Friday, November 03, 2006

Erich Auerbach appreciated

I am rereading Mimesis, the ur-text of comparative literature, and one of the first works of lit crit I read as a grad student. (It should be noted that I read very little lit crit as an undergrad, a sign of the very traditional honors English program at Michigan back in the day... and also the reason I decided to pursue a PhD in literature. I thought I'd be studying literature. Who knew?) But anyway, I loved Auerbach and particularly "Odysseus's Scar," the first chapter, about externalization and presentness. A key early argument is that Homer doesn't attempt to create suspense by using flashbacks, which requires the current action to stay at least somewhat in the reader's mind while the author goes into the past. For suspense to occur, the reader has to remember what's going on in the present and want to get back to it.

On the second page of the library book I took out, a reader has underlined "But Homer--and to this we shall have to return later--knows no background. What he narrates is for the time being the only present, and fills both the stage and the reader's mind completely." And then that reader has noted in very small letters in the margin: "I agree. Dankeschoen E.A." Another reader writes below that, "thank *you,* benny. E.A. (never had no one appreciate me)"

That's just a little appreciation to the anonymous annotators of this copy of Mimesis. I don't normally approve of writing in library books, but you have to love this.

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