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University of Oregon

Review: [untitled] Author(s): Erich Auerbach Source: Comparative Literature, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter, 1949), pp. 82-84 Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the University of Oregon Stable URL:

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of Mazon's "theories"was indeed in order. If the spread of misconceived and obsolete notions can at all be arrested in our day and age, it is sure to be stopped, with reference at least to the cherished cultural heritage of the Igor', by this sound and brilliantly executed defense of the authenticity and greatness of the Slovo.

AND LITERARY LINGUISTICS By Leo Spitzer. HISTORY.ESSAYS IN STYLISTICS. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948. viii, 236 p. This volume contains an introduction explaining the author's method, and four studies on the style of Cervantes, Racine, Diderot, and Claudel. The first essay, after recording how this method developed out of the positivistic trends among which the author-grew up, describes it as a "to-and-fro movement": an observation of a stylistic particularity of the writer concerned is felt as characteristic, and is tentatively interpreted as to its implications of meaning; this is the first intuitive movement from the periphery to the center. There follows a retrograde movement from the center to the periphery, this time an analytical one, in order to verify if other observations of style and content confirm and enlarge the first intuition. Several examples are discussed; and an amusing selfcriticism is indirectly introduced by the quotation of a very intelligent letter from a former student who, although obviously full of admiration for his master's achievements, describes the whole procedure as highly personal and intuitive. The essay on Cervantes starts from the "polyonomasy" and "polyetymology" of the names given to the most prominent characters of Don Quijote. Each of them has several names and designations, and several etymologies or explanations are given in the course of the novel. Out of this observation, Spitzer builds up the structure of Cervantes' perspectivism; he supports his view by many other observations on style and content. We are brought to understand Cervantes'

presentationof many aspects and layers of reality, his position as a Godlike artist
who, nevertheless, is unreservedly obedient to and in harmony with God's world order. The third chapter begins with a new explanation of the function of Theramene's long recit in the fifth act of Phedre. By an accurate and very sagacious interpretation and combination of motives (the part played by the gods, by the "monstre" concept, by Theramene), the author proves that These has a much

greater importancein the economy of the play than most critics have hitherto attributedto him. He is the surviving hero, the student of a dire philosophy resulting from the hatred or the fatal favor of the gods, revealing a destruction
of the moral world order. The recit is, therefore, to be considered as directed to Thesee, not immediately to the audience; it is the most important, the most

pregnantand impressivemomentof the gradual revelationof the truth to Thesee; it throws him into utter desperation. Thus, as Spitzer puts it, "Racine's main purpose was to show the collapse of world order as revealed to Thesee." There is no doubt that Racine has furnishedall the motives for such an interpretation; but these motives are not leading; they very often are drownedout by others; the reader's or listener's attention is, most of the time, not focused on Thesee. Nevertheless, the interpretationis very stimulating by its deep penetration into the network of themes contained in Racine's tragedy. The stylistic devices analyzed in this connection (Racine's preoccupationwith the act of seeing, his use of intellectual, "distantiating"forms of speech, and the remnants of pre-



ciosite in his images) are aimed at stressing two importantfeatures: the classical discipline of emotion on the one side, and the clash of polarities, the "baroque" characteras opposedto classical harmony,on the other. The fourth chapter, analysing several passages of Diderot, stresses the emotional self-potentiationof his style, based upon a physiological, nervous, and even sexual sensation. This bodily dynamism produces an "innervationof language," of which several forms are examined. Diderot's style of utmost mobility is presented as "the close adherenceof his language to his thought, by way of a sort of inbornmimicry;" it is "an irruptionof the physiological rhythmof speech into writing," leading to an autonomy of expressivity, of almost automatic emotion. It seems to me that Spitzer has expressed the basic principle of Diderot's style, and also of his personality; this has certainly been vaguely felt by many readers, but has never beforebeen formulatedby any critic. The last essay, dealing with the first stanza of Claudel'sode "La Muse qui est la Grace" (Cinq grandes Odes) begins with an interpretationof the poet's use of the word grand; it then proceeds to an analysis of the rhythm ("flood-and-wave technique"), and develops, by a skillful interweaving of style patterns and content motives, a synthesis of the stanza as "the panoramaof a pan-Christianharmony of reasonand belief." Although the book as a whole does not belong to comparative literature, it offers much comparativematerial, since, with its analysis of style patterns and motives, it continuouslyoffers referencesto and comparisonswith other authors; it is a Europeanbook, and the whole of Western civilizationforms its background. Moreover, the method of interpretation,based upon linguistic observations,starting with a few short texts, in order to penetrate into the whole essence of a poet and his time, may prove very fertile in comparativestudies as well as in other critical research of literature. Among the few men who actually use the method with several variants, Professor Spitzer is almost the only one who was originally not a studentof literature,but of linguistics; he is one of the outstandingmodern scholars in this field; his great linguistic experience, combinedwith an extreme sensitivity to the shades and tinges of poetic expression, has enabled him to create a techniqueincomparablefor sagacity and refinement.His earlier German volumes of stylistic studies have long enjoyed a very high reputation. It is true that even Spitzer does not escape the dangers of the method which, at the same time, are those of his temperament,more spontaneousand creative than self-critical. These dangers are overinterpretation, propensity to speculative combinations,and indiscriminateuse of general terms. I may quote a few examples. Many readers will not follow him when he interprets the adjective importune (Phedre, v. 159: Quelle importunemain ... A pris soin sur mon front d'assemblermes cheveux?) as implyingan intellectualjudgment. After analyzing Rabelais' attitude as somewhere between reality and irreality, he declares that Lanson's statement concerning Rabelais' pure, powerful, and triumphantrealism is "simply wrong." But it is obvious that by the word "realism"Lanson meant the powerful expression of the biological and animal functions (and therefore was right)-whereas Spitzer means "limitationto the descriptionof every day reality." But it would be a great mistake not to study the method because of the imperfections of those who use it; or because, on the contrary, it requires so high a level of knowledge and so large an horizon that it is not adaptableto practical teaching or even to average research work. I have had excellent results in using it on a very modest level, in Germanyas well as in Turkey. Our students learn too much biographical and other textbook material; they are like people who listen to lectures on fruits, but almost never get hold of an apple or grape. A



course in any national literature or in comparativeliterature might start for each author from a carefully chosen short text; the advanced students should be given
the opportunity of finding for themselves the main characteristics; a small amount

of guidance would be sufficientto focus their attention on the important points. For such teaching Spitzer's book can serve as an excellent introduction,although practice would have to be much simpler and less personal.

PennsylvaniaState College

DE IMPERIALE LA VIN DE L'ANTIQUIT.: 1200). Premiere partie. LA TRADITION AU XIe SIECLi. By Reto R. Bezzola. [Bibliotheque de l'Tcole des Hautes ]Itudes: Sciences historiques et philologiques, fasc. 286.] Paris: Librarie An-

cienne Honore Champion,1944.xxii, 396 p.

How did the educated lay circles of the High Middle Ages, particularly the

court circles, contribute to the rise of that courtly literature in Europe which
is always to be found at the beginning of our modern profane literatures and at the bottom of our poetic conception of womanhood and of our ideal of "gentleman"? This is the question (p. ix) which Professor Reto R. Bezzola proposes to answer in a comprehensive work, the first, merely preparatory, volume of which was published during the war. The author does not intend to trace the development of the formal patterns of courtly poetry and their sources, which scholars have tried to discover in Arab, Persian, and even Germanic environments (p. xix). He asks: How and to what extent has the very existence of an educated lay and court society contributed to the ascent of that new poetry, the ideals of which have been formative for Europe from the twelfth century until yesterday? And how did that ideal become articulate? The author thus raises a pre-eminently sociological question which is also one of "historical anthropology": a new type of man rises, at once pensewr et honlme d'action, the product of a blending of "cleric" and "knight." From this merger of clerical vita contemplativa and lay vita activa, which became so obvious in the twelfth century, there ultimately proceeded not only the mediaeval ideal of court society but also the ideal of the Renaissance "Cortegiano" and of Michelangelo's Medici tombs, of the honnete homme and of the "gentleman" of modern times. And a similar blending, that of the sensual and the spiritual, has produced the ideal of "lady," which, inseparable from "gentleman," has been generally dominant, until this ideal too, owing to the most recent changes of social conditions and stratifications, proved to be doomed. The immensity of his subject, which attacks one of the most complex problems of European cultural history, has been clearly recognized by Professor Bezzola. He does not try to evade difficulties by means of simplification. In his clever and clear introduction, which the historian will read with great profit, he emphasizes the large number of antagonistic and contradictory forces demanding consideration. Far from trying to construct a linear progressive development, the author

discloses rather the dialectical process by which the given potentialities were
actualized at various times and in various regions: "Cleric" and "knight" appear to have exchanged their roles not too rarely. Bezzola visualizes, of course, that tension between universalistic and "national" concepts which continuously gains volume; but he wisely refrains from the customary overstress of the national aspects of his problem. On the contrary, he gives full credit to the unity of the