‘Evolution of Desire,’ by Cynthia L. Haven

Rhys Tranter in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Cynthia L. Haven’s “Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard” is the first full-length biography of the acclaimed French thinker. Girard’s “mimetic theory” saw imitation at the heart of individual desire and motivation, accounting for the competition and violence that galvanize cultures and societies. “Girard claimed that mimetic desire is not only the way we love, it’s the reason we fight. Two hands that reach towards the same object will ultimately clench into fists.”

Often a controversial figure, Girard trespassed into many different fields — he was, by turns, a literary critic, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a psychologist, a theologian and much else besides. Haven’s biography is the first book to contextualize Girard’s work within its proper historical, cultural and philosophical context. The book presumes no prior knowledge, and includes several useful primers of the texts that established his reputation: “Deceit, Desire, and the Novel” (1961), “Violence and the Sacred” (1972), “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World” (1978), and his study of Shakespeare, “A Theater of Envy” (1991). But it is the author’s closeness to the man once described as the new Darwin of the human sciences” that brings this fascinating biography to life.

Haven was a friend of Girard’s until his death in 2015, and met with family members, friends and colleagues closest to him to prepare for the book.

More here.