Auerbach’s Mimesis

Erich Auerbach
Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
From class

•    Bible: God is the effect, not the cause, of Jewish idea
o    Lack of classical idea in Jewish tradition
o    Bible: chosen—personal fate
•    Serious Realism
•    Objective Seriousness
•    Modern Realism
•    Jubilant background and putting people into this
•    Post-Reality from recalling consciousness: Proust
From: David Carroll’s “Mimesis Reconsidered”
•    Concept of reality is problematical
•    Distrust of “systems”: historical explanation/product of the times
o    Absence of authentic communities of thought
•    “All have been destroyed and replaced by preconceived ideological systems which no longer serve a positive function but only serve the interests of particular factions.”
•    No confidence in systems, but complete confidence in man
o    “Man, free of al constraints, al ideologies and philosophies, man as a product of his time but still able to understand others ‘spontaneously,’ man as a concept which is not part of any system but ‘natural’—it is this ‘man’ that one finds throughout Mimesis” (6).
•    Randomness: the changeability of the real
•    The real becomes “externalized,” that is spatialized, so that it can be seized as a full presence.  The eye is supposedly able to capture immediately this externalization of what is.
7: “The real will be defined in each essay as ‘random’ and be characterized by its difference from what is defined as unreal.  Its principal characteristic will be change: imitation of reality is “imitation of the sensory experience of life on earth—among the most essential characteristics of which would seem to be its possessing a history, its changing and developing.  Whatever freedom the imitating artist may be granted in his work, he cannot be allowed to deprive reality of this characteristic, which is its very essence.”  The sense of this ‘randomness,’ the changeability of the real, will become clear as Auerbach proceeds and opposes the ‘random’ to all the pitfalls of philosophy and ideology.  A work is considered to be realistic, therefore, only when it is able to fulfill a series of negative conditions.”
9: “That the senses are free and have an immediate and original contact with the real is a philosophical argument, however, and not a statement of ‘common sense,’ a natural, unquestioned truth.  It should not be impossible to find, therefore, the system which organizes and makes sense out of phenomena, which logically precedes and thus ‘determines’ the moment in which the sense are in contact with the real.”
9: “At each step along the way an immediacy is argued for which would eliminate any difference or distance between the ‘original’ perception and its repeated representation. What Auerbach’s theory of the real posits is the continual repetition of the Same.”
10: “The real as a concept tends to function in Mimesis in the same way that Derrida contends other ‘metaphysical’ concepts (such as being, identity, self, etc.) work: to deny the complexity of the written, to deemphasize the process of interpretation by finalizing it, to dismiss the existence of other levels of meaning and of a plurality of senses for the unity of a single sense—in other words, to reduce in this instance the different levels of historical reality and the problematic nature of the real (the stated goal of Mimesis being to capture this complexity) to a unity, to an acceptable level of comprehension in order for it to be grasped immediately in the plenitude of a full present.”


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