Rabindranath Tagore's novel Chokher Bali (published in 1903) describes the relationships of four individuals: Mahendra, his wife Asha, his life-long friend Bihari and Binodini. The novel's title can be translated as "Eyesore" (the title of the first English translation) or "mote in the eye" (in Sukhendu Ray's translation, included in The Definitive Tagore, Rupa Publications, 2017).

In the novel itself, the phrase or name "Chokher Bali" is introduced in chapter Ten: Asha and Binodini have become friends, so Asha suggests that they find a name for their friendship. Binodini then proposes, "How about Chokher Bali—a mote in the eye?" Both women then use this name to refer to each other.

The novel describes bouts of jealousy, and jealousy is something that Girard's theory of mimetic desire explains very well:

We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person—the model—for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. (...)

Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists [Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky] implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy.

Based on reading Sukhendu Ray's translation of the novel, Chokher Bali may well be a novel that exposes the lie of the authenticity of people's desires. However, Ray's translation is very flawed; it reads like a text that was digitised using optical character recognition and then carelessly proofread (if it was proofread at all). In addition, there are issues with grammar, spelling and word choice. Moreover, Ray explains in his "Translator's Note" that,

There are also some minor deletions, which were basically digressions and not relevant to the story.

However, what might seem digressions to the translator just might be relevant to the theme of mimetic desire. For this reason I would like to know whether Tagore's Chokher Bali is a novel that illustrates mimetic desire as defined by René Girard, ideally based on an analysis of a better translation or Tagore's original Bengali text.

  • If Girard says all desire is mimetic, then any depiction of desire would illustrate its mimetic nature ... no?
    – verbose
    Nov 16, 2020 at 21:38
  • @verbose No, since people believe that their own desires are authentic and original. Only very few authors see through this, according to Girard.
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 16, 2020 at 21:49
  • But what we believe is different from how things actually are. A number of Americans appear to believe Trump won reëlection. Are you asking specifically whether Tagore, anticipating Girard, intended to show that what Binodini feels for Mahendra is mediated? That he, like Stendhal, etc., writes in a way that exposes envy and jealousy as the roots of her desire? We’re then getting into intentional fallacy territory. One could take an op-ed by a “Trump won!” person and expose the contradictions in that representation as well.
    – verbose
    Nov 16, 2020 at 22:01
  • I guess what I’m saying is, if Girard says all desire is mimetic, then whether or not the author realizes it, any depiction of desire that claims to be authentic is mistaken, and just papers over its contradictions. One could ask whether Chokher Bali specifically exposes those contradictions rather than trying to paper them over. Is that a correct understanding of your question?
    – verbose
    Nov 16, 2020 at 22:04
  • @verbose This really requires a book-length exposition of Girard's theory of mimetic desire. Since this is not possible: (1) Since people believe their desires are authentic instead of mimetic, literary works also present it as authentic and original. If an author is unable to see through this illusion, he will not describe desire as mimetic. (1/2)
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 16, 2020 at 22:17


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