Saturday, April 14, 2012


There is a delightful 80-year-old retired professor of philosophy and the humanities living across the street from me. He taught at the university here for over 35 years. His house is full of books. I don't mean shelves full of books, I mean chairs, tables, and floors piled with books. Mountains of books. I am sure he has read every one. He quotes authors and poets in our conversations which usually take place in the street or on the sidewalk as he is going out and I am coming in.

He lost his beloved wife about two years ago. He took care of her. They had no children. He keeps the hours of an owl. He doesn't open his window blinds until about three in the afternoon and when I look out of my front windows at three in the morning his lights are ablaze. He is reading those books.

Anyway, he gave me a book that he said changed his life. I thought it was going to be a spiritual or philosophical tome, but no, the book is Mimesis by Erich Auerbach. The subtitle is The Representation of Reality in Western Literature.


This is the fiftieth-anniversary edition. According to the back cover it is Auerbach's "exploration of how great European writers from Homer to Virginia Woolf depicted reality." It has taught generations how to read Western literature, the description continues. It goes on for 557 pages and Michael Dirda, one of my heroes, calls it "A masterpiece."

I am just getting into the introduction by Edward W. Said. I have dipped into the essays here and there and they seem very readable. I am not sure this book will change my life as it did the professor's, but it seems worthy of my attention.

By the way, the word mimesis is the re-creation or imitation of the real world in art.

What an egg-head I have become.

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