The Mimetic Life: Imitation and Infinity in Gregory of Nyssa
Motia, Michael Ali
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CitationMotia, Michael Ali. 2017. The Mimetic Life: Imitation and Infinity in Gregory of Nyssa. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Abstract“Christianity is mimesis of the divine nature,” writes Gregory of Nyssa, the fourth-century CE author who also first makes the infinitude of God central to his theological project. How does one imitate the infinite? Or, perhaps more importantly, why frame the Christian life as an imitation of something infinite? This question becomes more urgent when it is set in the classical Greek and Roman worlds, which were organized largely through mimetic relationships. How a teacher molds a student, how art shapes a soul, and how the Creator creates creation—questions most intimate or most cosmic, questions of identity, cultivation of the self, formation of desire, power and persuasion, and more—are framed in terms of archetype and imitation. The ubiquity of this discourse in the classical world and in the early Church, however, can blind readers to the multiple ways mimesis is conceptualized to form desiring selves and communities. In late antiquity, discourses of mimesis that were previously held apart—aesthetic representation and ontological participation—combine and require new ways to theorize and form subjects.
Gregory’s most famous contribution to Christian thought—divine infinitude and the human imitating of that infinitude in our endlessly expanding desire for God—is best understood, I argue, as a working out of these combined discourses of mimetic relationships. This transformation of mimesis requires and inspires, for Gregory, a new set of names, spaces, and characters to imitate, and also subtly transforms the function of mimesis. Mimesis becomes no longer a stepping stone or penultimate good, but the very end of the Christian life. It organizes a set of practices, a way of life, aimed at Christian perfection.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365507
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