Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature —by Erich Auerback

[Note: We chose to display the cover from the French edition from the 60’s rather than the modern cover.]

Erich Auerback did one of the most extensive studies of mimesis in literature before Girard. Auerback, professor or Romance Languages at Yale University, makes a sweeping account of European literature from the Odyssey to Ulysses and includes passages from Virginia Woolf and Proust, Tacitus, Petronius, St. Augustine, St. Francis, Dante, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Montaigne, Standhal, Flaubert and Zola, among many others. His recounting of the story of Adam and Eve and the role of mimesis in original sin is particularly striking.

This work was the forerunner to Girard’s much more complex Deceit, Desire, and the Novel where he goes beyond mere representation and explores the imitation, or mimesis, of desire in the characters of important works of Western literature. Auerbach’s book focuses more on surface-level artistic imitation; Girard on the imitation of desire, around which he constructed his anthropology of the human person. Auerbach is sure to still fascinate scholars of literature, though, and his work dovetails with Girard’s mimetic theory.