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At the tent flap sin crouches

James Wood: The Fleshpots of Egypt, 23 February 2006

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary 
by Robert Alter.
Norton, 1064 pp., £34, November 2004, 0 393 01955 1
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... verge of the promised land. Biblical style is famous for its stony reticence, for a mimesis that Erich Auerbach called ‘fraught with background’. This reticence is surely not as unique as Auerbach claimed – Herodotus is a great rationer of explanation, for example – but it achieves its best-known form in the ...

In the Wilderness

W.J.T. Mitchell, 8 April 1993

Culture and Imperialism 
by Edward Said.
Chatto, 444 pp., £20, February 1993, 0 7011 3808 4
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... for a ‘serener time’ associated with the ‘intuitive synthesis’ of great philologists like Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer and Dilthey, or his longing for the heroic age of public intellectuals like Fanon. When Said contrasts two generations of de-colonising criticism – the ‘modernist’ figures of C.L.R. James (The Black Jacobins) and George ...
... Spinoza or the Fellows of the Royal Society? Yet it is this in Vico that so deeply fascinated Erich Auerbach, one of the great literary scholars of our time. Of this, Professor Aarsleff says not a word. Yet it is in asking questions such as these, and in suggesting how solutions might be obtained (however fancifully at times), that Vico’s ...

Communism’s Man of Letters

J.P. Stern, 26 September 1991

Georg Lukács: Life, Thought and Politics 
by Arpad Kadarkay.
Blackwell, 538 pp., £45, June 1991, 1 55786 114 5
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... More relevant by far would be a comparison with Lukács’s contemporaries, Ernst Robert Curtius, Erich Auerbach and Arnoldo Momigliano, who did more for the survival of the values to which he paid lip-service than it was in his intention or in his power to do. There is no mention of these names in the present biography, which is just as ...

Paul de Man’s Proverbs of Hell

Geoffrey Hartman, 15 March 1984

... like Leo Spitzer tried to psyche out the ‘spiritual etymon’ of each writer. Or that Erich Auerbach valued historicism, and the variety of perspectives it introduced, as a Western heritage it would be tragic to lose and which had enabled him to construct the colourful narrative of Mimesis. De Man, in the TLS symposium, was composing a little ...

Transparent Criticism

Anne Barton, 21 June 1984

A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Representation of Reality 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Methuen, 209 pp., £12.95, September 1983, 0 416 31780 4
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... Erich Auerbach’s celebrated study of the representation of reality in Western literature, Mimesis, was published in German in 1946. Grounded on the analysis (mainly syntactic) of passages selected from texts in some nine different languages, ranging from Homer and the Old Testament to Virginia Woolf, it assumes throughout that reality has an objective existence, is open to perception, and needs no apologetic inverted commas ...

Touches of the Real

David Simpson: Stephen Greenblatt, 24 May 2001

Practising New Historicism 
by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt.
Chicago, 249 pp., £17.50, June 2000, 0 226 27934 0
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... all his fondness for the rhetoric of particularity over that of grand narrative, approvingly cites Erich Auerbach’s idea of the part as leading to a felt sense of the existential whole. For Greenblatt, this is what an anecdote does; it is a device offering ‘representational plenitude’. At the same time, his suspicion of any claim to other sorts of ...

Andante Capriccioso

Karl Miller, 20 February 1986

The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha 
by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Tobias Smollett.
Deutsch, 846 pp., £15, January 1986, 0 233 97840 2
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... of all such translations is Daumier’s painting of the two adventurers. Recent responses include Erich Auerbach’s chapter in Mimesis, where a historically scrupulous reading of the text is attempted, and that free translation of Cervantes which accompanies a search for symbolic meanings is reproved. No sancta simplicitas or praise of folly is detected ...

Reading the Bible

John Barton, 5 May 1988

The Literary Guide to the Bible 
edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode.
Collins, 678 pp., £20, December 1987, 0 00 217439 1
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... the editors identifies the turning-point in Biblical studies which has made their work possible: Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946). ‘The first chapters, comparing Old Testament narrative with Homeric narrative and meditating on the unique relation of ordinary-language realism to high “figural” meanings in the Gospels, not only offered new ...

Does a donkey have to bray?

Terry Eagleton: The Reality Effect, 25 September 2008

Accident: A Philosophical and Literary History 
by Ross Hamilton.
Chicago, 342 pp., £18, February 2008, 978 0 226 31484 6
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... the soul, as novelists like Austen became sensitive interpreters of the accidental. One thinks of Erich Auerbach’s magisterial Mimesis, a book which records the literary triumph of the popular, plebeian and everyday over the noble, mythical and heroic. The latter traits were much in favour with Fascism, from which ...


Perry Anderson: After the Ottomans, 11 September 2008

... of, the more fanfare had to be made out of it. Observing Kemalist cultural policies in 1936-37, Erich Auerbach wrote from Istanbul to Walter Benjamin: ‘the process is going fantastically and spookily fast: already there is hardly anyone who knows Arabic or Persian, and even Turkish texts of the past century will quickly become ...

Unreasoning Vigour

Stefan Collini: Ian Watt, 9 May 2019

Ian Watt: The Novel and the Wartime Critic 
by Marina MacKay.
Oxford, 228 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 0 19 882499 2
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... to other, no less sophisticated but sometimes less well-informed readers. He liked to quote Erich Auerbach’s assertion that in reading literature we need an ‘empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience’. As all this suggests, Watt didn’t go in for grand methodological ...

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