Deceit, Desire And The Novel, by René Girard



The author dives deep into the darkest and most intimate places of humans’ soul, explaining the genesis of desire, the origin of resentment, jealousy, envy, hatred and ultimately, unhappiness.

According to René Girard, men are incapable of desiring by themselves. The object of their desire has to be suggested to them by a third party to whom is conferred a certain prestige. The desire that arises in a person is solely the imitation of someone else’s desire. The third party is called the mediator of desire; and the closer a person gets to the object of their desire, the stronger the rivalry with the mediator, who then becomes both a role model and an obstacle at the same time. The author claims the imitation of a desire can only lead to resentment, jealousy, envy and hatred. He argues that jealousy stems from a tendency to compare oneself to another person and the propensity to systematically choose the other person’s attributes over one’s own. Envy, he writes, is a feeling of powerlessness that works against the effort we make to acquire something, because of the very fact that it belongs to someone else. When addressing hatred, Girard claims that only someone who hates and despises themselves is able to hate another person.

Two types of people are more inclined to imitate a desire: vain people and snobs. Vanity and snobbism promote resentment. The author defines resentment, jealousy, envy and powerless hatred as a spiritual poison in the imitation of individuals who are our equals but whom we endow with an arbitrary prestige. Girard goes even deeper, claiming that solely someone who prevents us from satisfying a desire that they have suggested us themselves is subject to hate. Hatred is the combination of the most submissive veneration and the most intense resentment.

Desiring something always leads to deception because the transformation we seek and we hope to get by acquiring the object of our desire never happens. So people move from one desire to another, in the quest of satisfying their ego, their vanity, and are left feeling empty. There is a deeper issue here: people assume that by acquiring things, by imitating people they admire, they will be happier, they will fit in society’s standards.

Men hate themselves to the point of rejecting who they are, what they think, to imitate people whom they perceive to be superior. They copy style, attitude, desire, lifestyle, aspirations, way of thinking, and the list goes on. Girard concludes by claiming we live in a world where differences between humans are slowly fading and in order to be happy, one must quit desiring. One must be humble and stop comparing themselves to other people. One must recognize the differences that separates them from the others, while celebrating one’s uniqueness.