Global Mimesis: The Ethics of World Literature after Auerbach

Haley, Madigan, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia

This project argues that the global in the literary is best approached not as a stable content, imposed ideology, or economic byproduct, but rather as an ethos, which has been at stake and emerging over the past half century in literature from around the world. Reading across genres and continents, it shows how writers such as Samuel Beckett, Nuruddin Farah, J. M. Coetzee, Zoë Wicomb, W. G. Sebald, Orhan Pamuk, Teju Cole, and Naomi Wallace have used literary means to imagine collective life beyond the nation, in the process reconceiving literature’s ethical forms (Bildung, allegory, the sentimental). Attending to how these works refigure the horizon and nature of the common at specific historical junctures, this study proposes a conception of the global as emergent within mimesis and reorients ethics away from the encounter with radical alterity toward the performative ways in which texts and objects contour publicity, give exemplary shape to actions and events, and relate audiences to seemingly distant worlds. In this way, “Global Mimesis: The Ethics of World Literature after Auerbach” addresses contemporary world literature’s ability to figure “a common life” not as a process of cultural and political standardization—as Erich Auerbach influentially argued in Mimesis (1946)—but rather as its ethical potential.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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