(Princeton classics) Trask, Willard Ropes_ Auerbach, Erich_ Said, Edward W - Mimesis _ the represent - MIMESIS MIMESIS THE REPRESENTATION OF REALITY IN

(Princeton classics) Trask, Willard Ropes_ Auerbach, Erich_ Said, Edward W - Mimesis _ the represent

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Unformatted text preview: MIMESIS MIMESIS THE REPRESENTATION OF REALITY IN WESTERN LITERATURE Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition BY ERICH AUERBACH TRANSLATED FROM THE GERNlAN BY WILL'lliD R. TRASK With a new introduction by Edward W. Said PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PRINCETON AND OXFORD Copyright © 1953, 2003 by Princeton University Press Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540 In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW press.princeton.edu Written in Istanbul between May 1942 and April 1945. First published in Berne, Switzerland, 1946, by A. Francke Ltd. Co. Introduction © 2003 by Edward W. Said The translation “Epilegomena to Mimesis” taken from the German essay “Epilegomena zu Mimesis” © 1954 by Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main All Rights Reserved First printing, 1953 Fiftieth anniversary printing, 2003 First Princeton Classics edition, 2013 Library of Congress Control Number 2013936719 ISBN 978-0-691-16022-1 British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available Printed on acid-free paper. ∞ Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Had we but world enough and time ... -ANDREW MARVELL CONTENTS Introduction to the Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition 1. Odysseus' Scar 2. Fortunata 3· 4· 5· 6. The Arrest of Peter Valvomeres 3 24 Sicharius and Chramnesindus 5° 77 Roland Against Ganelon 96 The Knight Sets Forth 7· Adam and Eve 8. Farinata and Cavalcante 9· Frate Alberto 10. Madame Du Chastel II. IX The World in Pantagruel's Mouth 12. L'Humaine Condition 13· The Weary Prince 14· The Enchanted Dulcinea 15· The Faux Devot 16. The Interrupted Supper 12 3 143 174 2°3 23 2 262 28 5 312 334 359 19· Germinie Lacerteux 20. The Brown Stocking 395 434 454 493 525 Epilogue 554 Appendix 559 575 17· Miller the Musician 18. In the Hotel de la Mole Index INTRODUCTION TO THE FIFTIETH-ANNIVERSARY EDITION by Edward W. Said ... human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them to give birth to themselves. - Gabriel Garcia I\Iarquez influence and enduring reputation of books of criticism are, for the critics who write them and hope to be read for more than one season, dispiritingly short. Since World War Two the sheer volume of books appearing in English has risen to huge numbers, thus further ensuring if not ephemerality, then a relatively short life and hardly any influence at all. Books of criticism have usually come in waves associated with academic trends, most of which are quickly replaced by successive shifts in taste, fashion, or genuine intellectual discovery. Thus only a small number of books seem perennially present and, by comparison with the vast majority of their counterparts, to have an amazing staying power. Certainly this is true of Erich Auerbach's magisterial Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, published by Princeton University Press exactly fifty years ago in a satisfYingly readable English translation by \Villard R. Trask. As one can immediately judge by its subtitle, Auerbach's book is by far the largest in scope and ambition out of all the other important critical works of the past half century. Its range covers literary masterpieces from Homer and the Old Testament right through to Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust, although as Auerbach says apologetically at the end of the book, for reasons of space he had to leave out a great deal of medieval literature as well as some crucial modern writers like Pascal and Baudelaire. He was to treat the former in his last, posthumously published book, Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, the latter in various journals and a collection of his essays, Scenes {rom the Drama of European Literature. In all these works Auerbach preserves the same essayistic style of criticism, beginning each chapter with a long quotation from a specific work cited in the original language, followed immediately by a serviceable translation (German in the original Mimesis, first published in Bern in 1946; English in most of his subsequent work), out of which a detailed explication de texte unfolds at a leisurely and ruminative pace; this in turns THE INTRODUCTION develops into a set of memorable comments about the relationship betv\'een the rhetorical style of the passage and its socio-political context, a feat that Auerbach manages with a minimum of fuss and with virtually no learned references. He explains in the concluding chapter of Mimesis that, even had he wanted to, he could not have made use of the available scholarly resources, first of all because he was in wartime Istanbul when the book was written and no \Vestern research libraries were accessible for him to consult, second because had he been able to use references from the extremely voluminous secondary literature, the material would have swamped him and he would never have written the book. Thus along with the primary texts that he had with him, Auerbach relied mainly on memory and what seems like an infallible interpretive skill for elucidating relationships between books and the world they belonged to. Even in English translation, the hallmark of Auerbach's style is an unruffled, at times even lofty and supremely calm, tone conveying a combination of quiet erudition allied with an overridingly patient and loving confidence in his mission as scholar and philologist. 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 1892. By all accounts he recei\·ed a classic Pruss ian education, graduating from that city's renowned Franzosisches Gymnasium, an elite high school where the German and Franco-Latin traditions were brought together in a very special way. He received a doctorate in law from the University of Heidelberg in 1913, 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. Geoffrey Green, author of an important book on Auerbach, has speculated that "the violence and horrors" of the war experience may have caused the change in career from legal to literary pursuits, from "the vast, stolid legal institutions of society ... to [an investigation of] the distant, shifting patterns of philological studies" (Literary Criticism and the Structures of History, Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1982, pp. 20-21). Between 1923 and 1929, Auerbach held a position at Berlin's Pruss ian State Library. It was then that he strengthened his grasp of the philological vocation and produced two major pieces of work, a German translation of Giambattista Vico's The New Science and a seminal monograph x on Dante entitled Dante als Dichter der irdischen Vv'elt (when the book appeared in English in 1961 as Dante, Poet of the Secular World, the crucial word irdischen, or "earthly," was only partially rendered by the considerably less concrete "secular"). Auerbach's life-long preoccupation with these two Italian authors underscores the specific and concrete character of his attention, so unlike that of contemporary critics, who prefer what is implicit to what the text actually says. In the first place, Auerbach's work is anchored in the tradition of Romance philology, interestingly the study of those literatures deriving from Latin but ideologically unintelligible without the Christian doctrine of Incarnation (and hence of the Roman Church) as well as its secular underpinning in the Holy Roman Empire. An additional factor was the development out of Latin of the various demotic languages, from Proven<;:al to French, Italian, Spanish, etc. Far from being the dryas-dust academic study of word origins, philology for Auerbach and eminent contemporaries of his, like Karl Vossler, Leo Spitzer, and Ernst Robert Curtius, was in effect immersion in all the available written documents in one or several Romance languages, from numismatics to epigraphy, from stylistics to archival research, from rhetoric and law to an all-embracing working idea of literature that included chronicles, epics, sermons, drama, stories, and essays. Inherently comparative, Romance philology in the early tvventieth century derived its main procedural ideas from a principally German tradition of interpretation that begins with the Homeric criticism of Friederich August Wolf (17591824), continues through Herman Schleiermacher's biblical criticism, includes some of the most important works of Nietzsche (who was a classical philologist by profession), and culminates in the often laboriously articulated philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. Dilthey argued that the world of written texts (of which the aesthetic masterwork was the central pillar) belonged to the realm of lived experience (Erlebnis), which the interpreter attempted to recover through a combination of erudition and a subjective intuition (eil1gefiihlel1) of what the inner spirit (Geist) of the work was. His ideas about knowledge rest on an initial distinction between the world of nature (and of natural sciences) and the world of spiritual objects, the basis of whose knowledge he classified as a mixture of objective and subjective elements (Geisteswissenschaft) , or knowledge of the products of mind or spirit. Whereas there is no real English or American equivalent for it (although the study of culture is a rough approximation), Geisteswissenschaft is a recognized academic sphere in German-speaking counINTRODUCTION Xl tries. In his later essay, "Epilegomena to Mimesis" (1953; translated from the German for the first time in this edition), Auerbach says explicitly that his work "arose from the themes and methods of German intellectual history and philology; it would be conceivable in no other tradition than in that of German romanticism and Hegel" (571). While it is possible to appreciate Auerbach's Mimesis for its fine, absorbing explication of individual, sometimes obscure texts, one needs to disentangle its \"arious antecedents and components, many of which are quite unfamiliar to modern readers but which Auerbach sometimes refers to in passing and always takes for granted in the course of his book. Auerbach's life-long interest in the eighteenth-century Neapolitan professor of Latin eloquence and jurisprudence Giambattista Vico is absolutely central to his work as critic and philologist. In the posthumously published 1745 third edition of his magnum opus The New Science, Vico formulated a re\·olutionary discovery of astonishing power and brilliance. Quite on his own, and as a reaction to Cartesian abstractions about ahistorical and contextless clear and distinct ideas, Vico argues that human beings are historical creatures in that they make history, or what he called "the world of the nations." Understanding or interpreting history is therefore possible only because "men made it," since we can know only what we have made (just as only God knows nature because he alone made it). Knowledge of the past that comes to us in textual form, Vico 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. (In Vico's private lexicon the word "poetic" means primitive and barbaric because early human beings could not think rationallv.) Examining the Homeric epics from the perspective of when and by whom they were composed, Vico refutes generations of interpreters who had assumed that because Homer was revered for his great epics he must also have been a wise sage like Plato, Socrates, or Bacon. Instead Vico demonstrates that in its wildness and willfulness Homer's mind was poetic, and his poetry barbaric, not wise or philosophic, that is, full of illogical fantasy, gods who were anything but godlike, and men like Achilles and Patrocles, who were most uncourtly and extremely petulant. This primitive mentality was Vico's great discovery, whose influence on European romanticism and its cult of the imagination was profound. Vico also formulated a theory of historical coherence that showed how each period shared in its language, art, metaphysics, logic, science, law, and religion features that were common and appropriate to their apINTRODUCTION X II INTRODUCTION pearance: primitive times produce primitive knowledge that is a projection of the barbaric mind - fantastic images of gods based on fear, guilt, and terror - and this in turn gives rise to institutions such as marriage and the burial of the dead that preserve the human race and giYe it a sustained history. The poetic age of giants and barbarians is succeeded by the age of heroes, and that slowly evolves into the age of men. Thus human history and society are created through a laborious process of unfolding, development, contradiction, and, most interestingly, representation. Each age has its ovvn method, or optic, for seeing and then articulating reality; thus Plato develops his thought after (and not during) the period of violently concrete poetic images through which Homer spoke. The age of poetry gives way to a time when a greater degree of abstraction and rational discursivity become dominant. All these developments occur as a cycle that goes from primitive to advanced and degenerate epochs, then back to primitive, Vico says, according to the modifications of the human mind, which makes and then can re-examine its own history from the point of view of the maker. That is the main methodological point for Vico as well as for Auerbach. In order to be able to understand a humanistic text, one must try to do so as if one is the author of that text, living the author's reality, undergoing the kind of life experiences intrinsic to his or her life, and so forth, all by that combination of erudition and sympathy that is the hallmark of philological hermeneutics. Thus the line between actual events and the modifications of one's own reflective mind is blurred in Vico, as it is in the numerous authors who were influenced by him, like 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." Hence the phrase, "the representation of reality" in the subtitle to Mimesis and the vacillations in the book between learning and personal insight. By the early part of the nineteenth century Vi eo's work had become tremendously influential to European historians, poets, novelists, and philologists, from Michelet and Coleridge to Marx and, later, Joyce. Auerbach's fascination with Vico's historicism (sometimes called "historism") underwrote his hermeneutical philology and allowed him thus to read texts such as those by Augustine or Dante from the point of view of the author, whose relationship to his age was an organic and integral one, a kind of self-making within the context of the specific dvnamics of society at a very preCIse moment in its development. Moreover, the X 11 I INTRODUCTION relationship between the reader-critic and the text is 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 cultures who are able to communicate with each other as friendly, respectful spirits trying to understand each other. Now it is quite obvious that such an approach requires a great deal of erudition, although it is also clear that for the German Romance philologists of the early twentieth century with their formidable training in languages, history, literature, law, theology, and general culture, mere erudition was not enough. Obviously you could not do the basic reading if you had not mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Proven<;:al, Italian, French, and Spanish in addition to German and English. Nor could you if you did not know the traditions, main canonical authors, politics, institutions, and cultures of the time, as well as, of course, all of their interconnected arts. A philologist's training had to take many years, although in Auerbach's case he gives one the attractive impression that he was in no hurry to get on with it. He landed his first academic teaching job with a chair at the University of Marburg in 1929; this was the result of his Dante book, which in some ways, I think, is his most exciting and intense work. But in addition to leaming 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. For a German whose specialty was Romance literature this sympathy took on an almost ideological cast, given that there had been a long period of historical enmity between Prussia and France, the most powerful and competitive of its neighbors and antagonists. As a specialist in Romance languages, the German scholar had a choice either to enlist on behalf of Prussian nationalism (as Auerbach did as a soldier during the First World War) and to study "the enemy" with skill and insight as a part of the continuing war effort or, as was the case with the postwar Auerbach and some of his peers, to overcome bellicosity and what we now call "the clash of civilizations" with a welcoming, hospitable attitude of humanistic knowledge designed to realign warring cultures in a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity. 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 historical trajectory that is the spine of Mimesis is the passage from the separation of styles in classical antiquity, to their mingling in the New Testament, their first great climax in Dante's Divine Comedy, and their ultimate apotheosis in the French realistic auXIV INTRODUCTION thors of the nineteenth century - Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, and then Proust. The representation of reality 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 Europe than are, for example, the German. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries France took unquestionably the leading role; in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Italy took it over; it fell again to France in the seventeenth, remained there also during the greater part of the eighteenth, partly still in the nineteenth, and precisely for the origin and development of modern realism (just as for painting)" (570). I think Auerbach scants the substantial English contribution in all this, perhaps a blind spot in his vision. Auerbach goes on to affirm that these judgments derive not from aversion to German culture but rather from a sense of regret that German literature "expressed ... certain limitations of outlook in ... the nineteenth century" (571). As we shall soon see, 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 (571). For English readers today who associate Germany principally with horrendous crimes against humanity and with National Socialism ...
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