Sophie Wahnich: Mimesis, Sacrifice, and Terror

My hypothesis is mimetic: because humans imitate one another more than animals, they have had to find a means of dealing with contagious similarity, which could lead to the pure and simple disappearance of their society. The mechanism that reintroduces difference into a situation in which everyone has come to resemble everyone else is sacrifice. Humanity results from sacrifice; we are thus the children of religion.1

In my post yesterday Brassier reminded us that for Adorno and Horkheimer, both “mimesis and subsumption are intimately connected to fear: a nexus of terror links civilization’s fear of regression, the individual’s fear of social disapprobation, the fear of conceptual indistinction, and the prey’s fear of its predator” (45-46).2

Jean Delumeau in his magisterial Sin and Fear – The Emergence of Western Guilt Culture 13th-18th Centuries describes the new “siege mentality” which overtook citizens of Europe during the medieval era, and by the 14th Century would be accompanied by an oppressive sense of guilt, an unprecedented movement toward introspection, and the development of a new moral conscience. With the growth of Humanism came what he termed, the “scruple sickness”:

It was as if the aggressivity directed against the enemies of Christendom had not entirely spent itself in incessant religious warfare, despite constantly renewed battles and an endless variety of opponents. A global anxiety, broken up into “labeled” fears, discovered a new foe in each of the inhabitants of the besieged city, and a new fear – the fear of one’s own self.(1)

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