restricted access Euro(tro)pology: Philology, World Literature, and the Legacy of Erich Auerbach
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Philology, World Literature, and the Legacy of Erich Auerbach

Perhaps the most effective displacement realized by the hegemonic Western culture, after colonialism, is this: the transposition of difference from the geographical domain to the historical one.

Orhan Koçak

Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies.

Jacques Derrida

For Marc Nichanian

Europe: Remains

At least since the late-eighteenth century, the fates of philology and Europe have been intimately intertwined. From William Jones to Friedrich Schlegel, from Silvestre de Sacy to Ernest Renan, from Franz Bopp to Max Müller, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Leo Spitzer, Ernst Robert Curtius, Erich Auerbach, and beyond, the singularity of Europe—its historical integrity, its unique historicity, its comparative singularity—remains bound up with philology, understood as the primary discipline that constitutes and sustains the conditions of possibility for Europe’s self-understanding, or, more precisely, self-fashioning, that frames and regulates Europe’s relation to those from which it sets itself of, to those it designates as its others in so doing.1 Europe is the ideal, if often implicit, subject of the philological enterprise from its early beginnings; reinforced by what Franz Fanon emblematically called the “colonial situation,” reinforcing (and, as Edward Said has compellingly shown, enforcing) it in its turn, philology constructs [End Page 269] the historical sovereignty of Europe in its relation to its others—which minimally includes its ‘self,’ ‘Europe itself’: what it once was (the ‘Antiquity,’ the ‘Middle Ages,’ and increasingly, the so-called ‘Early Modern’) and what it is yet to become. Otherwise said, philology defines Europe’s unique historical position and destination, determines, as well, the status of its ‘internal’ divisions (its complex history, its various nationalities, its linguistic diversity, its cultural heterogeneity, etc.). If ‘Europe,’ the “idea of Europe” is a philosophical concept, as Rodolphe Gasché argues in a recent book (2009), it is also a philological artifact, or, rather, the exemplary product of sustained philological labor, of a longue durée commitment to rhetorical exertion. From the philological laboratory, Europe emerges at once as an object and subject of knowledge, as a historicized object and a historical subject. As Edward Said succinctly put it in Orientalism, Europe, as much as the Orient, “is also a creature being created in the laboratory and by philology” (146).2

The temporality of this identity is beautifully captured in Said’s emphatic phrase, “creature being created.” As the site of a contradictory cohesion—forever non-identical with itself, separated from itself, as it were, by an interval—Europe is being perpetually created, actively so, whenever, for example, the myth of Europa is iterated. Europe remains always in the making, and—not unlike its others, as Jacques Derrida insisted—it is formed as an identity, “take[s] the form of a subject only in the non-identity to itself … only in the difference with itself” (16; 9). The identity of Europe, in other words, is an interminable project: a differential projection whose persistent articulation consists in the declinations of this self-difference in a future tense. As the “peculiar condition of being modern and European,” as “a way of historically setting oneself of… [and] characteriz[ing] one’s modernity by so doing” (Said, Orientalism 132), philology offers its fragments as so many pasts (and futures) of this Europe; it serves and conserves mimetic or antagonistic, indeed mimetic-antagonistic models for Europe’s self-identification, as the example of Philhellenism, particularly in its German iteration, unmistakably demonstrates.3 Through the deployment of this historical self-difference, philology gestures toward the unity and integrity of Europe—a unity always already lost, a unity instituted as loss, and, hence, a unity that was never really there to begin with. It compels an archeological and aesthetic effort to recover and restore, to form and cultivate (Nichanian, Le Deuil [esp. 53–56]; [End Page 270] see also Gourgouris, Dream Nation). Philology, as Charles Olson so aptly and aphoristically put it in a damning statement on Ernst Curtius’s book on “European literature” (1948...