Vengeance in Reverse

The Tangled Loops of Violence, Myth, and Madness


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Likening gift exchange to vengeance in reverse, Mark Anspach outlines a fresh approach to reciprocity and traces the emergence of transcendence in collective myths and individual delusions.


"An impressively erudite and original study that is exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking... Extraordinary and highly recommended."

Midwest Book Review


"More consequential intellectual clout than many a book many times its size. The joy of reading Anspach’s book is the continuous encounter with thought-provoking points of brilliance that in turn make for page after page of ideas to ponder."

—Ivan Strenski, Holstein Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus, University of California at Riverside, in Reading Religion, the review publication of the American Academy of Religion


“With Vengeance in Reverse, Mark Anspach establishes himself as one of today’s most important figures in French social theory and cultural anthropology. Remarkably insightful, probing, and timely, this slim volume does an astonishing amount of work as it pursues fundamental questions about the social, political, and psychological mechanisms of violence, religion, and madness.”

—Mark S. Cladis, Brooke Russell Astor Professor of the Humanities, Brown University, editor of the Oxford edition of Emile Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life


“Mark Anspach’s Vengeance in Reverse is a brilliant integration of great themes in anthropology: reciprocity, revenge, war, sacrifice, the birth of the gods, and the anti-communal tragedy of madness. It will take its place among the works that have helped us understand both the bright and dark sides of human nature and culture.”

—Melvin Konner, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Emory University, author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit


"Anspach knows his ways through the thickets of the human mind and the stratagems of violence. He [highlights] not just the temporal dimension of violence but also its temporal outlook... What Anspach does with this is important. It allows him to illuminate something that René Girard did not... Sacrifice substitutes one temporal orientation for another. Not only is the past injury repaid, but also a gift is given looking forward to new nonviolent exchanges... In this book Anspach makes available in a compact and accessible form his contribution to mimetic theory: the tangled loops of the violent mind have a certain logic that can be understood, gradually untangled, and withstood."

—Jeremiah Alberg, President of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (full review in COV&R Bulletin 54)


From the text of Vengeance in Reverse:

“We are, all of us, mad or not, fated to struggle with the irreducible loopiness of human existence. Often, without even realizing it, we find ourselves caught in double binds or self-fulfilling prophecies of the kind discussed in this book. They are an ever-present trap; they are never a prison. Understanding the tangled loops of violence, myth, and madness is the first step to breaking free of them.”