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Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

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4.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,106 ratings  ·  131 reviews
A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality has taught generations how to read Western literature. This new expanded edition includes ...more
Paperback, 50th Anniversary Edition, 616 pages
Published April 27th 2003 by Princeton University Press (first published 1942)
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Jim Coughenour
Jul 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Maybe the most impressive work of literary criticism ever written, not least because of the circumstances under which it was composed: Auerbach, a German philologist fired by the Nazis for being a Jew, in exile in an Istanbul library as European civilization destroyed itself — re-imagining the literature that had given it birth. The book's insights are inexhaustible. I've returned to it again and again for 30 years.

Sean
If Borges, writer of reflections, labyrinths and expanses can be called master of the infinite, then Auerbach must be that of the finite. For Mimesis is a work which not only takes the limitations of literary representation for its subject, but is selfsame spawned from finitude, tragic and wholly contingent. Exiled into a foreign library, with but a ramshackle supply of scholarship to consult, Auerbach ventures quixotically to trace from sheer erudition the development of historical consciousnes ...more
Leslie
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This thing blew my mind.
Mark
I read this in a reading/discussion group with Dr. Richard Stivers, Dr. James Van Der Laan, Rochelle Stivers, and Brian Simpson while in Normal at ISU and finished 18 months after moving to Urbana.

We read a chapter a month (basically) and also read whichever book went along with that chapter. I am not sure when we started but it took us a couple of years. Before reading the final chapter and Woolf's To the Lighthouse we read several other books from around that time frame that were not covered b
...more
Markus
Mimesis
By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957)

Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition.

‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records.

Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects.

-By Homer in the Odyssey; the return o
...more
Markus


Mimesis
By Erich Auerbach (1892-1957)

Auerbach was a German philologue, literature critic and author of the German Romantic tradition.

‘Mimesis’ or by the subtitle ‘Imitation of Reality in Western Literature’ is a work of Philological analysis of selected chapters of outstanding works of literature since the beginning of records.

Instead of providing a definition to explain his aim, the author takes the reader to comparisons of historical and linguistic aspects.

-By Homer in the Odyssey; the return o
...more
Katie
This book is encompassing and mind-bending in that specifically unique way that will make some people revere it like a religious text and will drive other people absolutely nuts.

As you can see from all the stars I threw at it in my rating, I lean more towards the former camp. I can very much understand why/how someone would wind up disagreeing with Auerbach's thesis (and even more so with his methodology in getting there), but at the same time this book has such an open, ambitious, and kind of
...more
H
Studying the progressive combination of tragic seriousness with the everyday.

Odysseus' Scar: We are ever foregrounded in the present. No such thing as flashbacks in the characters' minds; the narrator leaves aside the present narrative to tell a past narrative. It is not therefore a multi-layered telling (as is common in modern fiction) but a simple movement on a linear surface line.

... progressive awareness of social strata, the backgrounded figural meaning, etc...

... Farinate and Cavalcante: W
...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
I will not to attempt to review a book of this scope. I will briefly say that Auerbach's intention was to show how literature through the ages interpret reality. He starts with Ancient Greek saga and compares it with Bible epics and shows the different intentions in each.

He moves on to the lore of the middle ages and the impact Christianity had on that literature. He also analyzes the enlightenment and gives one of the most piercing and scathing observations about Voltaire's work. I must say I e
...more
Red
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: docu
Auerbach is the dreamguide in literature.
Michel Van Goethem
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
by Erich Auerbach 1946 - 573 p For many readers, both inside and outside the academy, Mimesis is among the finest works of literary criticism ever written.
.A half-century after its translation into English, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis still stands as a monumental achievement in literary criticism. A brilliant display of erudition, wit, and wisdom, his exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality h
...more
Jack
Mimesis is the kind of book that reminded me to be thankful for being literate. I've been reading so much, in such a habitual fashion, in many directions and to no particular end, I'd lost awareness of the giddy vastness of the literary expanse.

Anyone who wants to read seriously reads within Auerbach's chronology of Western literary evolution to some extent. It is extremely limited, as Auerbach admits, by his resources and ability. It only covers these works:

1. Odysseus' Scar -- Odyssey by Home
...more
sologdin
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-theory
one of the great works of philology/literary criticism in world history. opens with a famous reading of homer and the hebrew scripture, and builds it episodically through history, culminating in To the Lighthouse, which is perhaps as it should be.

Written while on the run from the NSDAP and without his library (though not without a library, as folk history has it), has as its purpose tracing the "complete emancipation" from the doctrine of the ancients regarding literary representation, one whic
...more
Andrew
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
A biggun' in literary criticism. Auerbach's book is a series of discussions about discrete works, progressing from Homer to Virginia Woolf. I felt like I was prepared to dive into this book based on my high-school curriculum and some more recent "Great Books" remedial reading (Dante).

The book doesn't so much lay out a theory of literary criticism, but instead provides examples of how Auerbach reads and thinks about reading. He stays very close to the text of every work he selects, so you won't
...more
Andrew Sydlik
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
I may or may not return to this; I only I had to read selected chapters for a class: the chapters on Odysseus and the Hebrew Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and the last three (18 and 19, whose starting points are Stendhal and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux respectively, are more or less surveys of 18th century French Romanticism and emerging realism, touching also upon Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola; 20 looks at Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, while also looking at ...more
Gilbert Wesley Purdy
A sampling of the progress of realism in literature from The Odyssey to Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Each major work is explored through an extended representative quote in the original language and in English translation. (It is not clear that all editions included the translations. This one, however, does.) Related works both from the time and from modern scholarship are brought into each discussion.

Mimesis is not only filled with remarkable insights on the works Auerbach chooses as exe
...more
Jackson Cyril
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not only a monument of literary criticism, but one of the most thrilling adventures of the mind, ever-- EA traces the development of the "representation of reality" from Homer and the Old Testament to twentieth century writers. Two chapters were particularly illuminating, the one on Dante which deals with the Farinata/Cavalcante Episode and the initial chapter which is a comparative study of mimetic techniques in Homer and the Book of Genesis. Edward Said's introduction is also very good; he pla ...more
Valentina Salvatierra
Managed to finish after several months and way too many distractions! Placeholder for a proper review to hopefully follow, as I need more time than I have at the moment to sort my thoughts about this book and set some of them down here. It felt like a masterclass in close reading, that's for sure.
Parke
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the greatest works of criticism in the 20th century and he did it without almost any access to books, notes, or anything else. The part on Odysseus's scar is legendary (excuse the pun.) This man loved books and so he ingested them for future reference. His commitment to reading closely for the details that shine is something all too lost in most of today's quickreads.
Barry
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reading and thinking about Ranciere's Aisthesis has led me to return to Auerbach's Mimesis, which I read many years ago, and this reaffirms my intuition that Mimesis is still the pinnacle of literary criticism/history/theory/whatever you want to call it.
Richard Seltzer
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Boosts your understanding of and appreciation of great books from all of western civilization.
Marie
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university
I've read only first two chapters for an exam.
However, I'm sure I'll come back and finish the book at some point, because it is definitely worth it.
RC
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Auerbach's overall project in this outrageously ambitious book—mapping the development of the “representation of reality” over the course of Western literature from Homer to Virginia Woolf—is a little perplexing, and at times incoherent. It’s never exactly clear what Auerbach means by “reality”; the definition seems to shift through the book; and it’s also not clear why he chose to focus on realism as the sine qua non of literary merit or success, as opposed to any number of other aspects of lit ...more
James
We are on a philological deep dive. We enter upon the primitive then progress and deteriorate back to the primitive: the unexpressed insights in western literature drive us ahead to self-understanding. Simply stated, the history of Western representations of reality are of personal curiosity, knowledge, and inheritance.

The poems of Homer delight us with "battles and passions, adventures and perils" of finite existence in the material world. Into that concrete world, the ancient literature revea
...more
Will
Jul 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"If the text of the Biblical narrative, then, is so greatly in need of interpretation on the basis of its own content, its claim to absolute authority forces it still further in the same direction. Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history. This becomes increasingly difficult the further our historical envir ...more
Dave
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wish I had more time and intelligence at my disposal to fully drink from Auerbach's well. His analysis and comparison of various literary texts and what it reveals about the societies that produced them yield enormous fruit, with much of it out of my reach.

My only complaint is that, while he draws great insights out of Biblical texts, he is unnecessarily polemical in ways that are not important to his argument. For example, when discussing Genesis he talks of 'The Elohist writes' (referring t
...more
Haengbok92
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Every essay I've read so far has been really interesting (which is only three). I've enjoyed the first one "Odysseus's Scar" the most. I'd never really thought to look at the Bible's narrative structure in contrast to Homer (I mean, why would I?) but I found the patterns that he pointed out were actually really useful in thinking about fiction (and the back and forth in the way people think about fiction over the centuries, ie: the stuff I studied for Comps). For a theory book especially, this i ...more
Seana
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was why I read Mimesis. I sure am glad I did. It's only been a few years now, but it's probably time I read it again. ...more
Anna Ivask
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I really shouldn't have to be fluent in 5 languages to understand one book. Although this one is on the editor not the author.
Zachary Crabtree
Jun 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Moses Mendelssohn
If I had read all of the books Auerbach critiques, I would be no less closer to understanding what he writes, because he has presented his arguments without presumption and invites all of us to read.
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German philologist Erich Auerbach served as professor of Romance philology at Marburg University (1929-35), taught at the Turkish State University in Istanbul (1936-47), and became professor of French and Romance philology at Yale University in 1950. He published several books and many papers on Dante, Medieval Latin literature, methods of historical criticism, and the influence of Christian symbo ...more

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“Abraham’s actions are explained not only by what is happening to him at the moment, nor yet only by his character (as Achilles’ actions by his courage and his pride, and Odysseus’ by his versatility and foresightedness), but by his previous history; he remembers, he is constantly conscious of, what God has promised him and what God has already accomplished for him—his soul is torn between desperate rebellion and hopeful expectation; his silent obedience is multilayered, has background. Such a problematic psychological situation as this is impossible for any of the Homeric heroes, whose destiny is clearly defined and who wake every morning as if it were the first day of their lives: their emotions, though strong, are simple and find expression instantly.” 8 likes
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