By Colin Davis (auth.)
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Additional info for Ethical Issues in Twentieth-Century French Fiction: Killing the Other
This reading of Totem and Taboo receives powerful support from Rene Girard in La Violence et le sacre (1972). Girard's account of Totem and Taboo combines a general hostility towards psychoanalysis with respect for a text in which, Girard claims, Freud approaches (but cannot quite make explicit) a fundamental insight capable of undermining his psychoanalytic premises. Even more strongly than Freud, Girard insists on the factual reality of the murder at the origin of civilization. Where Freud goes wrong is in his obsession with families and fathers, which leads to his depiction of the primal murder in terms of a family squabble.
As Freud insists, 'The dead father became stronger than the living one had been' (204). Whereas the sons had rebelled against their living father, they obey the dead patriarch to the letter, renouncing their claims on their mothers and resolving that none of them shall ever attain the level of authority held by their father. The inaugural act of civilization is thus not the murder of the fatherrather, civilization is founded at the moment when that murder is repeated and commemorated in the totem meal, that is, at the moment when the crime acquires significance for its perpetrators as a desired and forbidden act.
The hermeneutic experience is not of the sort that something is outside and seeks admittance; rather we are already familiar with something and it is precisely though what we are familiar with that we are open for something new, other, true. I find something sinister in this image of a guest who must show a pass before being admitted to the presence of the subject of interpretation. Gadamer suggests that we positively welcome the guest who will say something new to us; but why is he or she a guest in the first place?