Erich Auerbach

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Erich Auerbach

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Maio 18, 2009, 3:55 pm

I've just started reading Mimesis in Norwegian. I assume that it's a (very) famous book about literature, and I wonder if other members have read/are reading this book, and would like to discuss/comment on it here.

By the way: I'm also reading a collection of essays (in Norwagion) by Auerbach: "Verdenslitteraturens filologi" (Philology of World Literature).

Maio 18, 2009, 5:24 pm

I have read it in English. I don't think I could cite anything from it. I liked it and felt I got a big picture of Western literature when I read it.

I don't understand, though, the claim by some that it is central or fundamental to understanding literature. I know that he wrote it on the run without the references at hand that anybody else would need; still it seems the admiration of it by many is excessive. He is mentioned in some analyses, but not especially often.

Having said that, I am not an authority and would like to be proved wrong. If you or anybody else posts in this thread I will pay close attention.


Maio 19, 2009, 4:54 pm

I have always understood Mimesis to be legendary, because in its sweep it focuses on not only literature and literary history, but related fields like culture and philology, for example; and also because of its multiple values, e.g. instructive (in a tutorial sense) as well as entertaining and educational. It is rare in the lit crit canon that a book so general in its coverage would remain so relevant and readable decades after its publication. It earned the highest praise from Guy Davenport upon the Princeton University 50th anniversary re-issue, a fact worth remarking upon simply because Davenport himself is the author of Geography of the Imagination which is (in my opinion) as seminal and timeless as Mimesis.

Maio 20, 2009, 5:05 am

>3 GSLulos:, PhysisNomos

Thank you for your recommendation.
I ordered Geography of the Imagination yesterday, and I assume I'll receive it in about one week. Looking forward to reading it.
I love books about literature and culture.

Editado: Maio 28, 2009, 2:24 pm

I'm a great admirer of Auerbach's Mimesis (a word it took me a while to learn to pronounce correctly) and have returned to it again and again. In fact, I have a paperback (an Anchor edition I think) that has fallen apart and is kept together with a rubber band. First read it in the 1980s when in grad school. The first chapter comparing Genesis and Homer is classic, with a distinction between paratactic and hypotactic syntax and the effect of that on style that is very useful. Every chapter has something to offer of value. I've used the commentary on Madame Bovary many times in teaching; the points he makes about Flaubert are quite illuminating and cut deep, though they're subtle.

Also effective is Auerbach's demonstration that until very recently (late 19th century) class completely determined the seriousness a literary character merited, or could merit, despite our supposedly Christian culture. People who lack historical consciousness have trouble grokking this in our own democratic times.

As for big ideas, I think the most important one is to refine the notion of "realism." I take the book to argue that there is not so much a realistic "style" but a realistic "effect," the latter being induced by the introduction of content previously excluded by generic conventions.

The story of how Auerbach came to write the book is also interesting and I love to retell it!