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By William A. Johnsen

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15 In other words, it is the desire of the rival for this woman that determines the man’s desire and his choice of this particular object. The rival’s desire transfigures the woman who was until then neglected and negligible into a desired and desirable woman. The second parameter highlighted by Freud is that the desired woman is never a virtuous woman. Here again, a woman known for being “easy” or even a prostitute attracts the desire of numerous lovers, who are so many rivals and who render her desirable.

All of these elements converging from several different anthropological and scientific sources led us—and in some sense obliged us—to rethink anthropology and psychology in a radically new manner. This is what I proposed to do in 1982 in the French version of The Puppet of Desire, and the theories that I advanced elicited the enthusiasm of only a few psychologists and philosophers, mostly in the United States, without attracting wider attention. I propose to revisit these texts and to reread them in light of the recent discoveries in experimental psychology and neuroscience.

The conatus of the world in which one is plunged is more powerful than that of any individual. Thus the primary affects are due to the influence of the milieu and thus most often of the other. One is affected with sadness at the sight of a person affected with sadness, and one will want to do away with the other’s sadness as if it were our own. This is what is called “mercy,” which is a mimetic desire based on the affect of sadness mimetically transposed from one person to another. For Spinoza, then, the movement starts in the emotional brain—the brain of affect—which triggers mimetic desire, in other words which would cause the “third brain” to swing into action.

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