Representing Reality: Erich Auerbach’s Concept of MemoryMediha Göbenli
This article presents an analysis of Erich Auerbach’s concept of memory as a method of representing reality – as “recovery of lost realities in remembrance” – through Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Times (1913–1927). In the last chapter of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Auerbach demonstrates that use of a first-person narrator, an important characteristic of the modern novel, means at the same time a preoccupation with the literary depiction of memory. As a form of consciousness depiction, memory is “the memorizing consciousness,” comparable to the metaphor of a flash (Benjamin, 1977, p. 253) that enlightens the sub-conscious. Defining Proust’s literary depiction, called by Auerbach a “recovery of lost realities,” and by his friend Walter Benjamin “visualization” of memory, one recognizes an interesting analogy between Benjamin and Auerbach’s concepts of memory.
Darstellung der Wirklichkeit: Erich Auerbachs Konzept von ErinnerungMediha Göbenli
In diesem Artikel werde ich Erich Auerbachs Konzept von Erinnerung als Darstellungsmethode für die Erforschung der Schilderung der Wirklichkeit in der Literatur -„wiedergefundene Wirklichkeit“- anhand von Virginia Woolfs Roman To the Lighthouse und Marcel Prousts Roman Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Zeit (1913-1927) untersuchen. Auerbach zeigt im letzten Kapitel der Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur, dass die Beschäftigung mit der IchErzählerinstanz, die von Auerbach als eine wichtige Eigenschaft des modernen Romans ausgemacht wird, gleichzeitig auch eine Beschäftigung mit der literarischen Darstellung von Erinnerung bedeutet. Als eine Form der Bewußtseinsdarstellung ist Erinnerung gleichzeitig „das erinnernde Bewußtsein“, vergleichbar mit der Metapher eines Blitzes (Benjamin), der, wenn er einschlägt, im Unterbewußtsein Verborgenes zum Vorschein bringt. Bei der Festlegung der Darstellungsweise von Proust, von Auerbach als „Wiederfinden der Wirklichkeit“, und von seinem Freund Walter Benjamin1 als „Vergegenwärtigung“ der Erinnerung bezeichnet, erkennt man eine interessante Parallele zwischen Benjamins und Auerbachs Erinnerungsvorstellung.
This article explores Erich Auerbach’s concept of memory as a method of representing reality – “recovery of lost realities in remembrance” – through a close reading of Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse (1927) and Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Times (1913–1927). In the last chapter of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Auerbach demonstrates that use of a first-person narrator, an important characteristic of the modern novel, indicates at the same time a preoccupation with the literary depiction of memory. This study’s goal is to shed light on memory as a form of consciousness; thus memory is “the memorizing consciousness,” comparable to a metaphor of a flash (Benjamin) that enlightens the sub-conscious. Defining Proust’s literary depiction, called by Auerbach “recovery of lost realities,” and by his friend Walter Benjamin “visualization” of memory, an interesting analogy can be noted between Benjamin and Auerbach’s concepts of memory. Both terms assume profound engagement with the past. Hence Auerbach and Benjamin have argued that through such engagement, important historical and social moments are made visible as descriptions of reality – the recovery of lost realities in remembrance. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Auerbach and Benjamin’s perspectives intersect in depicting Proust’s novel as “chronicle of memory.” In “Thesis about History of Philosophy,” Benjamin uses another metaphor for memory, the metaphor of a flash in a “moment of danger.” In “The Brown Stocking,” the last chapter of Mimesis, Auerbach elaborates on stylistic characteristics of modernist novels, for instance, multi-personal representation of consciousness, lack of objective authorial perspective, the problem of space and time in comparison to film. He does this through a phenomenological analysis of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Times. Auerbach’s methodology of research is comparable to gold digging in the deepest layers of the earth. His phenomenological interpretation of text fragments is prolific because it leads to “recovery of lost realities as remembrance.” Walter Benjamin, who co-translated Proust’s two books of Lost Times in 1926, uses in “The Image of Proust” (1929), the term “remembering author,” that is, one who works on memory through “tight weaving” (strenge Webevorschrift). Thus “the weaving of memory” (Proust’s mémoire involontaire) is the key metaphor for Benjamin. Auerbach concludes his elaboration of modernist novels with a critique of their content. He underlines that modernist authors’ writings are characterized by a “turning away from the practical will to live,” “hatred of culture and civilization, brought out by means of the subtlest stylistic devices which culture and civilization have developed,” “a radical and fanatical urge to destroy,” and an “amorphous sadness, and doubt of life” (487–488). Auerbach’s Mimesis is a book of memory that covers Western literature from the ancient world to the modernist novel in the 20th century. Peter Weiss employs the term mnemosyne (“mother of all arts: called memory”). Searching for the development of a historical memory, in his three-volume novel The Aesthetic of Resistance (1975, 1978, 1981), Weiss has discussed works of art from different ages, beginning with antiquity through to the modernist novel, like Auerbach, as memory. The memory of resistance has the same function as the memory of art, with which an analogy to Benjamin’s “Thesis on the Philosophy of History” is associated. “To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it the way it really was. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” (Benjamin 1940/1977, p. 253). For Benjamin, the moment of danger meant the total danger of death throughout Hitler’s regime, which threatened dissidents as well as traditions and cultures. In this way, for Benjamin, memory is equivalent to a flash that enlightens the memorizing consciousness.