 5] ter’s table rather than at that of the servants. which is ‘to see themselves as they are not. desires that they do not experience spontaneously. And so in Stendhal we again find triangular desire. This means that one is always confronted with two competing desires. especially.’ The external aspects of imitation are the most striking. for lack of an auto-suggestion from within. We 2 . Gaultier goes on to observe that in order to reach their goal. The rivalry between mediator and the person who desires constitutes an essential difference between this desire and that of Don Quixote. intonation. We shall speak of External mediation when the distance is sufficient to eliminate any contact between the two spheres of possibilities of which the mediator and the subject occupy the respective centeres. gesture. appearance.[end of p. Like the relentless sentry of the Kafka [end of p. Here history is nothing but a kind of literature. (Girard. brought into existence as a rival by vanity. the Marechale de Fervacques can take Julien from Mathilde de la Mole. Julien borrows from Rousseau’s Confessions the desire to eat at his mas. Stendhal uses the word ‘vanity’ (vanite) to indicate all these forms of ‘copying’ and ‘imitating. all that can be imitated.’ The vaniteux is brother to Don Quixote and Emma Bovary.’ Flaubert’s heroines find a ‘model’ for themselves and ‘imitate from the person they have decided to be. everything exterior. In most of Standhal’s desire it: it is mediator himself desires the object or could desire it. or believe they are imitating. 7]… Internal Mediation and External Mediation Romantic works are. The mediation begets a second desire exactly the same as the mediator’s. p. de Renal.external milieu. which makes this object infinitely desirable in the eyes of the subject. therefore. but we must above all remember that the characters of Cervantes and Flaubert are imitating. and that same vanity demands his defeat.

carefully hides them. Everything that originates with this mediator is systematically belittled although still secretly 3 . the disciple inevitablu sees. Fascinated by his model. according to him. And yet the imitation is no less strict and literal in internal mediation than in external mediation. Far from declaring himself a faithful vassal. and from himself. the subject reverses the logical and chronological order of desires in order to hide his imitation. But these bonds are stronger than ever. In an effort to hide this desperate admiration from others. He asserts that his own desire is prior to that of his rival. We have seen Don Quixote himself explain to Sancho the privileged part Amadis plays in his life. the object. in the mechanical obstacle which he puts in his way. it is the mediator who is responsible for the rivalry. or perhaps possesses. 11] hatred. The secondary role of the mediator thus becomes primary. The person who hates himself for the secret admiration concealed by his hatred. The parallel between Don Quixote and Madame Bovary has become classic. (Girard. This is the passion we call hatred. he distance between mediator and the subject is primarily spiritual. Only someone who prevents us from satisfying a desire which he himself has inspired in us is truly an object of [end of p. proof of the ill will borne him. Obviously it is not physical space that measures the gap between mediator and the desiring subject. It is always easy to recognize analogies between two novels of external mediation. he thinks only of repudiating the bonds of mediation.’ but also because the hero of internal mediation. The subject is convinced that the model considers himself too superior to accept him as a dciple. far from boasting of his efforts to imitate. He worships his model openly and declares himself his disciple. Mme Bovary and Leon also admit the truth about their desires in their lyric confessions. he no longer wants to see in his mediator anything but an obstacle. Although geographical location might be one factor. If it seems surprising it is not only because the imitation refers to a model who is ‘close. for the mediator’s apparent hostility does not diminish his prestige but instead augments it. The impulse toward the object is ultimately an impulse toward the mediator.shall speak of internal mediation when this same distance is sufficiently reduced to allow these two spheres to penetrate each other more or less profoundly. The subject is torn between two opposite feelings toward his model---the most submissive reverence and the most intense malice. p. concealing his original function of a model scrupulously imitated. Imitation in Stendal’s work at first seems less absurd since there is less of that divergence between the worlds of disciple and model which makes a Don Quixote or an Emma Bovary so grotesque. in internal mediation this impulse is checked by the mediator himself since he desires. In the quarrel which puts him in opposition to his rival. 9) The hero of external mediation proclaims aloud the true nature of his desire.

in other words to imitate the desires of others? Max Scheler numbers ‘envy. a bore. On the other hand everything becomes clear. ‘Mere regret at not possessing something which belongs to another and which we covet is not enough in itself to give rise to envy since it might also be an incentive for acquiring the desired object or something similar…Envy occurs only when. p.’ He observes. p. he obstinately thwarts his most legitimate ambitions. He defines envy as ‘a feeling of impotence which vitiates our attempt to acquire [end of p. nor the paralysis that accompanies envy. (Girard. in order to explain envby. Is it possible that they are all victims by repeated accidents? Is it fate that creates for them so many rivals and throws so many obstacles in the way of their desires? We do not believe it ourselves. it walways contains an element of fascination with the insolent rival. everything fits into a coherent structure if. 13) The analysis is accurate and complete . he tries to rob the subject of his most prized possessions. But these elements remain isolated. He would have us see him as an intruder. Like all victims of internal mediation. the jealous person easily convinces himself that his desire is spontaneous. As a result he always maintains that his desire preceded the intervention of the mediator. in other words. if the envious person’s imagination did not transform into concerted opposition the passive obstacle which the possessor puts in his way by the mere fact of possession. that is deeply rooted in the object and in this object alone.desired. 4 . 11) Jealousy and envy Jealousy and envy imply a third presence: object. Furthermore. however we never recognize a model in the person who arouses jealousy because we always take a jealous person’s attitude toward the problem of jealousy. But true jealousy is infinitely more profound and complex. and a third person toward whom the jealousy or envy is directed. Now the mediator is a shrewd and diabolical enemy. it omits neither the envious person’s selfdeception with regard to the cause of his failure.’ (Girard. jealousy. and rivalry’ among the sources of ressentiment.’ What exactly then does such a ‘temperament’ or ‘nature’ imply if not an irresistible impulse to desire what Others desire. scheler has not really perceived their relationship. our efforts to acquire it fail and we are left with a feeling of impotence. since we say that these chronic victims of jealousy or of envy have a ‘jealous temperament’ or an ‘envious nature. These two ‘vices’ are therefore triangular. Jealousy is thus reduced to the irritation we all experience when one of our desires is accidentally thwarted. on the other hand. that there would be no envy. in the strong sense of the word. a terzo incomodo who interrupts a delightful tete-a-tete. subject. 12] something because it belongs to another. it is always the same people who suffer from jealousy. we abandon the object of rivalry as a staring point and choose instead the rival himself.

Desire is no longer rooted in the object perhaps. it increases the mediator’s prestige and strengthens the bond which links the object to this mediator by forcing him to affirm openly his right or desire of possession. 16) 5 . it is certainly not [end of p. They all depend directly or indirectly on the lie of spontaneous desire. ‘all jealousy. individualisms and scienticisms. that it is the emanation of a serene subjectivity. Everything becomes clear when one see that the loathed rival is actually a mediator. Only the great artists attribute to the mediator the position usurped by the object. Max Scheler himself is not far from the truth when he stares in Ressentiment that ‘the fact of choosing a model for oneself’ is the result of a certain tendency. All these dogmas are the aesthetic or philosophic translation of world views peculiar to internal mediation. or which amounts to the same thing. it is frustrating and seems a deliberate expression of contempt only because the rival is secretly revered. by possessing or wanting to possess it. and even an ideal like the ‘imitation of Christ’ is based on such comparisons. as both a point of departure for our analysis and its conclusion. the mediator. p. The subject would like to think of himself as the victim of an atrocious injustice but in his anguish he wonders whether perhaps he does not deserve his apparent condemnation. Subjectivisms and objectivisms. only they reverse the commonly accepted hierarchy of desire. 13]fers his prestige. and he goes on to say. The Romantic Vaniteux The romantic vaniteux always wants to convince himself that his desire is written into the nature of things.i. He seems to render evil for good. Thus the subject is less capable than ever of giving up the inaccessible object: it is on this object and it alone that the mediator con. 15] rooted in the Other. (Girard. The demigod seems to answer homage with a curse. to compare oneself with others. common to all men. Rivalry therefore only aggravates mediation. all ambition. idealisms and positivisms appear to be in opposition but are secretly in agreement to conceal the presence of the mediator. They all defend the same illusion of autonomy to which modern man is passionately devoted. romanticisms and realisms. even though they may be similar to or indeed identical with the ‘mediated’ object. Possession is merely a passive obstacle. The objective and subjective fallacies are one and the same..’ But this intuition remains isolated.[end of p.e. the creation of ex nihilo of a quasi-divine ego. but it is rooted in the subject. both originate in the image which we all have our own desires. Other objects have no worth at all in the eyes of the envious person.

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