Michael Kirwan (Cowley: Cambridge, 2005), 125 pages plus bibliography and index
Michael Kirwan has produced an eminently readable introduction to the thought of Rene Girard. In this brief book, each of the major components of mimetic theory, mimesis, rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism as well as the role of the Bible in Girard’s thought, is elucidated. Kirwan leans heavily upon Girard’s A Theater of Envy for his major examples and rightly so for it is Girard’s work on Shakespeare that is his most illuminating when it comes to appreciating the many faceted dynamic of mimesis.
Each of Kirwan’s chapters begins with a number of chapter summary statements, which indicate the direction the author will go in his discussion. Kirwan relies on a chronological/biographical approach to Girard as he details the way in which Girard developed mimetic theory. Kirwan’s useful comparison of mimesis in Girard and Hegel and his use of Girard’s important early articles is a feature not found in many introductions to Girard.
Kirwan tackles each of the important issues in their turn as he analyzes mimetic theory, and in the chapter on the scapegoat mechanism does a ‘walk through the Bible’ from the stories in Genesis to the Isaianic servant to Jesus as the prophetic agent whose ministry culminates with the recapitulation of all previous salvation history in the passion and resurrection. Kirwan then goes on to juxtapose Nietzsche and Girard or ‘Dionysius and the Crucified.’
In the final chapters Kirwan is perhaps weakest where he discusses methods and objections to the mimetic theory, as well its future. His handling of objections was admirable but Kirwan for some reason chose to utilize the work of the Roman Catholic Girardians, virtually ignoring the numerous contributions of non-Catholic scholarship. One always expects references to Schwager, Alison, Bailie and Williams, who like Girard are Catholic, and while Robert Hamerton-Kelly is mentioned there appears to be a virtual lack of interest or knowledge of how Girard’s theory has affected Protestant theology. Most notably absent were references to Tony Bartlett’s Cross Purposes or the collection of essays edited by Willard Swartley in Violence Renounced. Walter Wink’s pathbreaking use of Girard in Engaging the Powers is only mentioned in the bibliography, not to mention all of the work of Paul Neuchterlein and those of us here at PreachingPeace.org. I would have liked to have seen a more ecumenical engagement of Girardian scholarship, it would have made the book more useful; as it stands it is a good introduction to Girard for Catholics but Protestants will be left wondering if Girard has anything to say to them. While Kirwan acknowledges the important role that the continuing research of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion plays he seems oblivious to an awful lot of it. Nevertheless, these detractions aside, I do recommend this book as long as it is supplemented by other analyses of mimetic theory.