Mimetic Desire

People influence one another and, when they’re together, they have a tendency to desire the same things, primarily not because those things are rare but because, contrary to what most philosophers think, imitation also bears on desire. Humans essentially try to base their being, their profound nature and essence, on the desire of their peers.

“Mimetic Desire: Shakespeare Rather than Plato.” When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer, by René Girard and Trevor Cribben Merrill

Although I have some reservations—or at least reserve some latitude—, I tend to agree with Girard. Desire is a social construct. Desire is separate to needs. Desires are wants. As accomodated in Economics, we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need. We desire what we need.

we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need

What Girard is essentially saying is that I want what I want because you want it. This is independent of value in an economic sense. Memetically, the value of an object increases relative to the perceiver simply because another person wants it. In my reckoning, I’d separate want from desire or at least elevate desire to a higher degree of wanting.

Girard termed this triangular relationship between subject (you), object (the thing), and the mediator (the influencer) mimetic, to mimic. I suppose some of this might be considered to be memetic, but I also suppose that memes serve to simplify rather than serve as a distinct transmission vector.

circa 2016

My question is—exacerbated during this pandemic—how does this operate in isolation? I consider myself. I am not an ascetic by most definitions, but I am somewhat of a minimalist. My only ‘vices’ are my computer and my guitars. I used to be a professional musician—though most of that was spent on the other side of the console—and I was a Gibson snob. From the perspective of emotional desire, I still am. There is a certain nostalgia, but I don’t play out anymore, and I’m not seriously recording, so I don’t need the same perceived quality of an old Gibson.

Guitarists know that different guitars give different sounds. I’ve owned as many as 10 guitars at a time, and each had its purpose. Some was feel. This guitar was for Blues, this was other for Grunge, and that was for Jazz…and that for Fusion and that for a retro sound. This one had a fast neck, and this one sustained for days. This one was tuned à la Keith Richards, sans a string, to an Open G, and the was set up for Drop C, and of course there was the Standard-tuned one for good measure

Jason & Me circa 2012

Did I need 10 guitars? No. Did I need 1? Not really—not unless I wanted to be a musician, desired to be a musician, so the degree of freedom was l, given this other desire. Having 1 guitar for a guitar player is not the same as a painter with only one colour of paint, but it almost feels like it. It’s certainly a convenience, and it allows players to express themselves artistically.

The question isn’t why I desired a guitar, but why I wanted to be a musician, and of all the instruments, why the guitar—and why did I prefer this genre over that. I’ll admit that my tastes are rather eclectic, but all that says is that I mimic eclecticism or eccentrism. My parents are not eclectic. Most of my friends are mainstream whitebread people—none I’d deem eclectic.

I’m rambling. Just because I don’t remember the source of my desire doesn’t mean there is no source. Perhaps it’s a composite source. I can’t say. Perhaps the outcome I’m naming, say eclecticism, is incorrect, so I am seeking the wrong source.

circa 2004

My point was that I don’t need a Gibson to be satisfied. First, I’ve already owed them, and I don’t have the same performative needs. But I still want to play, and I still want to exercise some artistic freedom, so I still have a few guitars.

To wrap this up, I’ll leave with an unpaid mimitec endorsement of Harley Benton guitars. The last guitar I purchased was this Harley Benton Black Paisley TE70. It’s very fit, and I picked it up for about €200, which included shipping and handling. They are German-built. When I was a kid, a guitar at this price range would have be borderline unplayable and won’t sound shite-like. These aren’t €1,000 instruments, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 5x value differential. They are build solid and have been given extra care not previously seen in down-market instruments. If I wanted to spend another €200, I could upgrade the pickups and for a bit more swap out the electronics to bigger potentiometers—but I won’t. I was planning to splurge and spend €50 on locking machine heads. Nope. Good enough. At €200 a pop, I could afford all sorts of configurations, but even that desire has waned—at least a bit, at least for a while.

circa 1984

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