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Scenes from the Drama of European Literature

Scenes from the Drama of European Literature

Erich Auerbach
Foreword by Paolo Valesio
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Scenes from the Drama of European Literature
    Book Description:

    In his foreword to this reprint of Erich Auerbach’s major essays, Paolo Valesio pays tribute to the author with an old saying that he feels is still the best metaphor for the genesis of a literary critic: the critic is born of the marriage of Mercury and Philology. The German-born Auerbach was a scholar who specialized in Romance philology, a tradition rooted in German historicism - the conviction that works of art must be judged as products of variable places and times, not from the eye of eternity, nor by a single unchanging aesthetic standard. The mercurial element in Auerbach’s work is significant, for in a life of motion - of exile from Hitler’s Germany - he came to believe that literary history was evolutionary, ever-changing - a view reflected in the title of his book, which suggests life and literature are historical drama. Auerbach is best known for his magisterial study Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, written during the war, in Istanbul, when he was far from his own culture and from the books that he normally relied on. In 1957, just before his death, he arranged for the publication in English of his six most important essays, in a volume called Scenes from the Drama of European Literature. As in Mimesis, Auerbach’s fresh insights bring to the disparate subjects of the essays a coherence that reflects the unity of Western, humanistic tradition, even while they hint at the deepening pessimism of his later years. In the first essay, “Figura,” Auerbach develops his concept of the figural interpretation of reality; applied here to Dante’s Divine Comedy, it also served as groundwork for his treatment of realism in Mimesis. A second essay on Dante’s examines the poet’s depiction of St. Francis of Assisi. The next three essays deal with the paradoxical nature of Pascal’s political thought; the merging of la cour and la ville - the king’s entourage and the bourgeoisie - chiefly in relation to the seventeenth-century French theater; and Vico’s formulation concepts by the German Romantics. In the final essay Auerbach confers upon Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal the designation “aesthetic dignity” because, not in spite of, the hideous reality of the peoms. “A major collection of important essays on European literature, almost all classics, and almost all required reading for their various centuries - thus the book is indispensable for the medieval period,the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries; in addition, the ‘Figura’ and the Vico essays are very significant theoretical statements. The book is lucid and far more accessible for undergraduates than, say, current high theory. Nor has Auerbach’s own work aged .... All of his varied strengths are evidence in this collection, which is a bettery way into his work than Mimesis.” - Fredric Jameson, University of California, Santa Cruz.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-0006-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xxviii)
    Paolo Valesio

    The vision of empty seats waiting for their worthy occupants is a haunting one. It evokes so forcibly the knot of presence and absence as to be almost sinister—no matter whether such empty, waiting seats are situated in some empyrean region (as in theSomnium Scipionis) or in Paradise (as in that moving Dantesque image of political postponement inParadisoXXX, 133-38, where the fact that the seat is not really empty, for a crown is resting on it, waiting for a head to adorn, enhances this sinister beauty); or down, down the other way to the depths of...

  4. “FIGURA”
    (pp. 9-76)

    Originallyfigura, from the same stem asfingere, figulus, factor,andeffigies, meant “plastic form.” Its earliest occurrence is in Terence, who inEunuchus(317) says that a young girl has anova figura oris(“unaccustomed form of face”). The following fragment of Pacuvius (270-1, in Ribbeck,Scaen. Roman. Poesis Fragm.,I, 110) probably dates from about the same period:

    Barbaricam pestem subinis nostris optulit

    Nova figura factam . .

    (To our spears she presented an outlandish plague Fashioned in unaccustomed shape.)

    The word was probably unknown to Plautus; he twice usesfictura (Trinummus,365;Miles Gloriosus,1189); but...

    (pp. 77-98)

    Few passages in theParadisoare as well-known and as generally admired as the eleventh canto; this is not surprising, for its subject is St. Francis of Assisi and the verse is exceptionally beautiful. Yet the admiration for this canto is not entirely self-explanatory. Francis was one of the most impressive figures of the Middle Ages. The whole of the thirteenth century, which covered Dante’s youth, was as it were impregnated with his personality. No contemporary habit of life, voice, or behavior have reached us as clearly as his. His character stood out by virtue of its many contrasts. His...

    (pp. 99-130)

    Fragment 298 of Pascal’sPenséesis a vigorous attempt to show the weakness of human justice. It runs as follows in the Brunschvicg edition:

    Il est juste que ce qui est juste soit suivi: il est nécessaire que ce qui est le plus fort soit suivi. La justice sans la force est impuissante; la force sans la justice est tyrannique. La justice sans force est contredite, parce qu’il y a toujours des mèchants; la force sans la justice est accusée. Il faut donc mettre ensemble la justice et la force; et pour cela faire que ce qui est juste soit...

    (pp. 131-180)

    In seventeenth-century sources two new designations for those to whom literary and above all dramatic works are addressed, take their place side by side with such general terms aslecteurs, spectateurs, auditeurs, assemblée.These new terms arele publicandla cour et la ville.

    Originallyle publicmeant the body politic, the state. Corneille uses it in this sense inHorace(line 443:mais vouloir au public immoler ce qu’on aime[“but will to immolate what one loves to the public”]) and in(Edipe(line 730:vivez pour le public comme je meurs pour lui[“live for the public...

    (pp. 181-198)

    Modern critics of art or of literature consider and admire, with the same preparedness for understanding, Giotto and Michelangelo, Michelangelo and Rembrandt, Rembrandt and Picasso, Picasso and a Persian miniature; or Racine and Shakespeare, Chaucer and Alexander Pope, the Chinese lyrics and T. S. Eliot. The preference they may give to one or the other of the various periods or artists is no longer imposed upon them by certain aesthetic rules or judgments dominating the feelings of all our contemporaries, but such preferences are merely personal predilections originating from individual taste or individual experiences. A critic who would condemn the...

    (pp. 199-226)

    This poem is all of one movement. Actually, despite the period after the fourth stanza, it seems to consist of a single sentence; made up of three temporal dependent clauses, each taking up a whole stanza, each beginning withquand,and of a main clause with several subdivisions, which unfolds in the last two stanzas. The alexandrine meter makes it clear that this is a serious poem, to be spoken slowly and gravely; it contains allegorical figures written in capital letters,Esperance, Espoir, Angoisse;and we also find epithets and other rhetorical figures in the classical style(de son aile...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 227-250)
  11. Index
    (pp. 251-256)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)