Texts of Persecution

Rene Girard identified what he called “texts of persecution,” or documents that recount phenomena of collective violence from the standpoint of persecutors—for instance, accounts of lynchings in the early twentieth century, or the medieval poet Guillaume de Machaut’s story Judgement of the King of Navarre, which blames the Jews for the Black Death and describes their mass murder—and compares these texts to ancient myths (like Oedipus), where Girard finds striking similarities. Both myths and texts of persecution hide collective violence because they have been written from the point of view of the persecutors. History has been written by the victors, not the victims. Girard did his own form of deconstruction of these texts by deconstructing the mythological structures that obscured the hidden truth of violence underneath. To paraphrase Girard: if you arrive at a crime scene covered with bleach and clear attempts to cover one’s tracks, you can be sure that a crime happened—even if direct evidence of the crime itself can never be fully recovered.