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Late Reading: Erich Auerbach and the Spätboot of Comparative Literature

Hutchinson, Ben (2017) Late Reading: Erich Auerbach and the Spätboot of Comparative Literature. Comparative Critical Studies, 14 (1). pp. 69-85. ISSN 1744-1854. E-ISSN 1750-0109. (doi:10.3366/ccs.2017.0222) (KAR id:61818)


Focusing in particular on Erich Auerbach’s seminal essay ‘Philology of World Literature’ (1952), this essay proposes to re-examine the conceptualization of comparative literature in the post-WWII period not only from the perspective of its philological, but also from that of its historical self-understanding. Its principal concern will be to consider what it means to view this comparative philology as historical, which is to say in the context of how it emerges from the particular ‘historical perspectivism’ of the immediate post-war period. The category that best characterizes this philology, it will be argued, is that of late reading, a term that the essay coins as the hermeneutic counterpart to the artistic concept of late style. Characterized by its consciousness of coming at the end of the tradition of European high culture, late reading – at least in Auerbach’s understanding of it –makes its very lateness a constituent element of its hermeneutics. Out of this sense of lateness emerges, the essay will argue, a view of comparative literature as defined by its distance from the normative maturity of classical European culture – by what one might term, in Frank Kermode’s phrase, its ‘sense of an ending’. Auerbach’s conception of world philology does not ignore the increasing obsolescence of the Eurocentric perspective, but rather makes this obsolescence the basis of its synoptic purview. As such, it continues to offer a model for how comparative literature may engage with the legacy of high European culture whilst acknowledging the limitations of its perspective.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.3366/ccs.2017.0222
Uncontrolled keywords: Erich Auerbach; late reading; philology; comparative literature; world literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Benjamin Hutchinson
Date Deposited: 23 May 2017 13:23 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 06:18 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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