Cover of East West Mimesis by Kader Konuk
East West Mimesis
Auerbach in Turkey
Kader Konuk


320 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804769747
Ebook ISBN: 9780804775755

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Winner of the 2012 GSA-DAAD Book Prize, sponsored by the German Studies Association.

Winner of the 2012 René Wellek Prize, sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association.

East West Mimesis follows the plight of German-Jewish humanists who escaped Nazi persecution by seeking exile in a Muslim-dominated society. Kader Konuk asks why philologists like Erich Auerbach found humanism at home in Istanbul at the very moment it was banished from Europe. She challenges the notion of exile as synonymous with intellectual isolation and shows the reciprocal effects of German émigrés on Turkey's humanist reform movement. By making literary critical concepts productive for our understanding of Turkish cultural history, the book provides a new approach to the study of East-West relations.

Central to the book is Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, written in Istanbul after he fled Germany in 1936. Konuk draws on some of Auerbach's key concepts—figura as a way of conceptualizing history and mimesis as a means of representing reality—to show how Istanbul shaped Mimesis and to understand Turkey's humanist reform movement as a type of cultural mimesis.

About the author

Kader Konuk is Associate Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.

"Konuk's groundbreaking study significantly enhances our understanding of the shared intellectual, literary, and political history that links twentieth-century Turkey to major developments in Europe. Her work poses a significant challenge to persistent beliefs about the 'backwardness' and 'Orientalness' of modern Turkey, revealing that Turkey has never been properly understood in the context of the Orientalism debate."

—Nina Berman, Ohio State University

"East West Mimesis offers a revelatory reinterpretation of comparative literature's founding texts, and a first-rate piece of detective work, showing the scholarly world something it would otherwise never know: how much the scale of thinking encouraged by comparative literature is the accidental byproduct of Turkish attempts to grasp the West as a totality."

—Katie Trumpener, Yale University

"Through an edifying dual perspective on text and location, Kader Konuk's East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey tells a fascinating story about the development of modern Turkey just as much as it does about Auerbach's classic work. Immensely readable and engaging, her book is distinguished by extensive archival research into a pivotal phase of modern Turkish cultural history, yielding rich insights into how this period of transformation impacted Auerbach's groundbreaking work of modern comparatism. East West Mimesis deepens our understanding of how Turkey's project of strengthening its ties with Europe in the 1930s opened Turkish culture to its classical heritage, at the same time that its reclaiming of Western secular humanism as a shared legacy served to obscure the problematic histories of racial minorities in Turkish society. Simultaneously, Konuk significantly re-positions Auerbach as a critic who, far from absorbing Turkish transformations of secular life into his writing, decontexualized the cultural and religious environment in which he was located. Konuk's illuminating study of Auerbach's ambiguous relation to Turkey makes a valuable intervention in challenging the standard narrative about Auerbach's exile. Konuk offers a model of comparative literary scholarship that attends keenly to the locations in which major critical works are produced, restoring the histories of those places even as they are displaced by concerns that appear to be far removed from the tumultuous changes occurring at the scene of writing."

—Wellek Prize Committee