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The representation of reality in Auerbach and the Spatiality Studies

Description: using Mimesis The Representation of Reality in Western Literature and
Spatiality Studies
Definitions and concepts: reality, realism, mimesis/representation, space (vs. place),
history, time
Research hypothesis - Can literature map reality? An approach through Auerbach's Mimesis and
the Spatiality Studies
1.An overview of time, space and the the representation of reality in Western literature
1.Mimesis in Plato /Aristotle/etc
2.Mimesis in Auerbach
2.The "spatial turn" in the 20th century
1.Space in Auerbach
2.Spatiality Studies in literature: social space, mental space and the space of the
3. The Brown Stocking: a practical case
1.Auerbach's reading of an excerpt from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse
2.A possible reading of the above excerpt using the Spatiality Studies


1. An overview of time, space and the the representation of reality in Western literature
a)Mimesis in Plato /Aristotle/etc
b)Mimesis in Auerbach

According to Plato in The Republic Book 10, poetry violates the principles of mimesis in
the sense of the production of similarity: e.g. , in the Platonic conception, gods cannot be
bad and heroes cannot be weak, if they are represented some other way, the criterion of
similarity between what is represented, the gods and heroes, and the representation is
violated. The poet's mimetic representation thus transgresses the truth - violation of ethical
Plato denies that painting and poetry are capable of imitating the Ideas, they produce only
the phenomenal form of things:
God creates the Idea,
By beholding the Idea, the demiurge produces objects - his ability is
exhausted in the imitation of na Idea;
The painter creates his pictures neither by seeing the Idea not from a more
precise substantive knowlegde of the object - he produces nothing but
Republic 10: copy-making
In all Plato develops three theses during this first half of Book 10:
1. Poetic mimsis, like the kind in a painting, is the imitation of appearance alone and its
products rank far below truth. (596e602c)
1. Therefore poetic mimsis corrupts the soul, weakening the rational impulse's
control over the person's other drives and desires. (602c608b)
2. It should therefore be banned from the good city.
The words imitation of appearance in thesis (1) follow from Plato's three-way
1.Form (of couch, of table) made by a god.
2.Individual things (couches, tables) made by humans.
3. Paintings (of couch or table) made by imitators.
Second three-way distinction (601c-602a) that criticizes imitation from another
1.User (of a flute or bridle) who knows.
2.Maker (of flute or bridle) who has correct belief.
3.Imitator (of flute or bridle) who is ignorant.
Concept of mimesis in the Aristotle's Poetics:
Production of images (takes up from Plato)
Creation of a fable or a plot
Universalization: mimesis is not mere copying of the externalities of nature or the
individual features of someone - art and poetry aim at "beautifying" and "improving",

mimesis is both copying and changing.

Two types of errors in poetry:
The substance of what is represented;
The way it is given artistic form.
Extraaesthetic vs. aesthetic mimesis: the function of the artist is not mere
Principle of probability and necessity: the function of poetry is not to
portray what has happened but to portray what may have happened - the
horizon of possibility, it deals with universals;
Aesthetic realm: the possible and the universal
Poetry is the elaboration of the story of human action: in tragedy and comedy the
plot determines the action and is the soul of the drama
Objects: plot, character, thought;
Mode: spectacle;
Media: style and lyric poetry
Poetic mimesis is not making images, but aims at the individual action, it designates
na ability to dramatize and personify speech and action - imaginary aspect: the
product detaches itself from reality to achieve autonomy ( history)
Universalizable plot: the core of mimesis in Aristotelian poetics;
Plot: synthetic principle of the different elements, the one that mediates between
necessity and probability
Mimesis is not the imitation of nature: the goal is to achieve similarity in the
process of creation (both create)
The "horrifying" and the "pitiful":
Catharsis: achieved through the organization of the tragic plot and the materials
Epilogue (p.554ff)

Subject of the book: interpretation of reality through literary representation or

A.'s starting point: Plato's discussion in book 10 of the Republic - mimesis ranking
third after truth - in conjunction with Dante's assertion that in the Commedia he
presented true reality
Guiding ideas of Mimesis:
a. Doctrine of the ancients regarding the several levels of literary
representation (taken up again by late Classicism)
i. Modern realism in the form it reached in France in early 19th c. is na
emancipation from that doctrine
ii. this emancipation is more important to later literary forms of the
imitation than what proclaimed by romanticists: when Stendhal and

Balzac took random individuals from daily life in their dependence

upon current historicsl circumstances and made them the subjects of
serious, problematic and tragic representation, they broke the classic
rule of distinct levels of style, since everyday practical reality could find
a place in lit. only within the frame of a low and intermediate kind of
style (grotesquely comic, light, colourful) - they opened the way for
modern realism
iii. Modern realism keeps with the constantly changing and expanding
reality of modern life
iv. The doctrine of the levels of style was broken with the story of Christ:
mixture of everyday reality and the highest and most sublime tragedy after: medieval
b. Realism:
i. Middle Ages and Renaissance - lit. and visual arts represented the
most everyday phenomena of reality in a serious and significant
ii. Modern realism: 19th c. (romanticism and realists)

c. Figura: to identify the conception of reality in late antiquity and the Christian Middle
i. Figural interpretation: "establishes a connection btw two events or persons in
such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the
second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in
time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality. They are
both contained in the flowing stream which is historical life, and only the
comprehension, the intellectus spiritualis, of their interdependence is a
spiritual act." - e.g. episodes of the Old Testament are interpreted as figures
or phenomenal prophecies of the events of the NT., such as, the sacrifice of
Isaac prefigures the sacrifice of Christ, so that in the former the latter is as it
were announced and promised, and the latter "fulfills" (figuram implere) the
former, then a connection is established btw two events whic are linked
neither temporally nor causally - a connection which it is impossible to
establish by reason in the horizontal dimension (if I may be permitted to use
this term for a temporal extension) (ver p.73) - continuar p. 73
ii. Na occurrence on earth signifies not only itself but at the same time another:

the connection btw occurrences is not regarded as primarily a chronological

or causal development but as a oneness within the divine plan, of which all
occurrences are parts and reflections
mimesis as a historically variable first principle in the history of Western art
and literature, organising the methods of interpreting human events in the
literature of Europe
realism(s) as a means of emancipation from the doctrine of the several levels
of literary representation > intrusions of realism (direct representation of
speech, mixture of stylistic levels, seriousness of treatment, focus on the
individual) as turning points in a history of increasing stylistic inclusiveness
which culminates in 19th-century realism
the relation between literature and reality is conceived of as a relation of
straightforward depiction based on the worldview of the author
(vs. Gebauer/Wulf: power, mediality, construction, access)
foundational concept in (Western) aesthetics and semiotics
political understanding of representation added in the modern era
long history of discomfort with the notion, going back to Plato (who viewed it
negatively) and Aristotle (who introduced a pragmatic approach)
idealist vs. realist theories of art and representation
the challenge of expressionism and formalism
postmodern culture as an era of hyper-representation in which the former
objects of representation become mere representations themselves

2.The "spatial turn" in the 20th century

a) Space in Auerbach
b) Spatiality Studies in literature: social space, mental space and the space
of the body

From Spatiality (Tally 2013)

"representation of reality": literature and cartography represent through

figurative means (59)

Auerbach's philological studies grounded in a sense of the connection to the

spaces and places of na author's experience - later influence on Said and
Jameson (60)
"Odysseus' Scar" (60-61)
Representation of reality in the epic - mimesis
Contrast of styles: Homer (Odyssey, book 10) and the Genesis
Homer: excursus to explain the scar (analepsis): fill blank spaces
Literary cartography: presentation of a complete world within the
Externalized phenomena, definite place and time; thoughts
and feeling expressed - foreground (Auerbach 1953: 11-12)
Genesis: almost no context, time or place given when Abraham is
summoned by God to sacrifice Isaac - background
Literary cartography: worldly elements are irrelevant, focus
on otherwordly or mystical experience
Little externalization, undefined time and place, call for
interpretation; thoughts and feelings unexpressed,
fragmentary speeches- background (Auerbach 1953: 11-12)

Ficha: Why realism?

- auerbach's subtitle: history of realism - auerbach's historicism after vico - the nature of a
thing is to be found in its history
- to write history is to analyse "the conditions of their origin and the direction of their
influence" (auerbach's 1971,7)
- realism as mixture of style (High and los) in Mimesis
- realism over 3000 years: strategies btw the different proposals as hoe reality should be
presented - approached through the inside, not outside
- figura:definition - two figures separarem in time, but not

What is space?

Lefebvre: La production de l'espace

Spatial practice: production and reproduction of spaces typical of each
social formation, which assure the cohesion of these spaces from the

point of view of the competence and action of social subjects;

Representations of space: imply a knowledgeable understanding of
Discursive elaboration and organization and planning of the spatial
Dominant spatial models in a given society that manifest a
concrete code that semiotizes space
Spaces of representation:
More complex symbolisms
Space that imagination attempts to appropriate and modify; it
appears mainly in symbolic works
These three aspects cannot be dissociated, they are interrelated;


Described 19th c. obsession with time and history

Of Other Spaces: p.20 The present epoch will perhaps be above all the
epoch of space. We are in the epoch of
simultaneity: We are in the epoch of
juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of
the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a
moment, I believe, when our experience of the
world is less that of a long life developing
through time than that of a network that
connects points and intersects with its own skin.
One could perhaps say that certain ideological
conflicts () oppose the pious descendants of
time and the determined inhabitants of space
John Berger:

Central idea: the modern novel has changed the way stories are told
And this is because we are too aware of what is continually
traversing the storyline laterally. ()

Such awareness is the result of our constantly having to take into account the simultaneity and
extension of events and possibilities. (Berger 1974: 40)
Prophecy now involves a geographical rather than historical projection; it is space not time that
hides consequences from us (ibidem)
The Look of Things (1974), New York, The Viking Press.
Edward W. Soja:
Spatial turn: term introduced by Soja
Space is simultaneously real and imagined (third space) - it is a link btw
physical, geographical spaces (first space) and mental, cultural
constructions of space (second space) - he draws on Lefebvre

3. The Brown Stocking: a practical case

a) Auerbach's reading of an excerpt from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse
b) A possible reading of the above excerpt using the Spatiality Studies

"The Brown Stocking"

To the Lighthouse
Disappearance of objective facts
Statements as reflection in the consciousness of the characters
House: not given what the author thinks, but how Mrs Ramsay perceives it

(thought, feeling at a particular moment) - mental space

Body: how Mrs. Ramsay affects other characters (ppl who wonder about
Objective reality: doesn't exist outside consciousness
Stream of consciousness: way of obscuring objective reality
Author seems to doubt, hesitate: characters seem to know as much of
Mrs Ramsay as the author (diff, from realism by Balzac or Dickens) - no
interpretation from V. Woolf
individual's consciousness limited to things connected with the
particular incident/situation being described (eg Madame Bovary)
Author as "governing authority"
Woolf: we are not given one person whose consciousness is rendered, but
many persons, with shifts from one to the other (Mrs. Ramsay, "people",
Mr Bankes, James, the Swiss Maid) - multiplicity of persons suggests
that this is na endeavor to investigate an objective reality, the "real" Mrs
Ramsay - attempt to approach her by many sides, subjective sides
Time in modern narrative:
Measuring the stocking and speaking of words realted to it: less
time than what the reader took to read the passage - mental space
Narrative of interludes, not the occurrence itself (brief span of time
- two warnings to James keep still) - Mrs Ramsay's mind
("exterior"/"interior" time)
More submition to the random contengency of real phenomena
Author stylizes the real world, but not rationalistically: exterior
events do not have a planned conclusion - "In VW's case the
exterior events have actually lost their hegemony, they serve to
release and interpret inner events, whereas before her time (and
still today in many instances) inner movements preponderantly
function to prepare and motivate significant exterior happenings"
(p. 538) - mental space
Temporal relation btw second excursus and framing occurrence: its
content is not part of the occurrence either in time or place - other times
and other places (3 excursus - diff. Definiteness of each - in common: Mrs
Ramsay's sadness) - various spaces?
Descritpion of how the stream of c. works in the passage (540-1) excurses to fathom a "more real reality"
Times and places dependent: "polyphonic treatment of the image" which
releases the 2nd excursus
Reality in modern fiction:
Authors have tried to create more perspectives, angles;

"disintegration and dissolution of external realities for a richer and

more essential interpretation of it " (545)

"omnitemporality of events" (545)
Characteristics of the realistic novel of the era btw the 2 WW:
Multipersonal representation of consciousness;
Time strata;
Disintegration of the continuity of exterior events;
Shifting of the narrative viewpoint (interrelated and difficult to
Chronological continuum vs. synthesis of exploration of everyday
occurrences (modern novel)
Justaposio de espaos: "One comes upon the order and the
interpretation of life which arise from life itself that is, those which grow
uo in the individuals themselves, which are to be discerned in their
thoughts, their consciousness, and in a more concealed form in their
words and actions. For there is always going on within us a process of
formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own self. We
are () so that overlapping, complementing, and contradictions yield
something that () synthesis" (549) - see Foucault
Development of technique of stream of c. - history from 16th c. on:
Tempo of changes always getting faster;
Changes occurred simultaneously in many areas (science,
technology, economics): difficutl to evaluate overall situations/the
Changes produced diff. effects in all places
diff. of attainment btw:
The various social strata of one and the same people;
Different peoples
More noticeable now
Heterogeneous ways of life (more rapidly known): undermined
religious, philosophical, ethical, and economic principles
Socialism vs. capitalism: ideologies (550) - social space
WWI: unsettled ideologies and ways of life bring:
Multiple perspectives/reflections of consciousness;
Dissolution of reality
Modern novel: sense of universal doom, especially European tradition
To the lighthouse (551)
Trip remains unexpressed, enigmatic
Only Mrs Ramsay's sadness, beauty and force emerge from general
secrecy -various spaces
"Wealth of reality"; "depth of life" - exploitation of random occurrence

Use Indifferent Boundaries by Kathleen Kirby