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Pork Chops and Pineapples

Terry Eagleton: The Realism of Erich Auerbach

23 October 2003
Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature 
by Erich Auerbach.
Princeton, 579 pp., £13.95, May 2003, 9780691113364
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... the roots of our admiration for resemblance, mirroring and doubling lie in some very early ceremony of correspondence between human beings and their recalcitrant surroundings. In that case, what ErichAuerbach takes in his great study Mimesis to be the most mature form of art may actually be the most regressive. To describe something as realist is to acknowledge that it is not the real thing. We ...

What is concrete?

Michael Wood: Erich Auerbach

5 March 2015
Time, History and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich​ Auerbach 
by Erich Auerbach, edited by James Porter, translated by Jane Newman.
Princeton, 284 pp., £27.95, December 2013, 978 0 691 13711 7
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... ErichAuerbach​ ’s criticism offers a remarkable mixture of caution and daring; it’s very modest and very grand. He doesn’t believe in large, baggy words, at times is sceptical about the very concept of a ...


J.A. Burrow

21 May 1987
The Mirour of Mans Salvacioune: A Middle English Translation of ‘Speculum Humanae Salvationis’ 
edited by Avril Henry.
Scolar, 347 pp., £35, March 1987, 0 85967 716 8
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... about the whole typological method, so reverently spoken of by most modern scholars. In a masterly essay entitled ‘Figura’ (reprinted in his Scenes from the Drama of European Literature), ErichAuerbach emphasises the essentially historical character of this way of reading the Bible: ‘Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons, the first of which signifies not ...
13 February 1992
Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 333 43294 0
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A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 
by René Wellek.
Yale, 458 pp., £26, October 1991, 0 300 05039 9
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... and lesser scholars who wrote criticism, he lets synopsis suffice, with at best only a minimal gesture of evaluation. But when he is dealing with original critics of real intellectual power like ErichAuerbach, Mikhail Bakhtin, Ernst Robert Curtius, Georg Lukacs, Viktor Shklovsky and Leo Spitzer, he offers trenchant and detailed critiques of their key concepts and methods, while also conveying a ...


Peter Burke

18 March 1982
The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought 
by John Friedman.
Harvard, 268 pp., £14, July 1981, 0 674 58652 2
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Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain 
by William Christian.
Princeton, 349 pp., £16.80, September 1981, 9780691053264
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... and Them, long antedated Western dominance. However, it can hardly be doubted that the image of Them as subhuman has sometimes served to legitimate domination by Us. As Friedman points out, following ErichAuerbach, peasants and herdsmen appear as monstrous in 12th-century aristocratic literature like the romances of Chrétien de Troyes. To adopt the language of contemporary ‘labelling theory’, we ...

She Doesn’t Protest

Colin Burrow: The Untranslatable Decameron

12 March 2009
by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by J.G. Nichols.
Oneworld, 660 pp., £12.99, May 2008, 978 1 84749 057 5
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... think she feels? What does he think he’s doing? And what does she feel? Boccaccio’s ability to provoke these questions in his readers is the reason he has been central to the history of fiction. ErichAuerbach – in what is still the best essay on Boccaccio’s style – argued that he was great at evoking the elisions and indirections of conversation, but that he could not do tragedy. That’s ...

Performances for Sleepless Tyrants

Marina Warner: ‘Tales of the Marvellous’

8 January 2015
Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, introduced by Robert Irwin.
Penguin, 600 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 14 139503 6
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... under the law against homosexuality (this during the Weimar Republic). After a year in prison, he left Germany (he spent the entire period of the Third Reich outside the country) for Istanbul, where ErichAuerbach would also take refuge: he must have been starting on Mimesis around the same time as Ritter was rummaging through archives in the former Ottoman capital. Robert Irwin, the editor of Tales ...

World of Faces

T.J. Clark: Face to Face with Rembrandt

4 December 2014
Rembrandt: The Late Works 
National Gallery, until 18 January 2015Show More
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... it or not) did have the look, in this world of raised eyebrows and faint smiles about puffy lips, of ‘doubt about the self and its motives’ – the realm of the Protestant conscience, the world ErichAuerbach taught us to recognise as always ‘fraught with background’ – but out of this background, all the brighter for emerging from the murk, seemed to come a final decisive exteriority to the ...

Six Wolfs, Three Weills

David Simpson: Emigration from Nazi Germany

5 October 2006
Weimar in Exile: The Anti-Fascist Emigration in Europe and America 
by Jean-Michel Palmier, translated by David Fernbach.
Verso, 852 pp., £29.99, July 2006, 1 84467 068 6
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... only once, often listed simply by first initial and surname: six Wolfs, three Weills (not just Kurt), two Wollheims (neither of them Richard, who was born in England). Celebrated figures such as ErichAuerbach and Leo Spitzer, who went to Turkey, are mentioned only very briefly. Exile was a great leveller – and also a dealer of death. Much of the 20th century has been commemorated in the form of ...
21 July 1983
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays 
by J.R.R. Tolkien, editor Christopher Tolkien .
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £9.95, March 1983, 0 04 809019 0
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TheRoad to Middle-Earth 
by T.A. Shippey.
Allen and Unwin, 252 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 0 04 809018 2
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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode 
 by J.R.R. Tolkien, editor Alan Bliss.
Allen and Unwin, 180 pp., £9.95, January 1983, 0 04 829003 3
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... him about their work; and both take him very seriously indeed. The intensity of their interest is remarkable and perhaps surprising, for Tolkien, unlike literary and linguistic scholars such as ErichAuerbach and E.R. Dodds who achieved and deserved fame in this century, was not an intellectual. The reasons why one might take up his scholarship or his fiction are not the same as those that make ...

Imperfect Knight

Gabriel Josipovici

17 April 1980
Chaucer’s Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary 
by Terry Jones.
Weidenfeld, 319 pp., £8.95, January 1980, 0 297 77566 9
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Chaucer, Langland and the Creative Imagination 
by David Aers.
Routledge, 236 pp., £9.75, January 1980, 9780710003515
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The Golden Age: Manuscript Painting at the Time of Jean, Duc de Berry 
by Marcel Thomas.
Chatto, 120 pp., £12.50, January 1980, 0 7011 2471 7
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... Chaucer or Langland or their age. In an earlier and much better book, Piers Plowman and Christian Allegory (1975), Aers has argued that the debate among medievalists over whether poets wrote what ErichAuerbach called figural allegory – allegory somehow involved with history and change – or whether they wrote what Aers terms picture allegory – the mere mechanical substitution of one element ...
1 September 2005
Dante in English 
edited by Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds.
Penguin, 479 pp., £16.99, May 2005, 0 14 042388 5
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... By definition, frauds are not known to be such from their ‘outer selves’; only when their ‘inner selves’ are all that is left to them can they be seen and named as the sinners they are. Like ErichAuerbach (whose Dante: Poet of the Secular World was published in 1929 in German, in 1961 in English), Griffiths presents a Dante intensely reproducing – historically, psychologically and ...

Committee Speak

Robert Alter: Bible Writers

19 July 2007
Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible 
by Karel van der Toorn.
Harvard, 401 pp., £22.95, March 2007, 978 0 674 02437 3
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... no equivalent elsewhere in biblical writing. His characters are capable of utterly surprising yet convincing changes and twists, and their rendering exhibits the kind of existential seriousness that ErichAuerbach associated with the most authoritative representation of reality in literature. David, for example, a figure who until the mid-point of his story is assigned only politically motivated ...


Marina Warner: Baba Yaga

27 August 2009
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... Exiles read contrapuntally, Said wrote in an essay called ‘Reflections on Exile’. ‘Home and culture aren’t something one belongs to but also things one possesses,’ he added in an essay on ErichAuerbach, ‘and require the drawing of boundaries to define and own them.’ Ugrešić has written contrapuntally from the start, and her parodist’s irony was sharpened – roughened, too – by ...

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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... law or teaching (torah means ‘teaching’); and finally the death of Moses as his people are on the verge of the promised land. Biblical style is famous for its stony reticence, for a mimesis that ErichAuerbach 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 ...

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