Said, Auerbach, and the Return to Philological Hermeneutics

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© 2019, © 2019 International Society for the Study of European Ideas. This essay explores the relationship between Edward Said’s well-known contrapuntal reading of history and Erich Auerbach’s Ansatzpunkt, or point of departure, as a means of entering a given hermeneutic circle. Although Auerbach occupied an increasingly prominent place in Said’s critical thought, his engagement with the work of the German philologist has been largely ignored or downplayed. In this essay I take the figure of exile, which is so central to Said’s scholarship and which he explicitly links with the intellectual mission of critique, as a point of departure for a deepened exploration of Said’s critical method—a method developed in critical dialogue with Auerbach’s work. Building on the existing literature, I argue that Auerbach offers more than simply a way for Said to problematize identity politics and to challenge the dogmatism of received notions of home and political belonging. More than this, I argue that the German philologist provides Said with a way to reconfigure the dialectic between history and literature; to develop his contrapuntal approach to reading history; and to rethink the parameters of a historicist humanism that, in turn, enables him to reactivate the critical potential of philological hermeneutics.

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European Legacy

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