Tag: René Girard

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The first time I took the train to Paris, the city was a pale, miserable gray, 32 degrees and raining. I had lost my gloves two days before. It took me an hour, pulling a suitcase with a month’s worth of clothes and Christmas presents for my direct return to Boston via CDG, to reach […]

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ACF #10 The Nolan Brothers


Hello, everyone! I am joined on the American Cinema Foundation podcast by Jason Eberl and George Dunn, editors of the book The Philosophy of Christopher Nolan. They are professors of philosophy with an interest in pop culture, and editors of many books on America’s favorite shows and movies over the last 50 years. Our wide-ranging discussion of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s movies goes through Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Interstellar (2014), and Dunkirk (2017).

René Girard, R.I.P.


imageUntil his death in yesterday’s early hours, René Girard lived across the street from us, and becoming his friend — we used to get together for lunch or coffee — represented one of the signal joys of my life. Born in Avignon on Christmas Day 1923, René studied medieval history in Chartres while modern history, in the form of the German occupation, took place all around him. (Visiting Paris once during those years, he was once stopped by a gendarme, who asked him to produce his papers. When René displayed his passport, the policeman recognized it as a forgery at once. René thought the policeman would arrest him. Instead, he gestured to the other end of the street, where German soldiers stood peering at them, returned the passport, and told René to go back the way he came. ” Instead of putting me in jail,” René explained, “that man saved my life.”)

Traveling to the United States to pursue an academic career — René taught at Indiana University (where he met his wife, Martha, who survives him) and at half a dozen other institutions before settling at Stanford — René began to study myths, anthropology, and theology. In the course of a long career, he produced some thirty erudite, profound volumes. Much of his thought is complex; I’ve found myself pausing to consider a single paragraph or passage for minutes at a time. Yet, perhaps his best-known insight — certainly the one that has meant the most to me — is quite simple and turns one of the most famous works of comparative religion ever published, Frazer’s The Golden Bough, upside down.

In his massive study, Frazer noticed a recurring pattern, common to myths and religions throughout the ancient world: the pattern of the scapegoat; that is, the sacrifice of a sacred leader or king. In the Oedipus myth, for example, order returns to Thebes only after Oedipus has gouged out his own eyes and is driven into exile. Seeing the same pattern in the gospels — Jesus is crucified on a cross bearing the placard “king of the Jews” — Frazer concluded that Christianity represented merely one more ancient myth above which modern man could rise, abandoning “magic,” as Frazer often called religion, for science.