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Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton, , repr. , chapter one. ODYSSEUS'. to terms was dramatic and confused. 9bserving. it as _it is reflected in. Tolstoi or Dostoevski, we clearly grasp· the savage, tempestuous, and uncompromising. Title, Mimesis: the representation of reality in Western literature / by Erich Auerbach ; translated from the German by Willard R. Trask ; with a new introduction by.

Auerbach Mimesis Pdf

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Erich Auerbach (): Mimesis: The Representation of. Reality in Western Literature. ○. ○ Literature is a performance of representation: Writing reflects the . Certainly this is true of Erich Auerbach's magisterial Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, published by Princeton University Press. Erich auerbach mimesis pdf. Certainly this is true of Erich Auerbachs magisterial. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, published by.

Merlin Press, , Eliot, Ezra Pound —, or who argue that being eludes any movement toward presence Martin Heidegger. These works, based on Hegelian Marxist principles, no longer present authenticity as a hidden god. Realist art must make plain the presence of this historical logic within specific human situations.

Jean Clairevoye Paris: Alfred Kazin New York: Grosset and Dunlap, , 6. Grosset and Dunlap, , Hannah and Stanley Mitchell Har- mondsworth: His relentless emphasis on the totality imperative betrays his aware- ness that realism remains vulnerable to the modernist suspicion that, in the contemporary field, essences, being, or concrete meaning seldom shine through the surface of phenomena. Marx describes the alienation of labour as the process by which members of capitalist societies lose the capacity to view themselves as human subjects, in control of their historical development.

This evolution is triggered by the increasing division of labour. As capitalism grows increasingly complex, observers are no longer able to view their social environment as a totality of mean- ingful human relations.

Martin Milligan New York: International Publishers, , Clemens Dutt , in Clemens Dutt ed. Studies in Marx- ist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone London: The chief aim of realism is, on this logic, to retrieve the human, lived meaning of social phenomena. Realist authors must see through the social process that turns their life-world into a mystified environment.

Secondly, the possibilities open to realism at given historical moments are conditioned by the development of capitalist modes of production. However, the bourgeoisie turned against the working classes during the revolutions.

His later essays attempt to co-opt Thomas Mann as a genuine realist. Realism must seek a totalizing grasp of the essence of the historical moment if it hopes to escape dehumaniza- tion. His readings constantly revert to the small set of authors Balzac, Scott, Tolstoy, Mann he regards as truly great M 6. Only exceptional writers in the proper historical context can, in his logic, retrieve the essence of the real.

The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask Princeton: Princeton University Press, , iii. Auerbach tests the value of realism at each historical period by its capacity to overcome social and aesthetic fragmentation.

He makes this point in remarkable readings of Latin historians—Tacitus and Ammianus Marcellinus. Ammianus reports how Leontius, the prefect of Rome, tames a riot by wading into the mob in person and by having its leader strung up and flogged.

No text will grasp a totality of meaning immanent in phenomena. Auerbach argues indeed that realism revolves around the issue of presentification—how to make world and meaning present within a text.

In this, Auerbach contends, the Old Testament is faithful to the structure of human experience. Above all, it acknowledges the existence of historical time. Caught in the transit from the fading past to an undefined future, the present is always framed by shadows.

Yet it cannot render the time-bound human perception of reality. Readers of Auerbach usually note that the author of Mimesis fails to elaborate on his initial reflections. If he had, his essay would rank 30 Friedrich von Schiller, qtd. As it is, Mimesis quickly switches to the less aporetic analysis of stylistic and social fragmen- tation discussed above. Yet the insights expressed in the first pages affect the whole volume in so far as they make Auerbach sym- pathetic to imperfect, unfulfilled forms of realism.

This leads Auerbach to devote most of his discussions to non-classical varieties of mimesis. His succes- sive readings focus on what we might call defective mechanics of immanence: They reveal how authors, as they trace meaning in phenomena, succeed only partially, depending on the discursive tools available to them and the social configuration of their time. This allegorical realism is, of course, compelling only to communities where the Christian view of salvation history goes unchallenged.

Only in his pre-WWI writings does the Hungarian critic describe literary forms approaching this goal. This praxis therefore calls for a sense of distance and perspective M Why would writers who manage to display the intensive totality of their world be unable to evoke a self- immanent cosmos?

His readings are predicated on the belief that the future belongs to socialism. The two critics differ slightly yet crucially in their concept of historical time. The very meaning of social phenomena depends on the shape of history: Auerbach does not disagree with this principle.

His discussion of Christian figuration shows indeed how certain forms of realist praxis make the mundane, everyday world meaningful by connecting it to a world historical narrative Mim Yet it is not clear whether this figural realism determines the whole history of mimesis.

The Hungarian critic contends that this literary choice, illustrated in Franz Kafka or Albert Camus, is typical of writers who abdicate the critical duty to reveal the core logic of history M Specifically, I think it important to maintain a space of discussion—in criticism or within meta-realist texts—where the ultimate ends of mimesis are investigated. Its object is not only how the real is perceived, but also what it means, and how we wish it to evolve by human action.

In other words, realism is in need of regulatory utopias. The arena for such discussions should not be monopolized, as is the case today, by spokespersons either of endless commodification or of a return to a polity of faith-based charisma. In his view, the windows open to literary representation vary according to political configurations and time-bound class systems.

One might start from the recognition that realism has never been a literary gaze indifferently open to all as- pects of the world. Different cultural periods have been dominated by what we may call realist problematics—specific issues, topics, and strategies of representation texts had to handle in order to test their clear-sightedness.

Late-nineteenth-century realists could not afford to ignore the pathologies of urban poverty. Sexual candour in literature was likewise regarded as a benchmark of realist integrity.

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature - Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition

Among present-day concerns, two topics domi- nate, I think, the twenty-first-century realist problematic. The former is the reconfiguration of phenomenal experience induced by the information society—the genesis of a world where the perception of space and time is interwoven with virtual images and codes. The latter is the deepening of multicultural experience, encouraging contemporary observers to believe that several realities now coexist in the social field.

The information society has been a major concern of postmodern- ist theorists and artists one thinks of cyberpunk, the science fiction of the virtual experience. Instead of enhancing human experience, it creates seemingly autonomous pseudo-living creatures—the fetishized commodities of advertising, the media biospheres of reality TV, cyborgs, or artificial intelligences.

Postmodern technology thwarts realist praxis because it blurs the definition of what counts as phenomena. In his typology of postmod- ernist fiction, Brian McHale argues that postmodernist culture is dominated by ontological anxieties, distinct from the epistemological uncertainties of modernism. With computerization and digitalization, the concept of a world intuited through phenomenal perception becomes problematic.

Subjects interact with virtual entities enjoying little definition in space and time. Information is exchanged through barely traceable electronic connections.

Digital recordings capture the accents of famous performers singing alongside anonymous musicians whose sampled voices are triggered at the touch of a keyboard, regardless of when and where these musical gestures were initially carried out.

Dante: Poet of the Secular World

Heterotopia evokes subjects living in-between worlds, always within the territory of the other. The term is therefore a proper meta- phor for contemporary multicultural experience. Due to migratory flows and the speeding up of travel, new modes of co-existence of ethnically diverse populations have reconfigured postmodern social spaces.

On the face of it, multicultural societies offer a new territory for realist praxis. Cross-ethnic exchanges often occur in contexts of inequalities and racism. Duke University Press, , Cornell University Press, , 1. Routledge, , 9. On the other hand, tradi- tional mimesis seems ill-fitted to a heterotopian perception of social space.

Realism is expected to develop a voice of cognitive authority, privileging a dominant—supposedly Western, rationalistic—world view. Fragmentation, in Auerbach, is no vector of liberation: But who was he, and what sort of background and training did he have that enabled him to produce such work of truly outstanding influence and longevity?

By the time Mimesis appeared in English he was already sixty-one, the son of a German Jewish family residing in Berlin, the city of his birth in He received a doctorate in law from the University of Heidelberg in , and then served in the German army during World War One, after which he abandoned law and earned a doctorate in Romance languages at the University of Greifswald. Quite on his own , and as a reaction to Cartesian abstractions about ah istorical and contextless clear and distinct ideas, Vi co argues that human beings are historical creatures in that they make history, or what he called "the world of the nations.

Knowledge of the past that comes to us in texhIal form, Vi co says, can only be properly understood from the point of view of the maker of that past, which, in the case of ancient writers such as Homer, is primitive, barbaric, poetic.

This primitive mental ity was Vico's great discovery, whose influence on European romanticism and its cult of the imagination was profound. The poetic age of giants and barbarians is succeeded by the age of heroes, and that slowly evolves into the age of men. The age of poetry gives way to a time when a greater degree of ahstraction and rational discursivity become dominant. That is the main methodological point for Vi co as well as for Auerhach. Thus the line between actual events and the modifications of one 's own reRective mind is blurred in Vieo, as it is in the numerous authors who were inRuenced by him, l ike James Joyce.

But this perhaps tragic shortcoming of human knowledge and history is one of the unresolved contradictions pertaining to humanism itself, in which the role of thought in reconstructing the past can neither be excluded nor squared with what is "real. By the early part of the nineteenth century Vieo's work had become tremendously inRuential to European historians, poets, novel ists, and philologists, from Michelet and Coleridge to Marx and, later, Joyce.

Moreover, the v INTRODUC T IO N relationship between the reader-critic and the text i s transformed from a one-way interrogation of the historical text by an altogether alien mind at a much later time, into a sympathetic dialogue of two spirits across ages and cul tures who are able to communicate with each other as friendly, respectful spi rits trying to understand each other.

He landed his first academic teaching j ob with a chair at the University of Marburg in ; th is was the result of his Dante book, which in some ways, I think, is his most exciting and intense work. But in addition to learning and study, the heart of the hermeneutical enterprise was, for the scholar, to develop over the years a very particular kind of sympathy toward texts from different periods and different cultures.

The other part of the German Romance philologist's commitment to French, Italian, and Spanish generally and to French in particular is specifically literary. The representation of real ity is Auerbach's theme, so he had to make a judgment as to where and in what literature it was most ably represented.

In the "Epilegomena" he explains that "in most periods the Romance literatures are more representative of Eur ope than are, for example, the German. I think Auerbach scants the substantial Engl ish contribution in all this, perhaps a blind spot in his vision. As we shall soon sec, he does not specify what those were as he had done in the body of Mimesis, but adds that "for pleasure and relaxation" he still prefers reading Goethe, Stifter, and Keller rather than the French authors he studies, going once as far as saying after a remarkable analysis of Baudelaire that he did not like him at all 57 1.

The great progenitor and clarifier of this extremely catholic, indeed almost altruistic, attitude is Goethe, who in the decade after became fascinated with Islam generally and with Persian poetry in particular.

This was the period when he composed his finest and most intimate love poetry, the West-Ostlicher Diwan , finding in the work of the great Persian poet H afiz and in the verses of the Koran not only a new lyric inspiration allowing him to express a reawakened sense of physical love but, as he said in a letter to his good friend Zeiter, a discovery of how, in the absolute submission to God, he felt himself to be oscillating between two worlds, his own and that of the Musl im bel iever who was miles, even worlds away from European Weimar.

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A few months later he was offered a position teaching Romance literatures at the Istanbul State University, where some years before Leo Spitzer had also taught. And even though the book is in many ways a calm affirmation of the unity and dignity of European literature in all its multiplicity and dynamism, it is also a book of countercurrents, ironies, and even contradictions that need to be taken into account for it to be read and understood properly.

Thus for all its redoubtable learning and authority Mimesis is also a personal book, discipli ned yes, but not autocratic, and not pedantic. Consider, first of all, that even though Mimesis is the product of an extraordinarily thorough education and is steeped in an unparalleled inwardness and famil iarity with European culture , it is an exile's book, written by a German cut off from his roots and his native environment.

Auerbach seems not to have wavered, however, in his loyalty to his Prussial1 upbringing or to h is feeling that he always expected to return to Ge rmany. American friends and col1eagues report that until his final il1ness and death in , he was looking for some way to return to Germany. Nevertheless, after all those years in Istanbul he undertook a new postwar career in the United States, spending time at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and as a professor at Pennsylvania State University, before he went to Yale as Sterl ing Professor of Romance Philology in Auerbach's Jewishness is someth ing one can only speculate about since, in his usually reticent way, he does not refer to it directly in Mimesis.

It is not hard to detect a combination of pride and distance as he describes the emergence of Christianity in the ancient world as the product of prodigious missionary work undertaken by the apostle Paul, a diasporic Jew converted to Christ. So too, he says in a melancholy passage in Mimesis, will collective passions remain the same whether in Roman times or under National Social ism.

What makes these meditations so poignant is an autumnal but unmistakably authentic sense of humanistic mission that is both tra gi c and hopeful. I shall return to these matters later. I th ink it is qu ite proper to highlight some of the more personal aspects of Mimesis because in many ways it is, and should be read as, an unconventional book.

In classical l iterature, Auerbach says, h igh style was used for nobles and gods who could be treated tragically; low style was principally for comic and mundane subjects, perhaps even for idyllic ones, but the idea of everyday human or worJdly life as something to be represented th rough a style proper to it is not generally available before Christianity. Tacitus, for example, was si mply not interested in talking about or representing the everyday, excellent historian though he was.

The personages speak in the Bible story too; but thei r speech does not serve, as does speech in Homer, to manifest, to external ize thoughts - on the contrary, it serves to indicate thoughts which remain unexpressed. Nelson Lowry Jr. The point is how you arrive, by what dangers, mistakes, fortuitous encounters, sleeps or sl ips of mind, by what insights achieved through great expense of time and passion and to what hard-won formulations in the face of h istory.

As the "Epilegomena" demonstrates, however, Auerbach was adamant if not also fierce in rehutting criticisms of his claims; there is an especially tart exchange with his polymathic Romance colleague Curtius that shows the two formidable scholars slugging it out rather belligerently. It is not an exaggeration to say that, like Vico, Auerbach was at heart an autodidact, guided in his diverse explorations by a handful of deeply conceived and complex themes with which he wove his ample fabric, which was not seamless or effortlessly spun out.

One major theme turns up al ready in the first chapter - the notion of incarnation - a centrally Christian idea, of course, whose prehistory in Western literature Auerbach ingeniously locates in the contrast between Homer and the Old Testament. Diametrically opposed is the figure of Abraham, who incarnates "doctrine and promise" and is steeped in them.

These are "inseparable from" him and "for that very reason they a re fraught with 'background' and [are mysterious, containing a second, concealed meaning" And this second meaning can only be recovered by a very particular act of interpretation, wh ich, in the main piece of work Auerbach produced in Istanbul before he publish ed Mimesis in , he described as figural interpretation.

Peter Smith , ]. Basically, figural interpretation develops as early Christian thinkers such as Tertullian and Augustine felt impelled to reconcile the Old with the New Testament. Both parts of the Bible were the word of God, but how were they related, how could they be read, as it were, together, given the quite considerable difference between the old Judaic dispensation and the new message emanating from the Christian I ncarnation?

The solution arrived at, according to Auerbach, is the notion that the Old Testament prophetically prefigures the New Testament, which in turn can be read as a figural and, he adds, carnal hence incarnate, real, worldly realization or interpretation of the Old Testament. T he first event or figure is "real and historical announcing something else that is also real and h istorical" Drama of European Literature, At last we begin to see, like interpretation itself, how history does not only move forward but also backward, in each oscillation between eras managing to accompl ish a greater real ism, a more substantial "thickness" to use a term from current anthropological description , a h igher degree of truth.

One last and quite difficult aspect of Figura needs pointing out here. I n this he follows Vico, who looks at the whole of human history and says, "mind made all this," an affirmation that audaciously reaffirms but also to some degree undercuts the religious dimension that gives credit to the Divine.

Certainly it is the finest description we have of the millennial effects of Ch ristianity on literary representation. But Mimesis also glorifies as much as it animates with singular force and individualistic genius, most overtly in the chapters on verbal virtuosity in Dante, Rabelais, and Shakespeare. As we shall see in a moment, their creativity vies with Cod's in setting the human in a timeless as well as temporal setting.

T h ree seminal moments in the trajectory of Mimesis should now be identified in some detail.

Mter having illustrated the insufficiencies of this classical separation of styles into high and low, Auerbach develops a wonderful contrast with that agonizing nocturnal moment in the Gospel of St. Peter is no mere accessory figure serving as illustratio, like the soldiers Vibulenus and Percennius [in Tacitus], who are represented as mere scoundrels and swindlers. He is the image of man in the highest and deepest and most trag ic sense. Of course this mingling of styles is not dictated by an artistic purpose.

Peter, whose personal account may be assumed to have been the basis of the story, was a fisherman from Galilee, of humblest background and humblest educat ion What we witness is the awakening of 'a new heart and a new spirit. What Auerbach enables us to see here is "a world which on the one hand is entirely real , average, identifiable as to place, time, and circumstances, but which on the other hand is shaken in its very foundations, is transforming and renewing itself before our eyes" Christianity shatters the classical balance between high and low styles, just as Jesus' life destroys the separation between the sublime and the everyday.

What is set in motion, as a result, is the search for a new literary pact between writer and reader, a new synthesis or mingling betv. To this end, St. Auerbach's choice of Dante to represent the second seminal moment in Western literary history is made to seem breathtakingly appropriate.

Auerbach notes that the seventy lines he focuses on are incredibly packed, containing no less than four separate scenes, as well as more varied material than any other so far discussed in Mimesis.

There is, first of all, its combination of "sublimity and triviality which, measured by the standards of antiquity, is monstrous. Dante's powerful temperament, which is conscious of both because its aspiration toward the tradition of antiquity does not imply for it the possibility of abandoning the other; nowhere does mingling of styles come so close to violation of all style" Auerbach's choice of Dante for advancing the radically humanistic thesis carefully works through the great poet's Catholic ontology as a phase transcended by the Christian epic's realism, which is shown to be "ontogenetic," that is, "we are given to sec, in the realm of timeless being, the history of man's inner l ife and unfolding" I n Auerbach's view, Western literature after Dante draws on his example but is rarely as intensely convincing in its variety, its dramatic realism, and stark universality as he was.

From this point on, reality is completely historical, and it, rather than the Beyond, has to be read and understood according to laws that evolve slowly.

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Figural interpretation took for its point of origin the sacred word, or Logos, whose incarnation in the earthly world was made possible by the Christ-figure, a central point, as it were, for organizing experience and understanding history.

Let me quote him at length on the subject: Basically, the way i n which we view human life and society is the same whether we are concerned with th i n gs of the past or th ings of the present. Goethe comes in for the harshest treatment, even though we know that Auerbach loved his poetry and read him with the greatest pleasure.

I do not think it is r ead i ng too much into the somewhat iudgmental tone of chapter 17 of Mimesis "Miller the Musician" to recognize that xx I N T RODUC T I ON in its stern condemnation of Goethe's dislike of upheaval and even of change itself, h is interest in aristocratic culture, his deep-seated wish to be rid of the "revolutionary occurrences" taking place all over Europe, and his inabil ity to understand the Row of popular history, Auerbach was discussing no mere failure of perception but a profound wrong turn in GenTIan culture as a whole that led to the horrors of the present.

Perhaps Goethe is made to represent too much.All this is scrupulously externalized and narrated in leisurely fashion. On the one hand, it betokens the need to be reassured about the solidity of everyday experience, which, if one trusts postmodern theorist, has been emptied out of meaning.

His relentless emphasis on the totality imperative betrays his aware- ness that realism remains vulnerable to the modernist suspicion that, in the contemporary field, essences, being, or concrete meaning seldom shine through the surface of phenomena. Cornell University Press, , 1. Erich Auerbach and. T h ree seminal moments in the trajectory of Mimesis should now be identified in some detail. Apr 13,

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