We are regularly experiencing a sense of detachment from our own desire, under the influence of the algorithms and the mass digitization of services that manage our lives, but also, when we encounter this dissociation in other people. It seems to us that our social life functions then by mimicry, ranking and comparison, that our self-image is constructed above all through that of the other, in a process of immediate gratification. In this context, René Girard’s theory, according to which, we only desire the desire of the other, seems to be gaining renewed interest as a new thought on the social determinism of desire. [Girard directly influenced the leading Silicon Valley executives who took his courses at Stanford in the late 1980’s, like Peter Thiel.] Flaubert, Stendhal and Balzac provided him with a narrative playing field to study these mechanisms of imitation due to an increasing homogenization of social differences in the 19th century. The young Julien Sorel seeks, for example, to imitate new models stemming from what he’s read in order to climb the social ladder: Napoleon in Le Mémorial de Saint Hélène or Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Les Confessions. Just like Emma Bovary who is also inspired by characters in Romantic literature, to emancipate herself as a woman from the provincial bourgeoisie.
First, we looked at new interpretations of this triangular model in literature with Elif Batuman and Jay Chung—both interested in Girard’s legacy at Stanford—, as well as in neuroscience research on mirror neurons, which contribute to mimetic behaviour, and seem to encourage Girard’s theory at the physiological level. Conversely, we have opened up a space to think of desire as a power of emancipation extended to the social, outside its deterministic models, through the epic tale of the hero’s “escape” between Clermont-Ferrand and the Aveyron, at the whim of his desires (Alain Guiraudie). Or, in an introspective manner, through a negotiation with our “dream machinery,” the entity that directs our dreams, in order to manipulate the determinism of desire—in the manner of Josef Strau or Ingeborg Bachmann—and become a “dream director.”