|‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the two sides of imitation
In a 2009 paper, one of the neuroscientists instrumental to the discovery of ‘mirror neurons’, Vittorio Gallese, argued that there are always ‘two sides’ to mimesis – in and of itself mimesis is ‘neither good nor bad’, argued Gallese, as it can be declined in terms of both conflictual or social behavior. While the great majority of work on imitation, contagion and suggestion (ICS) have emphasized imitation as either a vector of the social or as the building block of our social ontology, René Girard’s mimetic theory stands out as perhaps the approach most preoccupied with the ill effects of mimesis. Why is this so? Is Girard’s position an excessively one-sided and negative take on imitation? Drawing on the example of the 2015 ‘Charlie Hebdo’ terror attacks, in this chapter I argue, firstly, that imitation was central to both the violence perpetrated by attackers and the political and affective order that emerged around of the attacks. Thus, there is a fundamental ambivalence about the social and political workings of imitation. Secondly, I argue that behind Girard’s negative view of imitation lies an unacknowledged concern about the power of suggestion, and in particular affective suggestion. In fact, behind Girard’s growing concern about today’s escalating mimetic crisis there is a specific concern about the global and mimetic escalation of affects.
|Imitation, Contagion, Suggestion
|17 Jan 2019
|Place of publication
|Culture, Economy and the Social