(I’ve been reflecting on this subject as I prepare for my next qualifying exam.)
It is often observed by thinkers informed by Girard’s work that, with the escalation of mimetic rivalry in modern market society, resentment too is on the rise. (My understanding of resentment derives from Girard’s definition of ressentiment as it draws on both Max Scheler’s and Nietzsche’s definitions.) Recognizing and discussing resentment is often offensive to those who theorizes–and advocate for–a more peaceful social order. In my experience, those sceptical of resentment’s origin in mimetic desire worry that any discourse foregrounding our propensity to resent will tend to essentialize violence as a constitutive element of the human. This anxiety regarding theories of resentment combined with the embarrassment caused by acknowledging impotent jealousy in the highly competitive modern marketplace (e.g. the University) may be the chief sources of reticence to serious discussions of resentment.
The contemporary thinker, striving to attain Nietzsche’s utopian freedom from the ressentiment of slave morality, disavows the sting accompanying her thwarted attempts to distinguish herself in the marketplace of ideas. The modern subject denies resentment with good reason, since acknowledging the sentiment is to betray, what Girard terms, a lack of being–a defeated admission that one’s desires are derivative instead of self-fulfilled. Because they appear to desire themselves alone, the self-fulfilled act as mimetic magnets for the desire of others. In doing so, the seemingly autonomous, unresentful subject wins the game of mimetic desire. Alternatively, to admit resentment is to own one’s failure to acquire the value bestowed by the mimetic desire of others. While the majority of contemporary researchers and intellectuals avoid the embarrassing scandal of discussing market society’s endemic resentment, its source–mimetic desire–goes unexamined.
I believe that at least some of the scepticism confronting mimetic theory derives from the anxieties aroused by its assertion of resentment’s pervasiveness, an assertion which points to the unsavoury subject of culture’s violent evolutionary history.
How does this assessment mesh with your experience? When discussing mimetic theory with sceptics, what’s the optimal way to broach the prickly issue of resentment?