Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe

A newborn human is one of the most helpless creatures there is. From the moment of birth, humans cry out to others to give them existence. Who we are is bound up in relationship with others. The sense of identity, the consciousness of self, is formed in these interactions with others who are like us. The child begins to differentiate between self and other to form a more stable sense of self. This differentiation, however, would not be possible without the other. Much of what self is, is owed to others. - Andre Rabe, Desire Found Me

When I received this book in the mail for review, the actual conversation between me and Coffeewife went as follows:

Coffeewife: What's that about?
Me: It's about mimetic theory.
Coffeewife: What's that?
Me: It's...I don't know.

My assumption when I agreed to review Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe was that by reading, I would understand. I think that for the most part, this was the case.

I now know that mimetic theory is the study of the way we unconsciously reflect the desires of others. The word "mimetic" comes from the same word as "mimic," which is meant to connote the ways we learn and imitate others' intentions and desires. It's part of human development, and also how we create meaning and become part of communities with shared values. Rabe presents this explanation in some detail, albeit in an accessible way. He notes that we are not wholly original products of our own making, but rather we are influenced by those around us, particularly those who raised us and from whom we learned our earliest desires. Rabe also explores how mimesis is the source of conflict: those clashing over a common object or cause are reflecting the same desire that is in the other.

Rabe seeks to apply this theory of reflected desire to Christian faith. He first does this by analyzing the way mimesis shows up in various Biblical texts such as the creation stories and the provisions in the Ten Commandments. He presents these first examples both thoroughly and concisely, taking care not to overproduce his thesis. He analyzes what it means to mimic God's desire as being made in God's image, as well as what happens in stories such as Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel when desire is at odds with another's. There is also extensive discussion of the felt need for a scapegoat to ease the anxiety of a community that treasures violence.

The second section, "Developing Stories," presents various common faith themes such as the ways scriptural stories borrowed and changed myths common to their time period, the idea of Satan, and the idea of the need for a Messiah. In each of these, Rabe applies elements of mimetic theory; the ways they may have influenced the creation of these narratives that have been passed down through generations. I admit that I wasn't always clear about the connections he was trying to make; sometimes the presentation of the stories' background seemed to overshadow his application. There was a lot of historical ground to cover beforehand, and I didn't always see the connection. As the section's title suggests, however, the application perhaps wasn't the primary goal.

The third section, "Redefined," begins to reimagine some of these stories and themes in light of mimesis. The main focus in this part is Jesus' death and resurrection, and the meaning of atonement. Mimetic theory was much more prevalent in this section, as it needed to be.

For me, this was a good introduction to the world of mimetic theory, specifically as applied to the faith narratives by which many Christians live. It took me a chapter or two to really get into it due to the subject matter, and there are some formatting and grammatical issues, but as an entry into what is a school of thought that is no doubt much more complex, this was a good beginning.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)