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The Double Meanings of Violence: Catharsis and Mimesis

  • Nidesh LawtooEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

What is the meaning of violence in a world dominated by violent representations that appear to be utterly deprived of meaning? Does an affective participation in a violent scene—say a war movie or a computer game—serve as a therapy that purifies the subject of violent affects? Or do such representations contribute to spreading the violence they set out to simply represent or, perhaps, cure? These questions are far from new. If they have sparked controversies in recent times, their origins go back to the foundations of philosophy, in Plato and Aristotle. But for contemporary thinkers writing in the wake of psychoanalysis, the affect turn, and recent discoveries in the neurosciences the answer varies depending on the model of the unconscious one relies on. In this chapter I would like to articulate two competing interpretations of the (double) meaning of violence: one stages advocates of a psychoanalytical tradition that is aligned with Aristotle’s view of catharsis in the Poetics and finds its most recent representative in René Girard (Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977); the other considers representatives of what I have called a “mimetic unconscious” such as Nietzsche and Bataille (Lawtoo, The Phantom of the Ego: Modernism and the Mimetic Unconscious. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013), has its origins in Plato’s critique of mimesis in the Republic, and finds its most recent representation in the neurosciences (Iacoboni, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others. New York: Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). The point of this confrontation is to lay the foundations for two different models of thinking about the meaning of violence in a world in which representations of violent actions and embodied reactions bleed into each other.

Notes

Acknowledgments

This chapter synthetizes a more general argument that is part of a book manuscript provisionally titled Violence and the Unconscious: Catharsis to Contagion, itself part of a broader transdisciplinary project, entitled Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No 716181).

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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