Dressing Korean

August 15, 2010

I’ve blogged about the French-born anthropologist Rene Girard before (here’s my summary of key Girardian ideas); what I find particularly insightful in his work is the emphasis he places on how our desires develop through mimesis.  In other words, we learn what to desire often just by imitating others.  A few Girardian moments this summer reminded me of the validity of this point.

The first came at the first birthday party of my niece, the adorable Chloe, who I’ve mentioned before.  Chloe has idiosyncratic tastes; she’s as often interested in gnawing on someone’s shoe or a newspaper as she is in playing with her toys.  The one thing you can do to make her more interested in the toys, however, is to start playing with them yourself.  Once Chloe notices someone else playing with a toy, she crawls resolutely across the floor and takes it from them!  Mimetic desire starts early.

I thought of Girard again in northeast India when the fifth graders in the remote mountain village where I taught started flashing gang signs whenever I took their picture.  Of course, when I asked them what they were doing and why, they had no real idea—they were just imitating something they had seen on TV.

I should back up a bit here and say that even though the village where I worked has no telephone connections, paved roads, refrigeration, radio reception, or indoor plumbing, nearly every house has satellite TV.  An enduring image of the journey will be that of The Dish sticking out from under the thatched roofs of bamboo huts.

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Pharisees, Now and Then

September 4, 2009

Pharisee +AMDG+

Pharisees are a perplexing lot.  Last Sunday’s Gospel, for instance, had Jesus admonishing the Pharisees because they “disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  For the edification of the onlookers, the Lord goes on to draw the famous inside/outside distinction: “Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person, but the things that come from within are what defile.”  The outside things refer to the purification of jugs and hands and the like, whereas the inside things comprise a litany of sinful actions and attitudes.  If one did not know that Christ himself established a ritual meal, one might gather that the heart of Pharisaism is the substitution of ritual action for ethical performance.  This is a particularly welcome conclusion since it is so congenial to the spirit of the age.   

Before congratulating ourselves for having successfully dodged the bullet of legalism, however, we might do well to consider the other shapes that Pharisaism can take.  Perhaps fussy externalism is no longer the siren she once was because we are now deaf to her song. Read the rest of this entry »