Michael Elias


* Teaching on Monday 12th and Thursday 15th

Michael Elias (1948) is a Dutch linguist, who carried out field work on the urban dialect of The Hague. He taught communication studies at Rotterdam University and sociolinguistics at the Faculty of Letters of VU University (Amsterdam). For twenty-five years he has directed Lexis language agency.
His publications bear upon literacy, applied linguistics and taboos in contemporary speech. He wrote a Ph. Dissertation on Neck-riddles (Utrecht University, 1998) in relation to mimetic theory.
At the VU Blaise Pascal Institute, he was secretary of the Studiekring René Girard (1994-2004), member of the steering committee for COV&R 2007 and from 2004-09 editor of www.girard.nl.  Since last year he has chaired the Dutch Girard Society (sponsored by Imitatio) and joined the board of Nes Ammim, a Dutch-German Christian village in the Galilee, dedicated to learning and dialogue.


What was the first book by René Girard you read? - It was Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde. I can still remember the moment in 1981 I first saw it lying on the shelves of a university bookshop in Amsterdam – big, expensive and with a painting of René Magritte on the cover. Its title made me think of the adventure books I had read when I was a boy. Actually I was looking for a book by Jean Baudrillard – it seemed to me I could use some advice from his De la séduction. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another volume – Gospels, Marx, Marcuse, Baudrillard, Girard by Louis van Bladel, who wrote that his enthusiasm for Baudrillard had diminished ever since he had read “that peculiar volume” by Girard.

What was the impact of Des Choses Cachées? - From the moment I began to read this book, my intellectual loyalties started to shift. This was the first time I had met an author writing insightfully on subjects such as envy, chaos and  scapegoat mechanisms. Girard basically taught me how violence originates, how eruptive it can be – and it made me rethink World War II, bringing me back to the remembrance of my father who spent two years in the German concentration camp Buchenwald. And so, while becoming loyal to mimetic theory, I had to examine what this meant to my former loyalties…

Such as…? Well, in the seventies, working at the Free University in Amsterdam, I counted myself – nolens volens - among the progressive intellectuals, politically on the left, religiously atheistic, that is, beyond all naivité. Causes for personal displeasure had to be retraced to ideological state-engines and bodies of power that had molded my consciousness. I thought myself to be in the process of becoming a genuine autonomous subject, leaving behind my catholic upbringing. At first, the idea that other intellectuals could label me as “backward”, as a “right-wing rascal” or as a “catholic bigot” made me feel uneasy. But I kept on studying Girard and one of the things I learned from him – something that was certainly against the grain of progressivism in the 70s – was  that the dissolution of all taboos and prohibitions would result in the disappearance of all protection against conflictive mimesis.  Some examples? When I learned from Girard that we are not aware of our own scapegoats – suddenly I remembered how I, at the age of seventeen, had been avoiding the classroom scapegoat.  Also I realised that I had only started to notice the girl who was to become my first girl friend after one of the neighbours in my student apartment complex had paid attention to her.

When did you join the Dutch Girardians? - In 1985, just before René Girard's honorary doctorate at VU University in Amsterdam, Roel Kaptein was lecturing on mimetic theory. In the lecture-room Hans Weigand told me about the study circle. One of its members was Matthew Schoffeleers, an anthropologist who carried out field work in Malawi: he inspired me to do research on neck-riddles and MT, and became my supervisor. In general the Dutch group has been very important to me. How did you strike a balance between your business and research? - I can afford to spend five hundred hours a year working as an independent scholar. In the nineties I spent that time on my dissertation. In the eighties I started learning Hebrew and Talmudica. Only recently I realised how insightful rabbinic wisdom is in relation to MT. At the moment I am interested in the mimetic crisis in Israel and Palestine

What will be the focus of your contribution to the Summer School? During the preparation, I am one of Thérèse's 'sparring partners' and editor of the ESS website. On the first morning, together with her and Suzanne Ross, I will participate in the introductory session. On Thursday 15 July I will teach on ritualised violence from a mimetic point of view and organise an excursion to the former concentration camp Amersfoort (one mile from the ISVW) and on Saturday 17 I'll participate in a panel on good and bad mimesis. 


> "Neck-Riddles in Mimetic Theory", Contagion. Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture 2 (1995, Spring): 189-202.
> The Mimetic Praxis of Riddles and TV Quizzes (COV&R 1995)
> Evil Impulse (yetzer ha-ra) and Mimetic Desire (COV&R 2009)
> Victims of victims? The Mimetic Crisis in the Holy Land from a Sociolinguistic Perspective (COV&R 2010) 
more (in Dutch)

 At the entrance of ISVW, (Internationale School voor Wijsbegeerte),
 location of the Summer School