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Romanticism and Realism 1 145

withstand further investigation. for there are in fact close and immediate
12 connections between the first works of Realism and the intellectual founda-
tions ofRomanticism. Even looking at the matter from a strictly ehronolog-
cal perspectve raises doubts about whether positivist trends could have been
the source of these writers' interest in empirical evidence and the material
Romanticism and Realism world in general: after all, the first great works of modern Realism, nan1ely
the novels ofStendhal and Balzac, began appearing befare 1830, at the height
of French Romanticism and well before Comte, Renan, and Taine.
The reader will grant, I hope, the designation of the Frenchmen Stendhal
la seconda bellezza che tu cele and Balzac as the first Realists. Germany at this time had not yet reached a
[the second beauty that you still conceal) stage of development where reality could become a focal point, and in En-
gland both a historical sensibility and the satirical-moralistic tradition still
+Dante, Purgatory 3113g
held too strong a grip. In contrast, Stendhal and Balzac (the latter more di-
rectly and to the exclusion of ali else) were concerned with depicting the
reality of their earthly worlds exactly, by capturing not just the spirit of the
age, but also (as it were) its very embodiment. They observed the layeredness
of the social world in detail and sought to lay hold of the real existential con-
~ ~:~e~~a;~~y :~,~~~7e~~~o:::i1/~:st~~~~~t~!~~ct~istic literary achieve- ditions of each and every individual living human being without excluding
1 1
represent human beings in the fuU ran e of th . e rst age to attempt to anything in principie, and also without subjecting their material to any kind
solely to this endeavor, which we callgRealis;1r ~veryday reality. It ':s due of analysis that could prevent their readers from recognizing their own, their
literature to maintain a vital connection to the ~t~e:t~:itam:_p~ss1ble for actual, reality as in a mirror.
porary society expressed itself-to its science its ec . m w i.c contem- But <lid such an endeavor really have no precedent in earlier times? Had
and desires (most of which it fulfilled) B , . enormes, a~d ts thoughts there not been-to stay with the French tradition-a realistic tradition in
narrowly defined that originated in tha ce:t~ottiast, the p~etic _w~rks more comedy ever since Moliere and a representation of reality in ali of its breadth
half) were often tragcally irrelevant to the in~e~ ~::~do~ie~'.ally t~ ~s second in the novel since Sorel, Scarron, Furetiere, and Lesage? At first glance, it is
of the time. At first, these works continued to produce o:r i~es ~ t e ~e~ple clear that these precursors are more limited in the areas of reality to which
ages by way of embellishment and erha s al casion poetc irn- they provide access and that they shape the everyday experiences they depict
that transcended the everyday.' But this hther s; a ~ague ~ense of a world more strictly according to certain norms from either the rationalist or the
ty linked t~ .t~e everyday, and thus remai!ed a rr'::ue:C;i~~i~~1:~~:t~:~i~l romance tradition. Insofar as they were realists, then, they did not in the
least attain the kind of significan ce in the literature of their <lay as the Real-
o~:t:1;:f !h: ~;:tl~:nce on .the general run of things waned and, in the s1e~~ ists of the nineteenth century <lid in theirs. But perhaps these differences can
lyrical genius conside1~d~~c~:e!h::;:~~ks of free, reative imagination and be understood as differences more of degree than in principie. One might
and any connection to the wider nation~r:u::ant o~both thei.r readership argue that the expansion of the kinds of material that occupied Realism and
admirers that survived retained only ad u bious aut
auth . e small circle of their the sudden dynamism that it brought to the representation of what had up
By contrast, the works of the Realist tradition, despite at fi t . to that point been a relatively rigid everydayness were motivated quite natu-
occasional resistance, generated a completely different ki drs efncouhntenng rally by the impact of the French Revolution and its aftermath, which caused
and broad-ba d . n o ent usiasm disturbances in the social order and, by introducing violent disruptions and
the turn to Re:;is;!~ie;~:~~i~t:f;~g;t i~i~ial:y ~e tempted to associate rearrangements of the social classes, generated a rich field of dramatic prob-
lems and events, and that these representations were more interesting as a
:::;i~:~::;~~e::;ng~;b:;t~:~:~ri~~m~~~;i~:1::~~~~i:1:~~ii~L::!!~~: result. This might seem adequate as a way of interpreting the great works of
is nsuffic t d . . . is vew is certamly legitimate. But it nineteenth-century Realism, for it places them in the context of the expecta-
. ht . ten bvi even misguded as soon as one assumes on this basis-as
mig seem o vious and correspond to ' . tions of the times out of which they emerged, and explains how, through the
sition between Realism and Romanticis:e;u1cnh1t1.a t1~p'.essions.-an oppo- particular conditions of their age, they arrived at new subject matter and the
1111 ra impressions do not
146 1 Erich Auerbach -~1~k
Romanticism and Realsm 1 147

possibility of new expressive forms. Toe works thus acquire greater sgnfi-
. . ...
;!. nection between the fi.rst works of modern Realism and the intellectual foun-
canee and can be viewed not so much as something entirely new but as the
final fruits of a preexisting artistic genre made possible by a different set of
, ,'J..
... ~ "r: dations of Romanticism is clearer now. The modern Realist novel destroyed
ancient, classicistic aesthetics and its concept of human dignity with a radi-
externa) conditions. _:::J:-:
;;.J~.~ calism that one finds in no other genre. In comparison, the identification of
Looking at the issue only in this way nevertheless misses the essential ~ the sublime and grotesque a la Vctor Hugo and his friends looks like me~e
point. It is not just the extent of the everyday that is decisive in the realism of decoration; indeed, Hugos Romantic historcal sensibility seems almost lud-
Stendhal and Balzac and in their European and American successors. Rather, crous. In turn, the concrete manifestations of Romantic irony as they carne to
what is decsive is that they undertook the depicton of human beings both the fore in Germany now appear in a new light, at first as a detour, but the~,
as they lived in the midst of their material everydayness and in the richness once they have been given their due, as capable of illuminating authentic
and depth of their inner humanty, with the intention of moving the reader reality. Compared to the powerful shadows of Shakespeare and. Cervantes
to participate emotionally as fully as possble in the fate of these individuals (which certainly appear no less powerful as a result of the companson), what
by means of tragic pity. Toe conditions of everyday life and the very most we see emerging in nineteenth-century Realism is something :n~irely new.
unique personality traits of individuals were not dealt with in solaton, apart Here, everydayness <loes not merely interrupt tragedy. Rather, t is the very
from their inner tragic existence. They were not depicted in order to have a home of the tragic itself. .
humorous or moralistic-ddactc effect, or to delight the upper classes with Leaving aside the question of whether Stendhal and Balzac w~re c~nsc1ous
colorful and quasi-ethnographic images of the lower rungs of social life. In- of its sgnficance, I believe that we must evaluate these two .wnters 111
stead, precisely as the result of a broadly conceived presentation of the ev- of the criteria provided by the traditional theory of style and 1ts. proble.matlcs.
eryday, human passions appear with the full force of their travails, and the In my estimation, these criteria explain and justify an !ntere~t m specific for-
individual human being appears with his own great and tragic dignity. Toe mal features of their art, for otherwise the preoccupanon with these authors
maltreated and humiliated seminarian Iulen Sorel, for exarnple, who experi- as individuals in the most extreme detail-as is typical of Stendhal criticism
ences ali kinds of comic mishaps, is a tragic hero; poor Goriot in the squalid (indeed, he invites such an approach)-could easily become frivolous and
everydayness of the Pension Vauquer is one as well, and the aged Grandet snobbish and have no point. After ali, how else could we legitimate our spe-
is not comical in the same way as Molieres miser. Such representations had cial interest in, say, a particular individual as opposed t~ all othe~s if not by
never existed before-or at Ieast not for a long time. One might conceivably claiming to see revealed in that person with un_que clantr a part'.cul~r mo;
believe (although it is doubtful) that Moliere had sought to transcend the ment of intellectual history, or, say, a mamfestat10n of God s hand 111 h1story
limits of the merely comical; or grant that the genre of the comdie larmoy- We must in fact assume that it is just such a feeling that helps to account for
ante, particularly Dderot's significant new developments, was pathbreaking our being seduced into an intense preoccupation with an~ parti~ular ':ork or
to a certain degree; or see in works like Manon Lescaut sorne first steps in individual from the past. But we cannot be content with ust th1s feelmg; we
the direction of what we are exploring here. But in terms of the extent of the must supplement it with an effort to understand its orig!ns as wel~ a~ to locate
everydayness and the depth of human tragedy, and, above ali, in the nter- the object of our fascination more precisely in its own h1.story. Th1s is_ the true
weaving of the two, no earlier work realizes any of these in a way that com- task of the historical disciplines, a task that transcends 1tself m the course of
pares with the Realism of the nineteenth century. Its entirely new and unique being accomplished.
contribution consists in the way it embeds the tragic within the everyday. Independent of the question, then, whether Stendhal and. Balzac. w~re
For centuries tragedy had been restricted to that particular faculty of the aware of the fact-a question to which I shall return-1 perce1ve the1r lus-
human soul that appeared to belong, sociologically, only to the highest class torical significance to lie in their radical rupture with the separation ~f styles,
of kings and heroes, whch, in terms of poetics, could only be represented in and thus in one of the basic tenets of Romanticism. Of course, the1r genre
the high style. Everydayness was so completely banished from the ambit of of choice-and the very form of the novel (Roman) itself-always possessed
this class that the tragic hero could never mention a handkerchief or even ask the potential for being Romantic. Even without the tragic realism of content
the time of <lay. It was Realism that discovered the sphere of the tragic within that Stendhal and Balzac depicted, the novel was not a class1cal form of art. It
a realm that had until then been home only to the base and the comic. It thus lacked the strict unity of action and the quasi-sculptural highlighting o_f each
more thoroughly and radically shattered the barriers that separated the styles individual sentence and word; in short, it lacked what we would des1gnate
than ali contemporary poetic prefaces, dramas, and historical novels taken as the properly classical features of pathos and formal rigor. And whi.le the
together had been able to do. Perhaps what I claimed earlier to be the con- genre of the novel existed prior to Romanticism and its precursors, 1t was
148 1 Erich Auerbach Romanticism and Realism 1 149

on 1~ the hi~torical sensibi!ity of Romanticism and, to an even greater extent, 1bis list of pre-Rornantic and Rornantic motifs could be extended and
tr~~1c Realism that_ br?ught out its I_atent rornantic nature by revealing its explored in even greater detail. Seen in this context, the rebellion against the
ability to put the prncple of the rn1X1ng of styles into action in a radical but traditional separation of styles is not arbitrary, isolated, or idiosyncratic, but
e~o~tless way. Beyond this one basic ten et of Rornanticism, however, the re- rather one of the basic features of the time and one that sheds interpretive
alistic novel is also intimately connected to ali other Romantic tenets insofar light on all the others and is in turn illuminated by them. The separation of
as they are themselves, like it, organically interconnected and grow out of a styles was thought to distort and degrade both ways of looking at human
common source, namely, a feeling for life. beings-the high and the Iow, the tragic and the comic-in equal measure; it
For do we not ~ee, b~ginning ':it~ 1:erder and Rousseau, the attempt to seemed to tear the very nature of humanity asunder in arbitrary ways. Only
reg_m~ the a~the~tlc reahty of the individual subject and the world-be it in by dismantling the distinctions this separation imposed was it possible to
res~stmg rat10nah~m and rule-based aesthetcs, civilization and social castes, regain what was most lacking in the traditions of rationalism and classicism,
~r in o~trage agamst the empty and excessively submissive world of tradi- namely a true inner life. Classical aesthetics had drawn selectively from real-
tion, or m the return to nature,_mankind, and feeling? Does not reality seem ity, choosing only what seemed useful for the purposes of instruction or plea-
to have _b_een _overly str~ctured 1~ the ~lassicizing, rationalist era to the point sure; such bits of reality, cobbled together out of isolated data into units of
?f forfe1tmg_ its authenticty! This desire to regain a sense of self and world instruction and delectation, rnight have occasionally awakened the memory
is apparent m the entire/ange o~ c~eative works produced by the new spirit of real experiences. But they were never able to evoke the totality of life as it
that carne t~ be ca~ed Romantc. Toe Romantic historians, for example, raced by. Against this background, the forces of individualism, historicism,
no lo'.1ger dfferentated between being fixated on facts and collecting and and lyricism rose up as with a common will to capture the concreteness of
studymg sou~ces, as the Maurist Benedictines had done, and a purely ratio- human interiority and the spirit of the world through its living body. It was
nal, system~t1c presentation like Voltaires. Rather, they united the two. For this common effort that gave birth to the radical mixing of styles and, conse-
~hem'. any g1v~n document opened a window not just onto the fact to which quently, to the realistic novel. Toe mixing of styles obviously attained its rich-
t testifies but, m the ~articulars of its form, onto the embodied spirit of a past est and purest fulfillment in the representation of contemporary reality. After
epoch as well: Each docu~ent thus inspires the unmediated presentation of all, the present offers itself and its reality in a more immediate and compre-
an epoch, whch the historian then aims to make real and concrete. In turn hensive fashion than any historical subject. Introspection is depicted more
the ~omantic phil?logists no longer inquired into normative use and gram~ genuinely, precisely, and radically when the subject is one's contemporary or
1:1at1cal rules, but mto the very origin and inner intention of languages and even one's own self. In turn, the surrounding world appears more genuine
hteratures thernselves, they too wanted to surrender themselves to the truth and authentic when it is presented from the perspective of the person who
of reality. 'Ihe earlier formulas that had guided philology; "It is thus" d "S actually experiences it. So it was that Realisrn was born out of the essence
. 1 Id be," , an o of Romanticism. Later intellectual movements might have transformed it in
't s tou e,
b gave way to the new formulas: "Thus it was,"> and "That IS hOW
1t carne to e, or This is how it developed." Political theorists and econo- various ways, enriching its material and refining its methods, often also ren-
mists l~ewise no longer sought to find the best forms of the state in their dering it crasser and flatter. But they did not create Realism; they found it
own rat1_onal cons~ructs, but instead strove to understand existing states and ready-made.
econom1es accordmg to their national, geological, historical, and social roots It is astonishing that Realism has hardly been researched or even consid-
and the_ possib_ilities that arose organically from these foundations. Reality ered against the background of its origins as I have discussed them here. In ali
was the1r startmg point and their goal. Poets, finally, did their best to free likelihood, the reason for this lies in the fact that even its creators, Stendhal
themsel:7es from ali formal conventions, ali traditional embellishments, and and Balzac, were themselves unaware of the relationships I have sketched out.
everythmg that smacked of reasonableness, utility, didacticism, pleasure, and Both remained distant to their more (strictly speaking) Romantic contempo-
amusem~nt. They gav~ themselves over instead to the very most immedi- raries. Stendhal disdained Chateaubriand's style, and he wanted to write pre-
~te expenences ?f feelmg, nature, and introspection. And even if, especially cisely and concretely, in the manner of the code civil. His entire demeanor, his
m Germany, th1s endeavor focused more on interiority and ideality than simultaneously cool and hedonistically passionate nature, had little in com-
on wh~t I referred to earlier as the "embodied" spirit of the age, here, too, mon with the pathos-laden and sentimental generation of a Lamartine or
the pomt depar~re w~s a _d~sire for the genuine reality of a pulsating Jife a Hugo. And yet in the 1820s, during the theater wars, Stendhal did write
force-Sch1llers Luise Mzllerm 1s, after ali, a German work of 1783. a small pamphlet entitled Racine and Shakespeare, in which-in his own
- r::
150 1 Erich Auerbach
Romanticism and Realism

hal's work. One would have to add specifics of time, place, and social sta-
1 151

u_nconventional way, to be sure-he defended the Romantics. And Balzac

sxteen years y~unger th_an Stendhal, always insisted on his classicistic tast~ tus to the description, but even then one could hardly get a picture of the
and l~ve of Racine, e_ven f t?ere is no trace of t in his work. In fact, his lack of whole. Toe most minute of everyday details penetrates stubbornly into the
atte~t1?11 to ~orm, his effusiveness of feeling, and his penchant for melodra- fates of his heroes, as Stendhal uses his often exaggerated psychological and
matic mventon and commentary ali make him appear-at least initially- sociological acumen to illuminate them, relentlessly, in ali their particular-
~ '.no~e Romantic than Ste~dhal. There thus at first seems to be almost nothin ity. Both he and his characters might despise these details, but that <loes not
in either author that testifies to the motives that were the mmed t g change a thing. They must do battle with them anyway, even if they rarely
)/,J of thei k . . ra e ongms
ir w_o1 , mottv~s that could be mterpreted in support of our thesis. And
emerge victorious-and if they do, it is never for long. Toe divn mprvu,
yet, ~ach m a very different way harbors the spirt ofRomanticism. the inner freedom of the "happy few"-these are oflittle use. They, too, must
First Sten~hal. Stendhal seems to despise the very everydayness that he turn to the petty tactics of hypocrisy and intrigue in their struggles and bor-
depicts. He views characters who are caught in it as either subaltern fools row their weapons from the arsenal of a despicable everydayness. They, too,
or rogues, ~r-m?stly-both. Toe actual course of the everyday world, the must run with the wolves. Stendhal's heroes thus exhibit iliat curious mixture
course of hstory tself is for hrn base and ful! of chicanery What sta d of deep-seated idealism and enthusiasm, on the one hand, and cold, diaboli-
T h n sm cal calculation, on the oilier. Toe combination has confused many readers.
opposi 10n to tt as_ t e object of his affection and wonder is a unique form
of ,~tono~y that is beyond the day-to-day; It is the essence of the "happy Toe extreme indifference of their cakulations often feels absurd and stands
few, and t can a~p.ea: as l?ve or heroism, as a sovereign esprit and freedom in stark contrast to the spontaneity of their youth. Yet, being both forceful
~f ~oul, or ~s a divin imprevu. But it_ is a fr~edom that never really engages and forced, such indifference can never succeed, because mere contempt can
senously WJ~ the everyday. Rather, it despises it and strives with ali its en- never engage actively with the reality of life. Whoever merely disdains the
ergy to exercrse sovereign control over it, both from the outside and from world would have to withdraw from it entirely.
abo~e. T:agedy as su~h plays itself out only between and among the "happy This conflict with everydayness brings to mind Rousseau's stance. Both
few, ':h1l~ base reality occurs-or ought to occur-well beneath them. Its authors are motivated by the same loathing of petty calculations, of social
rruptton mto the upper reaches is never allowed. Rarely in fact do we see hypocrisy, and of constrictions imposed on nature and the feelings. Even so,
the lower realm, the real course of the world, depicted as inorganically as Stendhal wants to be active in the world. Indeed, he hopes to attain fortune
Stendhal. For hm, this is the site of caprice, chance, and competition. Sel- and success. He thus encases his sensibility in the cold armor of indifference.
dom ~re ?uman acti~ns and thoughts so relentlessly portrayed as a network But this indifference no longer has the carefree spirit of the era befare Rous-
of abjection, hypocnsy, prejudice, vanity, and routine. Stendhal needs the seau. True, there is much in Stendhal that recalls that time, its rationalism
everyday only as a random foil; its impact is rarely truly tragic. Instead it is and its playful pre-Rousseauian serenity. At least, he would want to cal! all
nearly always grotesque, arbitrary, and externa!. Consder, for example, the this to mind. His hedonism, his tendency to ideological philosophizing, his
consequences that follow from the scene in which Fabrice del Dango kills th treatment of women figures, his wittiness, the careful precision of his style
actor Giletti, or the intrigue of the mock birth that deceives Lucien Leuw e which avoids vagueness and pathos-all these things are, or seem to be, of
and leads to his separation from Madame de Chasteller. en ilie eighteenth century; the skeptical old gents, like Mosca, del la Mole, or
And yet, Stendhal paints iliese everyday events with a penetrating Leewen, are holdovers from the ancien rgime, living their lives with wit and
e~actne~s-and t~is is striking. Each figure, each situation is constructed an air of superiority. And yet, time and again something does not quite fit.
w1th a kind ~f soc10l??ical precision. Toe freedom of the "happy few" is tied Stendhal's style is not matter-of-fact like the code civi/ and also not witty and
to v~~y spec1fic c?nd1tto~s in the real world, and it is only in relation to those light-hearted. Rather, his coolness constantly comes off as deceptive, his sen-
reaht1es that the1r confhcts are even possible and can be underst d 11 tences are fractured, erratic, and nihilistic. Toe aphoristic formulations of the
fe~ture of Stendhal's writing is easy to see when we consider the~v;y t~: seventeenth and eighteenth centuries degenerate into paradoxes in Stendhal.
Prmcesse de Cleves or Manon Lescaut or even Adolphe presents conflicts in Finally, his relationship to the supposedly cold, cakulated, and despicable
a more abstract, moral, and indirect relationship to the specific realities that realm of everydayness is certainly not the same. Toe age before Rousseau
P:oduced tl.1~m. How easy it would be to transpose one of those novels into a never loathed or despised the world of the everyday; it was simply beneath its
d1fferent_ m!l1eu wit~out having to change it in any essential way! One could dignity. Isolated bits could be selected out for instruction or pleasure and the
summanze them with abstract formulations like: "the story of a woma h rest simply ignored. But it is an odd kind of disdain that can rise to a passionate
" " 1 b nw o engagement with its object and then strive to uncover and depict its concrete
.. or a nove a out a young man who...." TI1is is unthinkable in Stend-
Romanticism and Realism 1 153
152 1 Erich Auerbach

details, Indeed, such a stance begins to be tragic, And so it is for Stendhals facts-when, for example, he depicts the worlds of finane; o~ ag1:icultu:--:~~
hroes: disdain for the world becomes deadly serious. 111e events that knock it turns out, unreliable, because he lacks the necess.ary ~rd earanc:he calm
them to the ground are not simple intrigues to be countered with calculation moment a heated event can break into the analyss an , estroky. . f t
' Wh t d minates Balzacs wor is, m ac '
and ingenuity; rather, given their quantty, consistency, and ubiquity, they atmosphere of a factu~1 account. . a o . ke althou h seldom
approach the power oftragic fate. Moreover, the heroes ofthe novels-Ren, the synthetic imaginat1on about wh1~h. he himself spo , I . Yk Zeuss
Obennann, Adolphe-are all self-portraits of the author, hidden confessions ver clearl . 'Ibis imagination is a striking phenomen~n. t. is "" i e "
and wishful projections at one and the same time. They are handsome and --:
,.,~. .

dafghter, lar it does not possess the abilit(es Goe~he pra1se~ h_~ p~::h~~
Goddess" (1883); rather, it is to be associated with those in iv~. ua "
elegant figures following a noble destiny and close to attaining fortune and Xtr"-'1
success. By contrast, Stendhal was an unattractive and awkward fellow whose Goethe compares wit11 the "other" unimaginative creatures and poor races .
phlegmatic constitution often paralyzed him physically and spiritually when
he most needed strength, and whose life was not without its misfortunes. It

Al! die andern

Armen Geschlechter
is well known how deep the wounds were that his phlegma inflicted on his
Der kinderreichen
ambition and pride. He was in the end a Romantic who dared to engage with
Lebendigen Erde
the real world. And he experienced concretely, time and again-for he was
Wandeln und weiden
both brave and stubborn-the truly Romantic tragedy that comes with living
Im dunklen GenuG
in that world: he was more capable than his most capable contemporaries,
Und trben Schmerzen
and yet less capable than the most random dummkopf No wonder, then, that
Des augenblicklichen
it was precisely Stendhal who discovered Realism, no wonder that his form
Beschrankten Lebens.
of tragedy should have emerged out of disdain for the everyday rather than
Gebeugt vom Joche
out of the immediacy of the everyday itself. This tragedy of an ultimately
Der Notdurft.
empty autonorny vis-a-vis the everyday remained his Romantic legacy, living
on through Madame Bovary, Frdric Moreau, and perhaps even beyond. [All the remaining
In the case of Balzac, things are apparently more straightforward. Here Races so poor
there is no doubt that we confront the fullness of the most authentic of reali- Oflife-teeming earth.
ties, whch he then takes completely seriously. The tragedy of bis characters In children so rich.
grows out of this context. His most perfect creations are embodiments of Wander and feed
the tragic impulses that he sees in the bourgeois reality of h is surroundings. In vacant enjoyment,
And even when his macabre exaggerations go beyond what a normal person And 'mid the dark sorrows
could experience in everyday life, at their core they remain yoked to real- Of evanescent
ity. He had no success in representing any actual freedom or true subjectiv- Restricted life,
ity. His depictions of puriry of heart or integrity of spirit are truly paltry, Bow'd by the heavy
since they never escape the material realm. He is most at home with figures Yoke ofNecessity.J
whose drives and impulses he depicts in the midst of a thoroughly mate- -The Poems of Goethe, Edgar Alfred Bowring, trans. (Middlesex: Echo
rial and down-to-earth world; each is a distinct character that he represents
Library, 2006 [1883]) 271.
with an at times childlike, but always powerful imagination. This imagina-
tion concerns itself, moreover, only with the givens of the empirical realm;
it can intensify, combine, and contrast its material data, but it never invents
The imagination that Goethe envisions coul~ o~ly look on such ere::~:~
erenely an_dokpelsY;ol~ltr:at ~it:!sa~:~;:~l~!t~: ~:~::~~~ta:~e;:ug~t in
anything beyond what is already there. Balzacs imagination <loes not even reams or J 1
' . h h imagma-
know much about the greater freedoms that can occur on the leve! of subjec-
tive reality. In spite of all this, however, the word "imagination" is unavoid- ~~vee ~v;;:i!~:1 :~:~:;~f ;~i~~s~he~~::e~d;d:fe~:st:::/g:~:i;:~;Je:~~
able when describing his work. Undoubtedly Balzac collected a great <leal of a melodramatic turn. And yet, w1thout a ou t, 1 is 1 .
empirical evidence and often attempts methodical analyses of situations and
characters. But he never stops there. TI1e precision with which he presents
reason, science, or Chtrist~~~~:;;:~l~
<lay here. Yet, we mus as
i::~s s~t:=~~;:1~~e:
~~t: ;~~{d
l 54 1 Erich Auerbach
Romanticism and Realism 1 155

the force of imagination that it should now try its hand at giving shape to . d a settmg..
TI11ls new medium displays
everyday reality and see in Goethe's "other races so poor" the captivating ema now that the stage is too limite . ns and even if
,. .sibiltes each year surpassing all pnor expectato ,
world ofthe human? I would reply: Toe imagination was transformed by the amazmg possi 1 ' i ' . ti t is clearly ful! of promise as the century
modern European spirit's discovery-in the period whose high point we call its results are often isappom i~gh, i d d There are two paths forward.
. to that of s1g t an soun
Romanticism-that realty itself is in a state of perpetua! becornng, and that of readng grves w l ay f that allows us to see a recollecting conscious-
there is nothing but life all around us. This is a discovery that Goethe helped In the novel we iave a orm . fon as the quivering silhouette
to bring about. What Balzac presents, then, is not mere reportage or critique, ness creating t~e earthly realm. as ~e~:~~e~~ a~d then created anew. Such a
but life. And life demands imagination in order to be depicted in unmediated of a world that is constantly be1:t, ybut its thematic allusiveness offers
fashion and in its entirety. world initially seems cha?t1c .n ;2~;re~rder In cinema there is a new way
The impulses that led Balzac to turn the powers of his imagination to the the promise of a vaguely mtmted h g . 1 t . nd combining multifaceted
. 1 !'ty of mampu a mg a
reality ofhis own time were part ofhis basic character. Reality was spread out of constructmg externa rea I ' . tem orall dispersed. Such a collapsing
before him like a bounteous feast before a glutton, and he consumed it with events and bringin~ together wh~ is ~ exis~ed before. While not under-
reckless abandon. He had his start, as we know, in the lower forms of the pop- of time and space mto one anot er neve . . . <loes in my
ular novel, a melodramatic mixture of inauthentic feelings and sham reality. mining all prior aesthetic traditionl ~ their e;~:;J~ t:;:~n=~ a co~plete
These forms had arisen because the high style of classicistic genres failed to opinion, sh~ke them to ;~e!: f~~t~ ~~1~~s :rections is, finally, the tendency
satisfy the publics demand for a literature that involved the emotions di- transformatlon. Comm . t !din of individual events or of a small
rectly. And while this tradition left its trace in sorne of Balzac's masterpieces, to do away with the contmuous un ~h !st common practice in novels and
he was able to liberate the genre from its more sordid orgns and inauthentic number of unified actio~s as was, i~:1t ;f~ w~alth of events. Instead, the con-
subject matter. His somewhat coarse but warm and magnanimous heart, and stageplays, carefullydcuUmg these ent a large number of occurrences, images,
the directly sensual quality of his writerly talents, introduced him to what temfporary nt so7~:~onc:~1~:r~;~:r than following temporally or causallydo~e
were to become the real subjects of the modern epic. They also led him to or ragmen ' . . we might have expecte 111
reject decisively the theatrical mixing of styles fashionable in French Roman- after the other or leading to the kmd of conc1us1011 here we find complexes
ticism, against which he often polemicized, as in the Preface to La Peau de earlier times, relate to each other onl;~;e~r~.~;;~:ceptions of the unity ~f
chagrn [1he Wild Asss Skin]. For this reason, he was unaware that his own of miscellaneous events that, accord gd 11 h b. ak into the reality that is
Id h lace there an w ic 1 e
tragic realisrn, which was for him a "primal experience," was Romantic in a action, wou ave no p ' .d f unity of action is disappearing.
deeper historical sense. Of course he entitled his masterwork La Comdie being represented. Indeed, fe very ~ e;/out from the totality of events in
humaine [The Human Comedy]; the reference here back to the greatest me- Earlier methods of separatmg an. ep1hso t t'eth century to falsify the au-
. seems 111 t e wen 1 , .
dieval monument to the mixing of styles makes it easy for us to interpret his the world m a c ean way ' t . entury any apparently object1ve
project in terms of Romanticism. But the context that caused Dante to cal! thenticity of the real. ~urt~ermo::r ~;1~:ir ~onceived or artificial if it seems
bis work a "cornedy" even as he considered it a sacred poem, was certainly representation of reahty will app . y 'f t seems to intervene in
ng consc10usness, or 1 1
not one that was apparent to Balzac. to bracket out t he expenenc1 I . d new existential precision must
Tragic realism has developed considerably since the nineteenth century. reality in only. instr.umental w;y:n~:!ea~t~ the experiencing subject itself.
With the exception of kitsch, in which it had a persistent afterlife, the mixing remain at ali times mt1mately o p dern novels as opposed to cinematic
of styles is no longer an issue for realsrn, and the opposition between empty This development is clearest m many mo h . employs them only
ideality and realty, which was a holdover from a mentality that kept stylistic drama, which though it <loes us~~he:~~~~i:~al~~~~~s,if usually rough and
levels separate, has all but disappeared. The task that tragic realism faces now ?J
as a means to the end ~e~en foin so probably out of consideration for
is the task of creating a sen se of an ideal order from reality itself one capable poorly constructed, um e p ot- 11 1 g . to understand its own place in
an audience that is only gradua y earnmg
ofbringing about tragic catharsis. One might object that contemporary real-
ism is not even aware that this is its mission. But it <loes incessantly search for this new reality. . t I said for the concrete depiction
true reality, and this search will and must continue. Having passed through These n~w techniques are approp~~ :h:s
ositi;istic amassing of emprica!
the periods of Romanticism and positivism, the realistic novel is even now of true reahty. They have far surpass d . , caims to autonomy. A new desire
finding new techniques with which to begin to address the question of actual data and thereby have also destroye its f t cannot et be proclaimed as
rea!ity in earnest. In addition to the novel, tragc realism has turned to cin- for totality and unity can ~hus. be felt,h~ver 1 1 d they r~spond to what they
law. For many, the world is st1ll too c ao ic, an
156 1 Erich Aucrbach

see by calling it the newest phase in the ongoing dismantling of bourgeois

culture and by crying out for order, Of course, insofar as it is intelligible,
true reality can only be represented as ordered. But arder could hardly arise
out of a merely programmatic will to orderlness, for any such order would
necessarily be too narrow, 110 matter where the origins of its laws lay. And it
would be trying to force reality into a mold, which would be futile. Instead,
the ordering of reality must emerge out of reality itself or at least out of the
living human beng's engagement with it. Only in that case will it be capa-
cous, firrn, and flexible enough to grasp and embrace its object.
There once was a form of tragic realism, long before Romanticism, that
was able to grasp our chaotic world as an authentic reality with its own inner
order. I am referring to the tragc realism of the Middle Ages and to its source
in the story of Christ. This form of realism achieved the most radical destruc-
tion of the separation of styles since antiquity, and brought about the most
radical instantiation of tragc realisrn that has ever been seen. lt originated
in Gods sacrfice of Himself to earthly reality. The reality of our world has
changed so significantly that any recourse to this earlier notion would be
absurd. But how else could an order and truth of reality even be imaginable
if not by seeing God in it?