Apocalypse Deferred

Girard and Japan

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Jeremiah L. Alberg
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , June
     286 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Apocalypse Deferred: Girard and Japan, the new anthology edited by Jeremiah L. Alberg, is a collection of fourteen essays based on papers presented at an interdisciplinary conference held at the International Christian University in Tokyo in 2012, (only two of the papers are published elsewhere). It was the year following Japan’s “triple disasters”—earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear power plant meltdown that resurrected the horrors of the 1945 atomic bombings—of March 11, 2011, and the violent disruptions of nature and technology, as well as the necessity of rebuilding afterwards, were much on people’s minds. 

The conference, titled “Apocalypse Revisited: Japan, Hiroshima, and the Place of Mimesis,” was deliberately shaped to recognize the enormity of those events. The intention was to explore diverse facets of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory, thus providing a context for the interpretation of these and similar events (if such there are). Girard’s theory aims to explain the persistence of violence in human society even in contexts where it seems most unreasonable, as well as the correlated absence of violence in many situations where it would seem likely to occur—where, for instance, the interests of individuals, and especially groups, are clearly at odds. 

The conference was designed to address, in Alberg’s words, “such things as … mimetic theory, apocalyptic catastrophes, and possible salvation,” in relation (where possible) to the thought of the late Girard. Girard’s theory originated in his studies of the Abrahamic tradition and developed with regard to the Bible and the crucial example of Christ as the scapegoat. Many of the chapters are based on case studies. In part 3, “Mimetic Theory and Theology,” essays address topics such as the prophetic and apocalyptic in Jewish and Christian settings (Sander Goodhart and Thomas Ryba), and Martin Heidegger’s thought (Richard Schenk), largely ignoring Japan to focus on topics within the original purview. 

Yet Girard “has exerted a steady influence [in Japan] through his writings, both in their original languages and in translation” (2). Alberg outlines this influence in the introduction, through a history of the translation of Girard’s works. The nine essays comprising parts 1 and 2, while examining different topics, all have Japanese foci. Part 1, “Catastrophe, Apocalypse, and Japan,” includes essays on the continuing nuclear “menace,” as situated in the work of Ira Chernus, within the framework of apocalyptic religiosity; on World War II; and on the atomic bombings.

Part 2, “Mimetic Theory and Japanese Culture,” uses Girard’s theory to elucidate specific features of Japanese culture. Popular culture case studies include folk legends in Sugou (within Hida City, Gifu Prefecture) and their accompanying murder-based rituals at Shinto shrines (Mizuho Kawasaki); Fumihiko Sori’s 2007 anime film, Vexille (Andreas Oberprantacher); and Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2004 youth movie Kamikaze Girls (Matthew Taylor). Case studies in a more elite register include the thought of Ango Sakaguchi (Kunio Nakahata) and Shoichiro Iwakiri’s insightful comparison of (Lady) Murasaki Shikibu’s 11th century novel The Tale of Genji to Oedipus Rex and Miguel Cervantes’ 17th century novel Don Quixote. Calling it “by no means inferior to Western novels” woefully understates the case, however, as it precedes the first Western novel by five centuries, the incorporation of women’s voices in the Western canon by nine centuries, and the insights of psychoanalysis by a millennium.

Additional fields represented include generative anthropology (Eric Gans), English and Jewish Studies (Goodhart), French literature (Iwakiri, who is also a translator of Girard’s work into Japanese), and philosophy of religion and Lacanian psychoanalysis (Yoko Irie Fayolle). In what may be the first recommendation of Lacanian work for its clarity of explication, given how clearly Fayolle explains Girard’s mimetic theory, it would have been useful to have it at the beginning of the book; if you don’t know the theory well, start with Fayolle. A concluding essay by Mario Roberto Solarte Rodriguez and Mery Edith Rodriguez Arias, “Thoughts on How to Approach Conflicts with Mimetic Theory,” provides the volume’s most practical case study by exploring concrete solutions to armed social conflicts, and drawing on examples from recent experiences in Colombia.

While readers from diverse fields will find specific chapters—the atomic bombings, folk rituals, anime, popular film—of interest, this reviewer suspects every reader will find something new—and quite possibly challenging or rewarding—in this collection. By extending Girard’s mimetic theory to Japan, these essays demonstrate its usefulness and validity in non-Judeo-Christian contexts. Those interested in synchronizing, synthesizing, or correlating various strands of philosophy, religious study, and contemporary theory will find it rewarding, both for the connections its authors make among the separate topics and themes, as well as for the new perspectives offered. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mara Miller is Visiting Scholar at the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.

Date of Review: 
July 12, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jeremiah L. Alberg is professor of philosophy and religion at International Christian University, Tokyo. He is the author of a number of books, including Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts.


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