Anda di halaman 1dari 16
Erich Auerbach and the Fate of Philology Today Michael Holquist Comparative Literature, Yale ‘Hugh of St, Victor, Didascalicon, vol. 3. Ursprumg ist das Ziel. Karl Kraus, Morte in Versen, vol. 1. Abstract The work—and life—of Erich Auerbach has attracted increasing atten- tion in recent years. A new collection, Literary History and the Challenge of Philology: The Legacy of Erich Auerboch, edited by Seth Lerer, investigates Averbach's enduring fascination and makes an important contribution to current debates about method- ology, the place of politics in our practice, as well as the place of history and its relation to theory. If we now look back at the years from the First World War to the cold war of the 1950s, it ia hard not to experience a kind of Kantian disgust in the face of our recent history’s stupidity and bloodshed. And yet there is a curious antithesis in all this violence for those who love words: The same period is one of the golden ages of philology. It was during these years that Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Erich Auerbach, Walter Benjamin, René Wellek, Roman Jakobson, and the Ernst Cassirer of The Philasophy of Symbolic Forms, flourished. With the exception of Curtius, all these men were exiles, suggesting that it may be time to rethink the relationship be- tween exile and reading. Surely the contributors to this impressive volume believe so. Peetics Today 20:1 (Spring 1999). Copyright © 1999 by the Porter Insiuue for Poetics and cs 78 Poetics Today 20:1 Among the eminent dead I have just named, Auerbach (although to a lesser degree than Benjamin) is attracting increasing attention. His career is a siren song to alienated literary scholars, mos. of whom suspect in their souls thar their lives lack the authenticity to underwrite their authority on the page. The myth of Auerbach’s being able to put his exile to use holds out the rarely glimpsed promise of a fusion between life and work. Bakh- tin, another victim of oppression who spent much of his life in exile (even before his arrest and deportation to Kazakhstan), began his career by pub- lishing an impossible demand: “Art and life are not one, but they must become united in myself—in the unity of my answerability” (19g6: 21. On the basis of the essays in this anthology, it is clear that even very sophisti- cated intellectuals trained to suspect all claims to unity still feel the need to negotiate them, and Auerbach is a gift of history for any such negotiation. Learned professors usually {and rightly) begin talking about Auerbach by declaring that “it would, no doubt, be a great oversimplification to aver that Auerbach’s preoccupations with a literary Europe in decline . . . re flect his own experiences as a Jew in 1930's Germany, as an academic exile in Turkey. and, later, an intellectual emigre in America” (Lerer 1996: 5)- Bur it is precisely the attempt to complicate this oversimplification that underpins most writing on Auerbach. Literary History and the Challenge of Philology: The Legacy of Erich Auerbach is a beautifully edited collection of essays that grew out of a conference organized in October 1992 by the anthology's editor, Seth Lerer. Further evidence of Auerbach’s enduring fascination, the volume contains several strong pieces and is in every way a contribution to current debates about methodology. the place of politics in our practice, as well as the place of history and its relation to theory. Continued concern for Auerbach's work, long after the decline of the “philology” of which he was a paladin, is a of some interest in itself. While Mamesis was perceived as an important book from the moment of its publication, Auerbach has argu- ably a wider following now than at any point during his lifetime. Auerbach was always suspicious of generalities, but near the end of his life he twice attempted to provide a synthetic definition of his own method.! A central concern in these two essays is the importance of find- 1, Auerbach i969 [1952 1-17; and the introductory essay in Auerbach 3993 [1958]. OF course, for all his impatience with empry theorizing, Averbach bad tried w define his method on at least two cartier occasions: in 1946, in the final chapter and epilogue ro the original German-ianguage edition of Sime, and th a 1 a oe ea im response To reviews of his book and added 10 its English version. In this regard, the co omy on Vio 6 96 ny Be ged at enon vo only of oy but of the particular kind of philology Auerbach saw himeell' as practicing; see also Auer- bach 1g6i7 [1948] and 1967 [1958]. Holquist - Erich Auerbach and the Fate of Philology Today = 79 ing a proper—indeed, the proper—entrance into a text, the famous An- zalzpunkt, For Auerbach, finding just the right point is crucial, because its selection can make or break any reading subsequent to the initial mo- ment of choice: As he quotes Augustine in the epigraph for “Philology and Waeltiteratur,” “Nonmulla pars inventionis est nosse quid quacras.” There is an unavoidable anxiety, then, in deciding where to enter a book about Auerbach. My procedure in this article will be to concentrate on what is overwhelmingly the major concera of the authors in the Lerer anthology, namely, to understand the relation of exile and reading. The essays mani- fest this concern in their constant attention to Auerbach’s life as it was In his introduction, Lerer (1996: 2) writes that Auerbach is separated “poignantly from his contemporaries, Leo Spitzer and Ernst Robert Cur- ius, .. . It is the personal, the self-reflective, in Auerbach that late-twen- Ueth-century readers treasure, as if what marked the magisterium of his work was the very suffering that brought him from Marburg, to Istanbul, to Pennsylvania State, and finally to Yale where he died as Sterling Profes- sor of Romance Languages in 1957.” The terms of this formulation—“poi- gnantly," “personal,” “suffering"—together with the exotic itinerary (the global dislocations that periodize Auerbach’s life) have become obligatory items when dealing with Auerbach? At the very least, they set the tone for much that follows in the fourteen essays that make up this volume. No matter how critical or formal the analyses provided by the authors of these pieces, each contains a sympathetic reference to Auerbach’s life. Two in- stances, chosen almost at random: Jesse Gellrich, in a well-reasoned essay, says, “I too have been suggesting a personal and political context to Auer- bach’s approach to representation. . . . The resistance of Hebraic style to foregrounding assumptions about representation creates a sense of uncer- tainty and suspense in the story of Abraham or David which Auerbach aligns with his own experience of historical uncertainty in Germany and Turkey” (116). Or, in Lerer’s own essay, “Philology and Collaboration,” chapter seven of Mimesis is read less as 2 commentary on the medicval waystery play Jew d’Adem than as a thinly disguised polemic with a French editor of the play and with Jean-Paul Sartre. Even Auerbach’'s most ab- struse scholarship is seen to blur “the line berween the philological and the political” as he erects a reading of an ancient text in opposition to French scholars. “Auerbach tells the story of the Fail as the figural narrative of col- 2, The emphasis oa the significance of Auerbach's life for his work is a ropos encountered in the literature on Auerbach: see, ¢.g., Geoffrey Green 1982: 11-82; Paul Bove 1986; or Karl F. Morrison 1982: 408-414. Green contributes an essay, “Erich Auerbach and the ‘nner Dream’ of Transcendence,” co Lerer 1996.