East-West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey

East-West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey

East-West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey

East-West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey

Synopsis

East West Mimesis follows the plight of German-Jewish humanists who escaped Nazi persecution by seeking exile in a Muslim-dominated society. Kader Konuk asks why philologists like Erich Auerbach found humanism at home in Istanbul at the very moment it was banished from Europe. She challenges the notion of exile as synonymous with intellectual isolation and shows the reciprocal effects of German émigrés on Turkey's humanist reform movement. By making literary critical concepts productive for our understanding of Turkish cultural history, the book provides a new approach to the study of East-West relations.

Central to the book is Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, written in Istanbul after he fled Germany in 1936. Konuk draws on some of Auerbach's key concepts- figura as a way of conceptualizing history and mimesis as a means of representing reality- to show how Istanbul shaped Mimesis and to understand Turkey's humanist reform movement as a type of cultural mimesis.

Excerpt

Leaving behind the life he cared about, Erich Auerbach arrived in Istanbul late in the summer of 1936. No one remembers whether he came by ship or by train, but had he taken the northerly route, he would have come on the Orient Express, passing through Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Already, there were Nazi uniforms on station platforms in Munich, as well as other, more heartening sights— peasants beginning their harvest, the Jewish quarter in Budapest, and the medieval architecture of Bucharest. During the three-day journey eastward, the Prus sian scholar might have wondered at what point Europe ceased to be Europe and the familiar no longer spelled home. Yet, even at the end of the line, where minarets punctured the sky, it would have been difficult to locate Europe’s boundary. in Istanbul, the Orient Express ran parallel to the old walls of Constantinople and came to a stop in the Sirkeci terminal—a rather modern building designed by one of his own countrymen. For passengers arriving from the West, the station represented the city at its best: it was located on the shores of Byzantine Constantinople, where many of the guides and station’s clerks spoke French or German.

But perhaps Auerbach sailed via Italy and Greece, the cradle of classical Europe. With his monograph on Dante, the precursor of Re naissance humanism, in his baggage, he would have likely embarked in Genoa, crossed the Mediterranean, and put in at Piraeus, near Athens. This was the route connecting Goethe’s land of lemon blossoms to the country that had long been referred to as “the sick man of Europe.” While these . . .

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