Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Auerbach's Scars: Judaism and the Question of Literature

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Auerbach's Scars: Judaism and the Question of Literature

Article excerpt


ERICH AUERBACH'S BOOK MIMESIS, written in Istanbul between 1942 and 1945, is a fascinating example of literary criticism that does not deny its dual origins- its "scars."1 My essay discusses Auerbach's book in its historical context and explores its theophilological pretext: Auerbach's reading of the biblical story of the Akeda (the binding of Isaac) that follows the account of Odysseus 's scar. Auerbach's interpretation of the silent and unrepresentable scene of Abraham's story constitutes in M'une¿ià the condition for the possibility to discuss literary representation. The text on the hidden and formless Jewish God who has no image is the origin of Auerbach's critical discourse of representation.

Auerbach's view and experience of Judaism and its relationship to his literary enterprise has been discussed in recent years in various contexts.2 My essay deals with this question, but charged with a different urgency. In my view, Auerbach's Mime¿i¿, his concept of literature, and his understanding of realistic representation should not be separated from his views on Jewish monotheism and from his modernist negotiation with its heritage. I do not suggest, therefore, reading Muneo'w as a "Jewish" project of literature or denying other contexts of reading this book, such as the "Romanist" one.3 The reception of Auerbach's book as a project of European humanism, reading Mune¿i¿ as an exilic perspective on Western civilization/ exploring its Turkish context,5 revealing its non-European roots, are all significant for understanding Auerbach and the different feces and legacies of his book.6 My own contribution, however, is based on the argument that Mun&)ie attests to the ambiguous structure of identity; Muneo'w shows the differences and similarities, the gaps and the belonging-together of the Jewish, the Christian, and the Greek. It is the structure of a cut and a stitch, the structure of a scar, that reflects the dialectics of representation in Auerbach's project. The scar is the signature <&M'une¿i¿. It is the sign of German Jewish writing that was charged with an experience of pain, crisis, and exile- Europe 19427 In other words, my essay returns to discuss the ambiguous representation of Judaism in Mimeóià, not in order to ground Auerbach's project in its "Jewish background" or to attest to his attraction to Christian doctrines. Rather, I wish to show how Auerbach's work involves resistance and denial, and deconstructive treatment of origins and traditions, which, however, lead to a productive and progressive understanding of literature. This is why I suggest discussing the foundational contexts of Auerbach's work, yet without arguing for their preference in terms of origins or identities.

In the first part of the essay, following a short biographical introduction, I discuss three examples that demonstrate the complexities of his project: first, Auerbach's interpretation ?? figura as a literary mode of representation that has a theological dimension and which embodies messianic potential; second, Auerbach's remarks on Shakespeare's Shylock, the Jewish pariah, which are interwoven in his readings of Shakespeare's royal dramas; and third, his modernist approach to literature that is based on the philology of the fragment (the scene, the broken piece, the quotation, the foreign word). In the second part of the essay I discuss Auerbach's interpretation of the Akeda and argue about how the theological dimension of the biblical story- the secret, the silence, the hidden, and the unrepresentable dimension - is transformed into the reabrí of literature. Finally, I offer a short comparative reading of Auerbach, Kierkegaard, Derrida, and Levinas on the question of Abraham's silence. Through these correspondences, the radical potential of Aurebach's interpretation wall be illuminated and "fulfilled."


Erich Auerbach was born in Berlin in 1892 to a family of Jewish origin. He received his education at the Französische Gymnasium in Berlin (1900-10) and later studied law at Berlin University from 1910 to 1913. …

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