The Platonic and Aristotelian Mimetic Paradigms In Light of Gans and Heidegger
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There is an inherent tension in the imaginal scene of representation between its mediating, violence-diffusing role and its sublimatory rendering of alternative satisfaction. A clearer understanding of the way this is negotiated near the beginning of the theoretical tradition, in the work of Plato, would be helpful. For Gans, language emerges as a mediation of mimetic rivalry by shifting the confrontation over the object of desire to the imaginary scene of representation. Both Gans and Girard see the work of Plato, who first formalizes mimesis as a construct, as playing a similarly mediating, representational, and scapegoating role in providing a rational alternative to arbitrary violence and power, and to the sophistic use of language and rhetoric as a means to political influence. The difference between the assertive grasp of the desired material (economic or political) object and the ostensive gesture of language enables the mediation of violent conflict and the preservation of peace in community. In the work of both Girard and Gans, Plato plays a foundational role in the history of theoretical awareness of mimetic violence in being both the first to formalize theoretical discourse, as such, and for the role played by mimesis in that founding formalization. For Girard, while Plato is unique in his awareness of the hidden dangers of mimesis, he is also “deceived by mimesis because he . . . never uncovers its empirical reason for being” (15). Similarly, for Gans: "To eliminate the ostensive," as he claims Plato does through the doctrine of ideas and the abstraction of the concept, "is to expunge the local historicity of deferral of collective violence by means of the sign" (81). In an earlier essay (2009), I argued that there is a remarkable degree of explicit awareness in Plato of the material and political dangers of mimesis. In that essay, I focused primarily on The Republic and on the performative sophistication of Plato’s highly innovative use of the genre of the philosophical dialogue. In the present paper, I would like to pursue this line of investigation further by examining one of Plato’s later dialogues, The Sophist, where he deepens and refines a number of the central preoccupations of The Republic in relation to his quarrel with the Sophists, the role of mimesis, and the foundational nature of metaphysical forms or ideas. My aim will be to gain a clearer understanding of the relation between the empirical (Girard), the local and historical (Gans), and the metaphysical (Plato) approaches to the role of mimesis in the imaginary scene of representation.