The Project


Ancient Origins

Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the value of mimetic representations, but agreed that humans are mimetic creatures. Originally invoked to define humans as the “most imitative” animals in classical antiquity, mimesis (imitation) has recently been at the center of theoretical debates in the humanities, social sciences, and the neurosciences concerning the role of “mimicry,” “identification,” “contagion,” and “mirror neurons” in the formation of subjectivity.

© Meltzoff

And yet, despite the growing confirmations that imitation is constitutive of human behavior, mimesis still tends to be confined to the sphere of realistic representation. The Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism (HOM) project combines approaches that are usually split in different areas of disciplinary specialization to provide a correction to this tendency.

New Concepts

HOM proposes a new mimetic theory based on following principles and concepts :

1) humans are open to a plurality of mimetic affects that include, but are not limited to, desire (mimetic pathos);

2) imitation often takes place involuntarily, automatically, below conscious awareness and is in this immanent and embodied sense un-conscious (mimetic unconscious);

3) homo mimeticus oscillates between an attraction to pathos and a critical distance from it, generating a movement of push-pull between mimetic and anti-mimetic tendencies (pathos of distance);

4) vulnerability to mimetic pathos opens the subject to external influences that blur the boundaries of individuation generating a porous, relational, and permeable ego (phantom of the ego)

5) mimesis goes beyond good and evil, generating both contagious pathologies and patho-logies or critical discourses on mimetic pathos (patho(-)logies)

6) in the digital age, hyperreal simulations that are not based on realistic representations have the power to retroact, via a feedback look, on homo mimeticus, generating all-too-real effects on reality (hypermimesis).

Together, these principles/concepts provide the main elements for a mimetic turn or re-turn of mimesis in different strands of critical theory, including continental philosophy, literary theory, political theory, film studies, musicology, performance studies, and posthuman studies.

Homo Mimeticus: Arts, Philosophy, Social Sciences

HOM is conceived as a transdiciplinary project situated at the crossroads between the Faculties of Arts, Social Sciences, and Philosophy.

Considering mimesis as constitutive of human originality, the different subprojects (SP A-B-C) revisit the centrality of the affective, performative, and behavioral side of imitation in disciplines as diverse as literary theory, performance studies, musicology, political theory, film studies, and continental philosophy.

Specific contributions to each SP include:

1) Reframing a major proponent of anti-mimetic aesthetics in modern literature (Oscar Wilde) by looking back to the classical foundations of theatrical mimesis that inform his corpus (SP A).

2) Unearthing the material effects of virtual simulations on human behavior by looking ahead to new digital media via contemporary science-fiction films (SP B);

3) Establishing an interdisciplinary dialogue between philosophical accounts of mimesis and recent discoveries in the neurosciences (SP C);

4)Opening up new ways of understanding musical aesthetics in terms of mimetic practices that inscribe sociopolitical values between magic and science, Europe and its others (SP A/C);

5. Revisiting the role the figure of the mime played in the rise of key advocates of poststructuralist philosophy, from Derrida to Lacoue-Labarthe, Butler to Deleuze. (SP A/C).

6. Emphasizing the mimetic components of the posthuman in both its theoretical and fictional developments, with special attention to the posthuman subject as hybrid, porous, vulnerable, and generally alterable (SP A/C).

7. Confronting the rising threat of new fascist movements, in the US and Europe, by diagnosing the power of leaders to inject mimetic contagion in crowds and turn politics into a fiction (SP B/C.)

Together, these new perspectives on Homo mimeticus reconsider the aesthetic foundations of a major literary author, open up new lines of inquiry in film studies, musicology, performance studies, political theory, and steer philosophical debates on mimesis in new interdisciplinary directions.

Transdisciplinary Methodology

This research project combines perspectives that are often split in different areas of investigation but that need to be combined in order to do critical and theoretical justice to a chameleon-concept that changes color as it crosses over literary, theatrical, musical, cinematic, philosophical, and political territories.

In the process HOM also engages with the manifestations of mimesis in the social sciences (contagion, mimicry), theater studies (performance, impersonation), and the neurosciences (mirror neurons, brain plasticity).

Principal Investigator Nidesh Lawtoo has been awarded the ERC Starting Grant of approximately EUR 1 million to pursue this project at KU Leuven.

Expected Outputs

HOM’s outcomes will result in a series of monographs, special issues and accompanying articles, as well as a PhD thesis. Together, team members explore the aesthetic, affective, conceptual and political implications of the mimetic faculty today. Tentative titles:

  1. Poetics and Politics: with Lacoue-Labarthe, ed. Nidesh Lawtoo MLN 132.5 (2017)
  2. N. Lawtoo. (New) Fascism: Contagion, Community, Myth. MSU P (2019).
  3. D. Villegas Velez. Mimetologies: Mimesis and Music 1600-1850 (under contract OUP)
  4. N. Lawtoo. Violence and the Unconscious: Catharsis to Contagion (under contract MSU P)
  5. The Mimetic Condition, CounterText (in preparation)
  6. N. Lawtoo. The Masks of Oscar Wilde (in preparation)
  7. N. Hadikoesoemo. “Figuring out the Mime:  Lacoue-Labarthe, Irigaray, Deleuze” (PhD thesis).
  8. C. Guesse. Thinking (with) the Posthuman: Itinerary from Fiction to Theory and back (in preparation).
  9. Posthuman Mimesis: Perspectives, eds. C. Guesse & N. Lawtoo (planned)
  10. N. Lawtoo. Hypermimesis: Simulation in Contemporary SF Film (planned)

Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!(nidesh.lawtoo[at]

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement n°716181)