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Social Representation and Mimesis

Author(s): Luiz Costa Lima and J. Laurenio de Mello


Source: New Literary History, Vol. 16, No. 3, On Writing Histories of Literature (Spring, 1985),
pp. 447-466
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/468835
Accessed: 14-04-2015 19:24 UTC
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Social Representationand Mimesis


Luiz Costa Lima
I

M"
t

IMESIS and representationhave been so closely associated


that one may question the need to dedicate yet another
essay to the relationshipbetween them. In fact,this association dates from ancient thought,and it has served the purpose
both of dismissingart as a representationof no more than a world
of appearances and opinions (Plato)' and of extollingit as the artist's
means of representinghis "inner light,"which correctsnature itself
(Plotinus).2Since, however,in spite of theiropposing positionsboth
Plato and Plotinusended up by condemning art,3it mightseem as if
this were due to the association between art and the idea of representation.In other words, art is devalued wheneverits expression is
subordinate to that which it represents. But this contentionis not
of the mimeticproduct
justified.In Plato and Plotinus,the inferiority
did not result from its association with representation,but rather
from the fact that this association took place withina metaphysical
conception of the world in which the Idea or Archetypeis a nodal
point that cannot be reached by the mimeticobject. Thus we can
correct the above statementand say instead that the metaphysical
conception,to the extentthatitreflectsan essentialisticinterpretation
of the world,does not do justice to the mimeticobject. Let us use this
statementas a startingpoint for the analysis of the relationshipbetween mimesis and representation.The statementimplies that the
basic problem does not consist in trying,under the pretense of
searchingfor an idea of mimesisthatdoes not depreciate its production,to dissociatemimesisfromrepresentation,but ratherin grasping
the world view which makes this association possible.
We need not dwell upon any individual thinkeror botherto establish whetheror not he produced a metaphysicsin order to assertthat
Western thought presents a curious convergence in its handling of
the relation between art and representation.It does so by means of
the notion of figure: "Literatureis considered to be representational
when it produces a figureof eithera particularand recognizable historical,social or psychologicalrealityor, in a more abstractmanner,

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NEW LITERARY HISTORY

a figureof an ideal, mythical,metaphysical'reality'-when it presents


or makes visible the 'essential' or 'characteristic'traitsof some 'outside,' of a space or contextother than the 'strictlyliterary.'The 'outside' is assumed to exist before its representationand thus to be the
origin of representationalliterature,to be present in itselfbefore it
is representedin literature."4
This notion applies equally to notions as wide apart as Plato's and
Plotinus's:whetherwe have a figureof the existingsocial or psychological realityor of an ideal reality,art is considered representational
in that it manifeststhe "truth"or "essence" of an outside held up as
the core of the world. We have automatized this way of thinkingto
such a degree that we feel there is no alternativeto it-a feeling
heightenedby the wide range of currentsof thoughtwhich,despite
theirdifferences,have a common startingpoint: "All idealisms and
materialismsseem to share in common thisdefinitionof the relationship of literature(of all 'art') with this 'outside'; it is simplyover the
nature of the 'truth'contained in the 'outside' and the way thistruth
is made 'present' in literature that they differ."5 For a mimetic
some Weltbild;thatis to say,
product to have a value, it mustrepresent
it can be valued only if it serves as an illustrationof a certainworld
view. As a result,insofar as the various theories about the mimetic
product derive from or are contained in these systemsof thought,
the only right way to react to its "illustrativeness"would seem to
require eithera refusalof any theorieswhatsoeveror the sole acceptance of one which,denyingall representationalassumptions,might
postulate,as in the case of the expressivetheory,thatthe artist'seffort
is designed "to express and order his feelings in poetic form,"6a
restatementof the Romantic ideal which,in practice,would lead to
the endorsement of Fenollosa's view: "In Fenollosa's terms,what a
poem means is what it does."7 Thus the antitheoreticismof many a
contemporaryartistand author,as well as of criticsinfluencedby the
late Barthes, could not be explained simplyas a reaction to professorial and academic complications;it would ratherbe a response to
the illustrativism
of mimetic(or representational)theories(Balzac as
illustratorof class struggle,Joyce and Kafka of capitalistdecadence,
Sophocles of the Oedipus complex).
In fact,it is the verynature of the traditionalconnectionbetween
representationand mimesisto turn the latterinto an illustrativeexample of a systemof thoughtthat assigns a proper place to it, while
mimesis"testifies"to the system's"truth."To bear thisout, if somewhat superficially,one need only observe that even such polar opposites as reflex theoryand stylisticsshare a common approach to
the relationshipbetween work and reality.Let S stand for the prop-

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449

AND MIMESIS

erties of the source (that is, the conditioningsocial reality)and GP


forthe propertiesof the generated products (stylistic
characteristics).
The practiceof the reflex theoryconsistsin findingS in GP by way
of a mechanical or sophisticatedcausalitythroughwhich GP is "forgotten,"dismissed as a mere epiphenomenon of S. Stylistics,on the
other hand, considers the same components,withtwo differencesin
treatment:(a) the conditioningrealityis now eitherthe author's psychological background (early Spitzer) or a social background idealisticallyinterpretedas the nation (early Vossler); (b) by focusingon
GP, perceived as figuresof style,S is either "forgotten"or taken as
a mere "pre-text."Although distinctas to the poles theyfavor,both
reflex theoryand stylisticsbelong to a single view of literature,one
that postulates a transparencybetween the conditioningorder and
the conditioned effect.In both cases the mimeticproduct is an illustration, either of conditioning society or of creative individuality.
(The same is true of classical Brazilian criticism:whereas in Sylvio
Romero the guideline forjudgment is nationality,forJose Verissimo
it is the "brilliance,""forcefulness,"and "purity"of language.)
The cases of reflex theoryand stylisticsare, we feel, apt examples
of the traditional connection between representationand mimetic
workinasmuch as theyalwaysderive the propertiesof the latterfrom
somethingprior to it-even when this is not stressed,as in a purely
descriptivestylistics-taken to be its center or essence. In order to
identifythe workingsof this theoreticalapproach, one must refrain
fromadopting its practice. But as we have just as littlesympathyfor
contemporaryneo-impressionism,which contends that literarycriticism is just another literarygenre, we are forced to rethinkthe relationshipbetweenrepresentationand mimesismore drastically.This
is what we are going to do, consideringthem separatelyat first.
II
What is the phenomenon of representationif we do not see it as a
bridge which links realityand the mimetictext?Let us begin witha
textwhichis by no means recent.The authorsof "De quelques formes
primitivesde classification"begin their essay with a criticismof the
idea of datum (donnee)used as a foundation for the psychological
facultiesof defining,deducing, and inducing, since they are "generally considered to be immediatelygiven in the constitutionof individual understanding."8Rather than having universaland natural
roots,the formsof understandingderive fromand presuppose classificationswhose comprehensivenessis onlysociocultural:"Everyclas-

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NEW LITERARY HISTORY

sificationimplies a hierarchicalorder whose model is offeredneither


bythe sensibleworldnor byour conscience."9The hierarchicalorder,
which constitutesclassification,is thereforea naturallyunmotivated
principlethroughwhich a culture,society,class, or group establishes
and differentiatesvalues, conceives criteriaof social identification,
individualidentity,and socioindividualdistinction.Representationis
a product of classifications.In other words,each memberof a society
criteriaavailable to him.
representshimselfbased on the classificatory
which we can assign
the
means
classifications
are
by
Consequently,
to
world
of
and
the
things
beings. Through themthe world
meanings
becomes meaningful.And the shock of meaningsresultsimmediately
fromthe shock of representations.For instance,to anyone who has
internalizedthe representationthat goes withthe titleof "Herr Professor"in Germany,it cannot but seem incomprehensiblethat a patron in a Rio caf6 should address a waiter lightheartedlyas "o professor!" The shock, however, is not restricted to representations
among foreigners;itcan also occur withinthe bordersof one country.
In Brazil, the restraintand warinessof Mineiros-natives of the state
of Minas Gerais-are well known. On thisscore, I can rememberthe
embarrassmentof a friend of mine, a foreign psychoanalystwho,
practicing once a week in Belo Horizonte (the capital of Minas
Gerais), only after some time realized that he was not to take his
clients' complaints of pecuniary difficultiestoo literally.Even in a
psychoanalyst'soffice,the rule of absolute candor has to be taken in
a Mineirosense. It is perhaps no overstatementto say that among
Mineirosantiphrasis is more than a rhetoricalfigure: it is the very
spring that sets the discourse going. One's interlocutoris to be handled with such caution and suspicion that the speaker risks being
taken in by his own ruse. Our most famous political columnisthas
latelyrecalled a remarkable scene: "Pushing me aside to a window,
the formerDeputy cried out, 'Castello, how we [Mineiros]hate each
other! And not even this is true. It's a game.' "10 The afterthought
"not even thisis true"was made as much forthe benefitof the listener
as for the speaker, as though he ran the risk of persuading himself
of a hatred that was in factonly a put-on.
The examples above are meant to suggest that there is no clearly
delimitedrealityprior to the act of representation.Between the latter
and the former,there is a net of classificationsthat makes the real
discreteand utterablethrough the hierarchicalprincipleunderlying
the classification.We do not look at realityand translateit into a
form.On the contrary,it is the classificatory
formwhich
classificatory
informsus of reality,making some portionsof it meaningful.Due to
this conversion,thingslose their neutral opacity and are no longer

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just there: they are invested with significance.This is the case, first
of all, with the body itself,which is transformedinto an axis of semanticinvestments:"My body is far frombeing a fragmentof space
for me; there would not be space for me if I had not a body."ll
If, however,classificationswork as a sort of grid which orientsus
in the world and in relation to ourselves, what is the need that generates them? And why are they actualized through representations?
If no natural reason, biological or other,determinesthem,theirmotivescan only be found in the social world. But then we are caught
in a vicious circle: the social world is "seen" fromclassifications,and
these,in turn,are motivatedby the social world. To escape fromthis
vicious circle we must take a new step and definejust what in the
social world requires those classifications and their precipitate,
representations.
Classificationsand the way theyare actualized ensue fromthe way
human interactionstake place. Before the you it converses with,the
I does not find an open, transitive,and channeled space along which
it could detect how the you behaves and really responds to what is
said to it. This barrierremainseven if the interlocutors,as it happens
ordinarily,master equally well the verbal code used. For if the word
is to be effective,it must not only be uttered (its locutionaryaspect)
but also cause the same illocutionarylayer to arise in the interlocutors.12In otherwords,ifcommunicationis to take place, the utterance
must be accompanied by a certain "social ceremonial" which allows
the recipientto understand the specificvalue attached to the utterance. In Brazil, for instance,the affectionateuse of swearwordshas
been popularized by young people. One can tell whetheran obscene
term like filhoda puta (son of a bitch) is being used aggressivelyor
affectionatelyonly if one grasps the "social ceremonial" involvedthat is, the illocutionaryaspect suited to the occasion. But why does
the meaning leak out of the word, whycan it only be deciphered in
this infraworldof its own? Because even in the most intimaterelationshipthe speaker cannot know what is going on in the listener's
mind-is it listeningto him?-and vice versa:
If youdon'ttellmejust nowagainand again
I lovelovelovelovelove
youa fulminating
truththatyou'vejust eviscerated,
I'll plungeintochaos,
thatclutterof non-loveobjects.13
For the experience of the vulnerabilityof each partneras regards the
otheris basic in any human relationship:"It is easy to appreciate that

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NEW LITERARY HISTORY

one person's expression of feelingabout another is vulnerable to all


the doubts and suspicions and misframingsto which isolated, single
events are subject."'4 That is why even the most innocuous conversation stages a littletheatricalscene: "Often what talkersundertake
to do is not to provide informationto a recipient but to present
dramas to an audience. Indeed, it seems that we spend most of our
time not in givinginformationbut in givingshows."15What is one to
do, then, about the other's invisiblementation,whence derives the
vulnerabilityin interhumanrelations?Because of and against them
we build up "frames"(Goffman)in order to offerthe participantsin
each act of communicationa sort of proper space, an autonomous
body of conventions,seeminglyobjective and ineluctable-in actual
fact,automaticallyinterpretable-which allows the interlocutorsto
regulatetheir verbal comings and goings. Representationsare these
multipleframeswe fall into withoutstayingin them,most of which
come to our notice through intercoursewithother membersof our
own group. Thus the theaterof the world has nearlyceased to be a
metaphor; it takes place where no idea of theaterexists,for its space
begins before there is a specificplace for staging. So the difference
between the anonymous theater whose stage is the world and an
actual playhouse is thatin the formerwe enact unknowingly,whereas
in the latterwe do not know what we enact. Thus we could hardly
say, as Donne did in "The Extasie": "Wee see, we saw not what did
move." It is only out of ignorance that the representationsenacted
in the theater of the world can delude us anonymous actors into
believingtheyare as undiv.idedas the individualityfromwhich they
supposedly derive. The very delusion about them derives from the
delusion thatwe are this undivided individuality."We all are patches
of such an amorphous and diverse fabric that each piece plays its
game every moment. And there is as much differencebetween us
and ourselves as between us and the others."16The less we know
about the roles we play, the more undivided we are. For fear of the
inauthenticityof roles, we start playing the tragicomicrole of "the
honest soul." As idolizers of individuality,we imagine that to play a
role is to feign to be what we are not; once again, we stick to the
preconceptionof essence. Thus we are unaware that the one is patterned afterthe internalizedimage of the other, whateverthe evaluative nature of the internalizedother: "The hypocritewho always
plays the same role ends by being a hypocrite.... When, for a long
time and obstinately,one is willingto affect[scheinen]
something,one
sees
how
difficult
it
is
to
be
else."17
And as we are
finally
something
unaware of it,it is not only the other who eludes us; we also endlessly
elude ourselves.

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We play a part, not because we want to, nor when we want to, but
because this is the way we become visibleand make the other visible
too. That is why Schutz said some decades ago that human relations
were governed by types:a type is a sort of average withwhichwe can
framethe othersso as to orientour relations.Thus we have, roughly,
the three modes of orientation (Einstellung)described by Schutzthey-orientation,
you-orientation,and we-orientation.By means of
these three typesone moves fromthe most anonymous relationship,
the they-orientation-the one I have, for instance,with the official
who is preparingmypassport-through the one-sidedlypersonalized
you-orientationto the mutuallypersonalized we-orientation.As a relationshipadvances along this scale, progressingfromanonymityto
personalization,the dominance of the typicalreaction decreases accordingly.This assertionis indirectlyapprehended fromSchutz himself: "The reference point of the they-orientationis inferredfrom
myknowledgeand fromthe social world in general,and is necessarily
in an objective meaning-context.Only posthoccan I add interpretationsreferringto the subjectivemeaning-contextsof an individual."18
It would surely be a romantic mistake to assume that the greatest
personalizationwould abolish typicalreactions,thatis, a formof representation,because the other's intimacywould then be penetrated.
We can see it in the reflectionsof an author who is less concerned
with such theoreticalpostulations than with the problem of how a
love affaircan be made to last: "The only practicalchance of salvation
is the kind of love that is devoted either to a very personal human
being so that,in spiteof a ceaseless approximation,the limitwillnever
be reached of the knowledge you may have of him or her, or to one
endowed withenough instinctivecoquetryso thathe or she, however
deeply in love with you, seems to be about to flee all the time."19
Amorous closeness can only last if the personalness of the beloved is
so extremethat his or her multiplicity(of representations)will never
wear out with the typical reactions I expect of him or her, or if,
"endowed with enough instinctivecoquetry,"that person chooses a
representationthat allows him or her never to wear out what I can
anticipate.So even before modern poetrylearned how to explore the
abyss of language-the language en abime-language had long been
an abyss, its stabilizationresultingonly from the regularityof the
frameswe enclose it in. In other words, verbal language would not
be the means of communicationpar excellence if its dispersionwere
not interrupted by the representation grid. For although neither
Schutz nor Goffman mentions representations,they are in fact the
object of their typicalorientationsand frames,antidotes against the
other's invisibility-or rather,screens against which our mutual in-

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visibilityclashes, thus allowing us to suppose we understand each


other.Again, if the abilityto name pertainsto the world,thisnaming
would be either too poor-when confined to pointing to what is
already seen-or too ambiguous and complex for the ordinaryprocess of communicationif,at the same time,its semanticcharge were
not frozen by the frames binding it. But our descriptionwould be
incompleteif it ended here.
From what has been said so far,one can inferthat the real is not
to be confused with reality. If the latter,understood as nature, is
prior to and independent from man, its conversion into the real is
made througha double, parallel but distinctprocess,namely,through
its naming-which is not restrictedto the giving of names to parts
of reality-and throughthe developmentof framesdeterminingthe
decodifyingsituationof the word. The phenomenon of forerunners
who were neglectedin theirtimepresentsthe typicalcase of a naming
unaccompanied by the requisiteframes.The phenomenon of former
superstarswho have been forgottenby posterityis the opposite case:
their naming was so predictable under the prevailingframesthat a
change (however relative)in those framesthrewthe naming into the
dustbin. Nevertheless,as we have said, this formulationis defective,
forit leads one to suppose thatframesare autonomous in relationto
each other and are atomisticallyarranged, which would imply the
idea thatthe individual is inevitablytied up to a multiplicity
of grids.
We mustthen add thatsuch framesalso displaya constantflexibility.
According to Goffman, frames are made flexible in two ways,
through fabricationand through keying.The formerdescribes the
process of fraud-one suggeststhatone does, or is, somethingwhen
one does or is quite another. Here we are not interestedin the pluralityof fabrications,whetherbenign or exploitative,whetherotherinduced or self-imposed.We need only point out the varietyof their
occasions: "Thus a motivecan be made to deceive, as can an intent,
a gesture,a show of resolve or a show of lack of it, a statement,an
artifact,a personal identity,a settingand its gathering,a conversation,an extensivephysicalplant, a gust of wind, an accident,a happenstance, a company of Israeli commandos dressed as Arab prisoners and airline mechanicsto surpriseskyjackers,a Trojan horse."20
But it is the second transformation
whichconcernsus most.Rather
than quote Goffmanin full,21let us simplysay thatkeyingis a device
by means of which an agent carries out a series of actions that,from
the standpoint of the primary frame, would convey a specific
meaning that in factdoes not apply. The most common modalityof
keyingis found in the information"thisis play." Given thiscomment,
not always verbally uttered, the addressee reacts differentlyfrom

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whatwould normallybe expected of him. A basic resourceformaking


a primary frame flexible, play, nonetheless, preexists the human
making of frames. Thus in a 1954 essay Gregory Bateson saw play
as one of the means through which communicationevolves toward
the domain of denotativeness. Elaborating a notion which can be
tracedback to Vico-poetry as the primevallanguage-and to Rousseau's Essai sur l'originedes langues-the figurativesense as preceding
the proper sense-Bateson, on the one hand, depoeticizes the statementand, on the other,provides us withsome useful insightson the
poetic phenomenon: "Denotative communicationas it occurs at the
human level is only possible afterthe evolution of a complex set of
metalinguistic(but not verbalized) rules whichgovernhow words and
sentences shall be related to objects and events. It is thereforeappropriate to look for the evolution of such metalinguisticand/or
metacommunicativerules at a prehuman and preverballevel."22Now
even at this level play is present-not to be misunderstoodas a gratuitousexpense of energy. Among animals, play is not restrictedto
denying the seriousness of usual behaviors; quite the contrary,in
doing so play presentsus a differentscene: "Not only do the playing
animals not quite mean whattheyare sayingbut,also, theyare usually
communicating about something which does not exist."23On the
other hand, from the fact that play is learned before language, it
cannot be inferredthat,when it reaches the human scale, it belongs
to the primary process that would seem the most "primitive":"It
thereforefollowsthat the play frameas here used as an explanatory
principle implies a special combination of primaryand secondary
processes.... In primaryprocess, map and territoryare equated; in
secondary process theycan be discriminated.In play, theyare both
equated and discriminated."24
These resultsbring out the similarityand differencebetween the
dream discourse and any discourse based on the play principle: the
formeris directlyrelated to the human primaryprocess,whereas the
latter,though also one modalityof the discourse of the unconscious,
differsfrom the dream modality by being a combination of both
processes.
The reader may have already perceived that when we spoke of a
discursivemodalityset up on the play principle,we were alluding to
the discourse of mimesis. But there is a leap in this reasoning that
will only be acceptable when the reason for it is evinced. Before attemptingthis,let us demonstratethe usefulnessof this leap.
We shall use the ideas developed by Schutz, Bateson, and Goffman
for a purpose not originallyintended for them. Our aim is to take
apart the traditionalidea of representation,emphasizingthe rejection

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of an essentialisticworld view and the adoption of a course leading


to the abolition of the traditionalidea of mimesis. A rather tiring
course, perhaps, which promises a new defense of poetrybased on
it responds to. (A course opposite, therefore,to thatwhich
the interest
had led to the stressingof its "endless purpose.") What we are committedto, in short,is a view of the product of mimesisas one of the
cases of keyingofprimary
and habitualframes.
(Although in a different
way, this course has already been announced by Altieri.)25In order
to do so, we will follow a development parallel to the one followed
hitherto:firstwe shall present brieflythe standardized view of mimesis,then we will take it apart as a preparatorystep to confronting
it witha reformulatedidea of representation.

III
The standardized vision of mimesisis correlativeto the traditional
conceptionof representation.Let us take,forexample, the "neutral,"
that is, descriptive usage, without claims to originality,of a wellknown specialist in aesthetics, Harold Osborne. "In the realm of
theory,"he says, "the concept which seems most closely to express
the idea of naturalismwas mimesis."26
And although he hastensto add
that the concept of mimesis in antiquitywas not identical with our
and naturalism
conceptof naturalism,he notes: "None the less mimesis
have fairlyclose links and from one point of view it would not be
as the firstand stillrathervaguelyarticulated
wrongto regard mimesis
of
the
precursor
emergingconcept of naturalism."27
The dilemma that Osborne must face is the standard dilemma in
most of the literatureon this subject: mimesisis not imitationin the
sense of a photographiccopy; its Greek value has no exact counterpartin our languages, but,afterall, it resemblesan imitation.In sum,
mimesiscalls up the idea of verisimilitude.That is, a homogeneityis
supposed to exist between the represented (the referent)and the
representant(the object of mimesis), the job of the artistbeing to
correct, adjust, modify the represented source, in relative terms,
without changing it to the extent that it becomes naturalistically
unrecognizable.
We can easily see how this standardized conception is consistent
with the application of an essentialisticview to art: by means of his
correction,the artistwould remove thatwhich is impure and contingent so that the formsof truthmightglow. This is not the time or
place to show how this conception distortswhat both accuser (Plato)
and advocate (Aristotle)said concerningmimesis.Sufficeit to point

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out that a well-knownpassage of the Poetics-"There are thingswe


see with pain so far as they themselves are concerned but whose
images, even when executed in verygreat detail, we view withpleasure. Such is the case forexample withrenderingsof the least favored
animals, or of cadavers"28-established not an idea of correspondence but, instead, an absolute dissimilaritybetween the horror of
the real thingand the pleasure aroused by the mimeticimage.29Yet
of Aristotelianmimesisis to be
the reason for the misinterpretation
found in the philosopher himself,who-in his known works,at any
rate-never explained whence derived the pleasurable interest
roused by mimesis. Hence the alternativerepresented by the standardized view: it either overlooks or merelyglosses over the Aristotelian explanation, thus considering that all is settled: "When the
object representedin poetryor paintingis such as we could have no
desire of seeing it in reality,then I may be sure that its power in
poetryor paintingis owing to the power of imitation,and to no cause
operating in the thingitself."30
Due to this difficultyin the Aristoteliansource, the naturalistic
temptationbecomes imminent.In order to shun it,antiquityrectified
the concept of mimesisby thatof the potentialityof the artist'sinner
vision, as can be seen in this passage from Cicero: "That artist,in
executingthe figureof Zeus or Athena, would gaze at nobody from
whom he could take a resemblance, but in his own mind he would
finda sublime ideal of beauty."31This task was explicitlyundertaken
by Flavius Philostratusin the late second centuryA.D.: "It is the imagination that produces these works,she is a wiser demiurge than mimesis; mimesis will fabricate nothing but that which it has seen,
whereas imaginationwill also do what she has not seen, for she will
surmise it, in reference to reality;and frequentlyfear drives away
mimesis,whereas nothing can stop imagination,for she heads imperturbablytowards what she alone conceived."32
This passage shows clearly enough how antiquityunderstood the
concept of mimesis and resolved the difficultyinvolved in it by resortingto phantasia.Since this understandingwas not ruled out by
the rediscoveryof the Poeticsin the Italian Renaissance, it appears
now as a forerunnerof the attack on mimesis launched by the Romantics.To rethinkmimesisnow sounds like resuminga long-ceased
squabble. Why not give it up, then? Because the opposite principle,
stressingthe artist'scorrectiveimagination,leads us to another version of the same essentialismupon whichstandardizedinterpretation
of mimesishad drawn. The latter,in the attemptto distinguishmimesis from the false idea of duplication of the referent,had eventually understood it as an expression which captured the essential

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was to play
(hence the role that the Hegelian categoryof particularity
in Lukacs's aesthetics). In contrast,the substantialrole assigned to
the artist'simagination(phantasia),a source of the expressivetheories,
has in the end helped individual abilityto attainan essence, whichis
thus unconcealedby the creator and recognized
by the interpreterfor
the sake of the community.Although the distinctionbetween these
two versions seems to lie in the fact that the formerstressesthe sociable-since the referentis visible for all-whereas the latteremphasizes a select individual,both of them eliminatethe mediationof
the social. Through this elimination,both reach the same result: the
is of importanceto the extentthat it
object of mimesis,the mimema,
illustratesa certainworld view; philosopher and interpreteralike rejoice in art because it substantiatesthe correctnessof theirideas. So
the misunderstandingof mimesis corresponded to an implicithierarchy; in the foregroundwas conceptual discourse-that which says
what is and separates truthfromopinions-be it identifiedwithphilosophy or science. It had been to discipline the lower discourses,
whose value or worthlessnessdepended upon its incidence. The fact
that the weakness of this hierarchygrows increasinglyobvious explains the growingnumber of independent speculations that,in recent decades, have aimed at rethinkingmimesis.33Nor is it accidental
that the aestheticsof reception and of response should take the rejection of the immanentisticcharacterizationof the poetic as a principle. In other words, when both Jauss and Iser consider that all
poetic theories which tryto define literarinessby specifyingits discursiveconfigurationare bound to fail,and when theysee literature
as the product of a double action-that of the poet and that of the
recipient or the effect caused upon him-they are automatically
burying the essentialisticinterpretationsand emphasizing the primaryneed forpoeticsto workwiththe confrontationof twovariables,
the social expectations-that is, thatwhich theydo or do not take to
be mimetic,poetic, fictional-and the scheme contained in the work
itself.34
Such contributionsnotwithstanding,we cannot say that we have
reached a stage which allows a new homogenizationof the concept
of mimesis,one that could provide the foundationsfor a new historiographyof literature.I must say that I do not know of any textsin
the aesthetic theories of reception and response which attemptto
rethinkmimesisin theirown terms.35On the other hand, the above
mentioned authors who have rethoughtthis question have started
out from theoreticalassumptions differentand independent from
thisGerman trend. I say thismerelyin order to show thatwe are just
beginningto resume the issue. Let us see then,at least,how the theory

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of representationextractedfromSchutz's, Bateson's, and Goffman's


contributionscan serve us as a guiding prismin thisexploratoryessay.

IV
The effortto redefine mimesis,avoiding an essentialistictheoryof
the world and the mimema,
has led us directlyto Schutz and Goffman,
and indirectlyto Bateson and Austin,withhis distinctionbetweenthe
locutionaryand the illocutionary.The reader mightthen thinkthat
the strategyof thisessay is to "destroy"the traditionalview thatlinks
representationand mimesisin order to establisha viewthatcombines
Austin's linguisticconsiderationswith Schutz's, Bateson's, and Goffman's socio-anthropologicalspeculations. This might in fact be the
case, had not the use of their chosen concepts led these authors to
discrepant rather than convergent positions. Austin himselfwould
reject any attemptto approximate his theoryto a kind of discourse
which,taking in plays and poems, appeared to him as a "hollow or
void" form: "A performativeutterancewill,for example, be in a peculiarwayhollow or void if said by an actor on the stage, or if introduced in a poem, or spoken in soliloquy.... Language in such circumstance is ... used not seriously,but in ways parasitic upon its
normal use."36
This same idea reappears in the work of his colleague John R.
Searle. In a 1975 essay, Searle sets out to show that (a) one cannot
theorize about literaturebecause it has no inherentdefiningtraits;
(b) a plausible theoryshould deal with fictionaldiscourse, including
bothliteraryand nonliteraryworks;and (c) fictionaldiscourseis characterized by an intentionalfeigning."An author of fictionpretends
to performillocutionaryacts which he is not in fact performing,"37
and thus infringesthe "verticalrules" which, in a seriousutterance,
relate the enunciation to the real. The fictionistsubstitutesfor these
rules "a set of extralinguistic,
nonsemanticconventionsthatbreak the
connectionsbetween words and the world."38To the philosopher of
language, then, fictionaldiscourse is defined by its nonseriousness,
thatis, its feigningto performutteranceswhich,as theydo not relate
to the world, are in fact parasitic. Consequently,if such discourses
neverthelessdo have a communicativefunction,this is due to extralinguisticand extrasemanticconventions.In short,the emptinessof
these discourses is confirmed.
Now, in an essay published before Searle's, Richard Ohmann had
triedto rethinkmimesisstartingpreciselyfromthe illocutionary.To
sum up his reasoning: the correctnessof illocutionaryutterancesde-

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pends on social conventions. Literature "imitates"the illocutionary


and, by virtueof this,suspends the latter'snormativeforce,thereby
allowing the recipientto see from afar the relationshipbetween the
enunciationand itssocial context.39In his laterarticle,Searle, without
explicitlyreferringto Ohmann, adopts a nearly disdainfulattitude:
"Anyone thereforewho wishesto claim thatfictioncontainsdifferent
illocutionaryacts fromnonfictionis committedto the viewthatwords
do not have theirnormal meanings in worksof fiction."40
Yet Searle's
replydoes not sound convincing,for he reasons as if semanticpropertiescould be fulfilledonly within"serious" discourses. The illocutionarywould simplynot existoutside them; it would require another
language to frame it. Searle's antimetaphysicaltrainingas a practitioner of a positive discipline has given him a neo-positivisticbias
(propositionsare either true or false).
If Ohmann's hypothesishas passed the firsttest,it is nonetheless
subjectto a differentkind of criticism.Paradoxically,itseffectiveness
increases due to the sympathetictreatmentit receives froma third
author. Indeed, as Altierisees it,the objection to the idea of mimesis
as an "imitation"of illocutionaryacts issues fromthe factthatit does
not account foran importantpart of the literarydomain. Let us point
out his firstobjection only: "Poems, at least, oftendo not imitateany
kind of illocutionaryact and do not call attentionto social structures
invokedby the formsof expression."41It is not,in thisauthor'sview,
a matterof returningto assertions about the void or the parasitic
characterof literatureor fiction,nor is it a question of resumingthe
thesis,supported for instanceby Kate Hamburger, thatlyricismfalls
outside the scope of mimesis;on the contrary,itis a questionof taking
a step forward:"The concept of illocutionaryacts can be subsumed
as a subcategoryof the larger frameworkfor describinghuman actions presented by Erving Goffmanas the process of 'keying.'"42 In
factwe can say that,fromthe producer's viewpoint,it is a peculiarity
of mimesisto make a special use of language so as to pretend to be
another,to experience itselfas another,or even to use language not
as a means of informationbut as a space for transformations,
which
are not performed in terms of a described referentbut are made
possible by the veryideation as it is verballyexpressed: "Come, holy
tortoiseshell, / my lyre,and become a poem" (Sappho, "The Lyric
Poem"). This opening out to othernessthroughthe feigned "I" of a
character,and/orthrough the transformationof language, requires
on the part of the recipient a keyingof frames he is familiarwith.
(Fiction is not realized if the recipientis ignorantof this flexibility.)
The keyingrequired by mimesispresupposes myknowledgethatthis
is a particularform of play where pleasure is not to be confined to

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461

the very object of play. A particularizedform of play, mimesiscan


be distinguishedfromother formsby the fact that its playfulnessis
only a startingpoint that soon changes into a seriousnessof its own:
the serious request that one think about what one is playing. And
thus we pick up one of Ohmann's strandsof thought,since to think
about the game one is playing implies that the social conventions
presentin the "game" must be pinpointed.
Everythingthat we have said, though not explicitlyput forthby
Altieri,is made possible by his pioneering application of the concept
of keying.This essay, then, would have no grounds for proceeding
if the trailcould no longer be expanded.
Through the practiceof mimesis,language loses itsusual identitysomethingis said thathas no immediateimplicationsforthe worldjust as the producer divests himself of it-he speaks or writes to
enliven ghosts which are not reducible to mere projections of his
empirical self. But what necessitygoverns this language that seems
to be no more than playful?Aristotlehad already said that man becomes differentiatedthrough his abilityto imitate and therebyto
acquire his earliestknowledge.43Leiris has recentlyresumed the same
assertion:"Not to contentoneself withbeing what one is seems to be
the privilegeof our own species. From time immemorial,members
of our species have behaved as though theywere driven by the necessityto modifytheirexternalaspect,so as somehow to disguisewhat
they had from birth."44Thus concerning what takes place both in
prose and poetry we can say that mimesis presupposes in action a
pragmatic estrangementfrom itselfand an identificationwith the
othernessgrasped through this estrangement.Identificationand estrangement-identificationthroughestrangement-these constitute
the basic and contradictoryterms of the phenomenon of mimesis.
When we thinkof it in relation to social representations,we can say
that mimesisis a particularcase on its own, distinctfromother moIn this
dalities because it operates therepresentation
of representations.
formulawe find again its paradoxical property.A representationof
representations,mimesis presupposes between representationsand
itsown scene a separation thatmakes it possible to appreciate, know,
and/orquestion representations. Therefore, this separation, while
precludingany practicalaction upon the world, permitsone to think
of it,to experience oneself in it. But if the separation regardingrepresentationswere enough to characterize mimesis,the latterwould
be mistakenfor the effortto interpretthe world analytically.Yet the
is kept at keeps it alwaysclose to thatfromwhich
distancethe mimema
it is separated. With the mimema,the separation fromits nourishing
source is as importantas the nearness to the sensible world lyingon

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NEW LITERARY HISTORY

its horizon. And this nearness is relevantboth to the producer's and


the recipient'sinterest.In other words, its interestis assured by this
nearness. Thus, correctingKant, we must say, after Giesz, that mimesis implies an interestin my own disinterest.45
It is true that here
we seem to have made an illicitexchange of subjects,for Kant's and
Giesz's assertionshave the aestheticexperience as theirsubject. But
ifthe mimeticproduct also demands identificationand estrangement,
the exchange of subjects we have made is justified with the qualification that aestheticexperience has a scope we do not assign to mimesis,limitedas it is, in thisessay,to itsactualizationin verbalfictions.
To be interestedin myown disinterestmeans to say thatthemimema
is not,butratherbecomes
pragmatic.In other words,it does not a priori
aim at a pragmaticgoal-by operating it I do not become more dexterous or more familiarwithanything-but the interestit arouses is
linked to divergentmotivationswhich I am not aware of myself.Now
for something to arouse interestwithoutdisplaying the pragmatic
target aimed at, an identification must be created so strong that
nothingcan be said of it but that it gives pleasure. This pleasure is
not likelyto emerge if it does not present a sensible world that may
be recognized by this recipient.In other words, the necessaryidentificationof the recipient with the mimemais attained through the
recognitionby the recipientof the social representationsthatnurture
mimesis: "The significanceof the work, then, does not lie in the
meaning sealed within the text, but in the fact that that meaning
bringsout what had previouslybeen sealed withinus."46It is, therebetween the mimeticrepresentationand the readfore,the similarity
er's representationsthat presides over theiridentification.
If in the previous paragraph we located pleasure, identity,and
between the mimeticrepresentationand those experienced
similarity
by the reader, we can also locate the termsthatare likelyto originate
from another vector indispensable to the experience of mimesis,
namely,estrangement.Thus we have: separation,possibilityof questioning, difference (between the mimetic representation and the
reader's representations).Through these twochains,it seems possible
to understand the variabilityof receptions of mimeticexperience.
The recipient"discovers" in it a similarity(with his representations)
thatdoes not belong immanentlyto the work.A mimeticwork,therefore,is necessarilya discourse withgaps (Iser), a discourse of a wandering signifierin search of the signifiedsthe reader willbringto it.
The signifiedsthen allocated will be alwaystransient,and theirmutabilityrelated to the recipient'shistoricaltime. Because of this necessary agency of the other (the recipient), the mimetic product is
always a scheme, somethingunfinished,which survivesas long as it

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admits the allocation of an interestother than that which originally


produced it.
Let us return,for the last time, to the formula "representationof
representations."We have seen how it puts to work the paradoxical
characteristicsof identityand estrangement,with their contrasting
and synchronically
chains. We mustthenask whathappens
indispensable
when this synchronicityis broken off. In this case, either only the
identityor the critical distance comes into force. When only the
formerremains,the recipientturns the object into kitsch.For those
who uphold the immanence of art and its radical separation from
kitsch,thisstatementprobablysounds annoying.Yet Hermann Broch
once said thatthere is no art "withouta dash of kitsch."47To convert
the mimeticexperience into a kitschexperience means to subdue the
paradox of mimesis-a paradox of all aestheticexperience, not only
of the mimetickind-in favorof the reader's own experience: "The
ingenuityof the kitsch-eyeconsistsin disclosingemotionalaspectsand
at the same time camouflaging all the opposite channels."48
If, instead, a sheer criticalestrangementprevails,the mimeticexperience changes into a theoreticalexperience. In the previous case,
the mimesis had been converted into a compensating phenomenon
(I am touched by my own tears). In the present case, the mimetic
in theoscene is changed into food for the conceptual. The difficulty
about
from
the
fundamental
antithesis
mimesis
results,then,
rizing
that is imposed by its experience. This is observed in Aristotle,who
did not hand down to us an explicittreatmentof this key concept of
his,but clearlyexpressed the reason forthe interestaroused by tragic
mimesis-the feelingof catharticrelief.Modern poeticshas somehow
reversed the factors-catharsis is contemptible,estrangementdesirable. Perhaps the various aesthetictheoriescan only legalize the privcritical
ilege grantedto one of these twopoles: catharticidentification,
A
when
this
legalizationapestrangement. problem arises, however,
pears in the guise of universality.Thus unless we are being too hasty,
the only thingthatcan be said about the universalityof the products
of mimesisis thattheyare not universaldue to some essentialquality
but rather become so for communities,and, withinthese, for those
recipientswho are able to carry out a peculiar keying,the one that
discloses to them a kind of play which is not merelyplayful,a play
that involvesboth pleasure and estrangement,a play in which pleasure prompts estrangementand the latterdemands a returnto the
former.If this conclusion sounds plausible, its firstpracticalconsequence will be an approach in which the analystdoes not privilege
some aestheticqualitybut ratherstudieshow, in a particularhistorical
period, the idea of mimesis is updated in relation to the prevalent

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formsof social representations.49Thus the risk of aestheticnormativeness,which is always abusive, might be reduced, as well as the
prevalence of absenteeistpurism, that is, the tendencyto approach
art for itself,regardless of its original context or that into which it
has expanded.
PONTIFiCIA

UNIVERSIDADE

CATOLICA,
RIO DE JANEIRO

(Translated byJ. Laurenio de Mello)


NOTES
1 "Of doxa we say thatit is, contrarilyto science, a simple 'opinion,' as uncertainand
fluctuatingas the object on whichit rests.But the connectionof doxawiththe universe
of image is diverselyintimateand direct. Doxa comes from dokein,which means 'to
seem, to show off.' The field of doxa is that of the showing off, the field of those
similaritiesof which the image is the privilegedexpression."J.-P. Vernant,"Image et
(1975),
apparence dans la theorie platoniciennede la 'mimesis,'"Journalde psychologie
raisonsunder the title"Naissance d'images" (Paris, 1979),
rpt. in his Religion,histoires,
p. 28. All translationsare my own unless otherwisenoted.
2 "Phidias produced his Zeus according to nothingvisible,but he made him such as
Zeus himselfwould appear should he wish to reveal himselfto our eyes." Plotinus
Enneads5.1.
3 "Plotinus'sessentially'poietic' or 'heuristic'view of the pictorialarts ... was just as
much of a threat to the position of art as the essentially'mimetic'view stressed by
Plato-only that the lines of attack came from opposite directions:according to the
mimeticview, art is merely imitationof sensory objects, and its rightto existence is
denied because its goals are not worthstrivingfor; according to the heuristicview,art
has the sublime task of 'injecting'an eidosinto resistantmatter,and the possibilityof
itssuccess is disputed because the goal is unattainable."Erwin Panofsky,Idea: A Concept
in ArtTheory,tr.Joseph J. S. Peake (Columbia, S.C., 1968), pp. 29-30.
4 David Carroll, "Representationof the End(s) of History: Dialectics and Fiction,"
Yale FrenchStudies,No. 59 (1980), p. 201.
5 Carroll, pp. 201-2.
6 See Charles Altieri,"The Poem as Act: A Way to Reconcile Presentationaland
MimeticTheories," Iowa Review,6 (1975), 108.
7 Altieri,p. 109.
8 Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, "De quelques formesprimitivesde classification" (1903), in Mauss, Oeuvres,II (Paris, 1969), 13.
9 Durkheim and Mauss, II, 18.
10 Carlos Castello Branco, "Do estilo mineiro,"Jornaldo Brasil,9 Nov. 1980, p. 2.
11 Maurice Merleau-Ponty,Phenomenologie
de la perception
(Paris, 1945), p. 119.
12 See J. L. Austin,How to do ThingswithWords(London, Oxford, and New York,
1976). For the purposes of our discussion,we dispense withthe thirdcomponentaspect
of the speech act, the perlocutory.
13 Carlos Drummond de Andrade, "Quero," in As impurezas
do branco(Rio de Janeiro,
1973).
14 Erving Goffman,FrameAnalysis(Harmondsworth,1975), p. 457.

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15 Goffman,p. 508.
16 Michel de Montaigne,Essais, ed. Albert Thibaudet (Paris, 1933), Bk. II, ch. 1, p.
324.
17 FriedrichNietzsche,Menschliches,
Allzumenschliches.
Ein BuchfiirfreieGeister.The
quotation is fromFriedrichNietzsche, Werke,ed. Karl Schlechta (Frankfurtam Main,
Berlin, and Vienna, 1977), Vol. I, par. 57, p. 487.
18 Alfred Schutz and Thomas Luckmann, The Structures
of theLife-World(London,
1974), p. 75.
19 Michel Leiris, L'Age d'homme,preceded by De la litterature
considereecommeune
tauromachie
(Paris, 1979), p. 177.
20 Goffman,FrameAnalysis,p. 86.
21 See Goffman,p. 45.
22 GregoryBateson, "A Theory of Play and Phantasy"(1954), rpt. in his Stepsto an
EcologyofMind (New York, 1976), p. 180.
23 Bateson, p. 182.
24 Bateson, p. 185.
25 Altieri,"The Poem as Act," p. 114.
26 Harold Osborne, Aesthetics
and ArtTheory:
An HistoricalIntroduction
(London, 1968),
p. 44.
27 Osborne, p. 44.
28 AristotlePoetics1448b9 ff.
29 Emmanuel Martineau,"Mimesis dans la 'Po6tique': pour une solutionphenomenet de Morale, 81, No. 4
ologique (A propos d'un livre recent),"Revue de Metaphysique
(Oct.-Dec. 1976), 444 ff.
30 Edmund Burke, A PhilosophicalEnquiryintotheOriginof Our Ideas of theSublime
and theBeautiful(1751), ed. and introd.James T. Boulton (Notre Dame, 1968), p. 49.
31 Cicero Orator2.7 ff.
32 As quoted by Vernant, "Naissance d'images," p. 37.
33 Such as, for example, Hermann Koller, Die Mimesisin der Antike.Nachahmung,
Ausdruck(Berne, 1954); Goran Sorbom, Mimesisand Art(Bonniers, 1966);
Darstellung,
and RhetRichard Ohmann, "Speech Acts and the Definitionof Literature,"Philosophy
oric,4 (1971), 1-19; Martineau, "Mim/esisdans la 'Poetique' "; Altieri,"The Poem as
Act."
34 The scheme is "a filterwhich has the functionof enabling us to collectperception
data." Wolfgang Iser, Der AktdesLesens(Munich, 1976), p. 51.
35 Supporters of the aesthetictheoriesof receptionand response are likelyto think
thatthe role ascribed to the reader, to the analysisof his horizon of expectations,and
to the antagonismprovoked by aestheticexperience regardingsuch a horizon make it
useless to propose once again the question of mimesis.In thisrespect,theymustagree
withthe position held by Jonathan Culler, who, though independent fromthe Konstanz school, would agree with it: "Instead of novel as mimesis,we have novel as a
structurethat works with differentmodes of organization and enables the reader to
Poetics:
understand how to give a meaning to the world."Jonathan Culler, Structuralist
(London, 1975), p. 238.
Structuralism,
Linguisticsand theStudyofLiterature
36 Austin,How to do ThingswithWords,p. 22.
37 John R. Searle, "The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse," New Literary
History,
7 (Winter 1975), 325.
38 Searle, p. 326.
39 See Richard Ohmann, "Speech Acts and the Definitionof Literature."
40 Searle, p. 324.
41 Altieri,"The Poem as Act," p. 112.
42 Altieri,p. 114.

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43
44

AristotlePoetics1448b6-8.
Michel Leiris, "Preface" to Gilbert Rouget's La Musique et la transe(Paris, 1980),
ascribed
p. 7. This statementraises an importantquestion, that of the metahistoricity
to the idea of fiction.It is indeed inherentto postmedievalreflectionon art "to place
fictionconsciousness as a presuppositionof all communicationalsituationsin whichas in the courtlyromance-we can expect the recipientsto go beyond a natural orientation"(Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht,"Wie fiktionalwar der hofischeRoman?" [mimeo,
1980], p. 4). As Gumbrechtnotes: "Withthata question is naturallyposed on whether
the concept of literatureshould be applied to medieval texts that fall short of this
borderline"(p. 3). This question, to be sure, can be answered only be medievalists.In
any case, a provisionalanswer can be attemptedon the basis of the followingpassage:
"The earliest texts of the 'courtlyromance' genre, we can now summarize, do not
performa new communicationalsituationthrough a referenceto the fictionalcharacteristicsof the fable but througha repertoryof signals that suggestto the recipient
a distancing from procedures that the utilitarianarts, writtenin vulgar language,
depended upon. These multishadedsignals are hard to understand todaywithoutthe
aid of the horizon of expectationof the chansonsde gesteand religiousliterature.Concerning the status of fictionalityof the narrations,the action as 'unreal,' to speak in
the manner ofJ.-P. Sartre,does not creep into it; instead,itstargetseems to have been
the 'neutralization'of the question as a product of reality"(p. 6). For an opposite view
of the romancourtois,see Rainer Warning, "Pour une pragmatique du discours fictional,"Poetique,39 (Sept. 1979), 321-37, esp. pp. 329-30.
45 Ludwig Giesz, Phinomenologiedes Kitsches-Ein Beitragziir anthropologisches
Aesthetik
del
(Munich, 1971). Quotations are from the Spanish translation,Fenomenologia
kitsch(Barcelona, 1973). See also Hans RobertJauss, Aesthetische
Erfahrungund literarischeHermeneutik
(Munich, 1977), pp. 57 ff.
46 The passage quoted does not appear in the original 1976 edition,but only in its
English translation:Wolfgang Iser, The ActofReading(Baltimoreand London, 1978).
47 Hermann Broch, DichtenundErkennen.The quotationsare fromthe Frenchtransetconnaissance,
ed. and introd.Hannah Arendt,tr.AlbertKohn
lation,Creationlitteraire
(Paris, 1966), p. 223.
48 Giesz, Fenomenologia
del kitsch,
p. 53.
49 This essay had already been writtenwhen I learned of the publicationof Erzihlen
imAlltag,ed. Konrad Ehrlich (Frankfurtam Main, 1980), which thereforecould not
be used.

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