Brief Description of Course: It is no exaggeration to say that Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis is the most influential book of literary criticism ever written, and this seminar will have the luxury of slowly reading it to think about why it has been, and remains, so important. Mimesis offers a tour of what Auerbach calls “manifested reality” from Homer and the Bible to Virginia Woolf, and the story he tells is gripping because of his interpretive genius, but also because of his biography. Auerbach was a secular Jew who was a professor of Romance languages in Germany in the 1930s, but he lost his job when Hitler came to power. After luckily finding a teaching position in Istanbul, Auerbach wrote his masterpiece during the second world war, and his sense of exile is a constant theme. The book is thrilling: Auerbach is a better close reader, a better historian, and a better philologist than just about anyone who has ever lived. But—almost miraculously—Mimesis is also a pleasure to read. Literary criticism, Auerbach constantly stressed, must be a work of art, and in Mimesis he shows us all how criticism should be done. It is a book whose beauty still takes your breath away.
We will spend the first semester carefully working through Mimesis. The second term we will read some shorter essays by Auerbach and survey some current scholarship on him. The later parts of the course will be entirely dedicated to students’ own reactions and interests to the many themes Mimesis presents, culminating in several revisions of a longer term paper.
Required Reading: TBA.
First Three Authors/Texts: Auerbach.
Method of Instruction: Seminar.
Method of Evaluation: Participation (20%); shorter essay (20%); seminar presentations (20%); final paper (40%).