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Tatjana Jukić (University of Zagreb)


Tatjana Jukić is Professor and Chair of English Literature in the Department of English at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia, where she teaches Victorian literature and arts, and film studies. She has been invited to lecture on literary history, theory and film by universities and research institutes in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Jukić is author of two books: Liking, Dislike, Supervision. Literature and the Visual in Victorian Britain (Zazor, nadzor, sviđanje. Dodiri književnog i vizualnog u britanskom devetnaestom stoljeću, Zagreb, 2002) and Revolution and Melancholia. Limits of Literary Memory (Revolucija i melankolija. Granice pamćenja hrvatske književnosti, Zagreb, 2011). Her current research, on the Victorian chthonic sublime, is forthcoming in The Cambridge Companion to the Romantic Sublime (ed. Cian Duffy).


Tragic Realism


In perhaps the single most important book of Western philology in the twentieth century, Erich Auerbach¡¯s Mimesis, first published in 1946, tragic realism surfaces as a concept that describes not merely the intellectual stakes of the novel in the nineteenth century but the rationale of nineteenth-century modernity. In the wake of the French Revolution, Auerbach suggests, the novel is tasked with sustaining the terms of the radical investigation of the world against a sense of historical complacency, and realism references precisely the fact that the world remains targeted for investigation; hence Auerbach¡¯s concern with concepts like the commonplace and the ordinary when he speaks about realism. This is evident especially in Auerbach¡¯s early lecture on realism, one he delivered in Istanbul in 1941-1942 (see Konuk 2010: 181-193), in which tragic realism is pervasive: tragic implying that realism engages the world on emphatically tragic terms, and that nineteenth-century modernity may well depend for its self-definition on acknowledging this fact. (It is clear from Auerbach¡¯s argument that his grasp of tragedy in relation to realism implies a critique of the positions outlined, in different ways, by Walter Benjamin in the Trauerspiel book, and by György Luk¨¢cs in The Theory of the Novel. Actually, Auerbach¡¯s sense of tragedy betrays an affinity with Jean-Pierre Vernant¡¯s understanding of tragedy in ancient Greece. For Vernant, tragedy is about a language being forged without which the conceptual apparatus of early democracy would have been impossible; for Auerbach, modern realism is about feeding that conceptual apparatus back to the conditions of tragedy.)

With this in mind and with a focus on his Istanbul lecture, I propose to discuss three points that Auerbach makes but does not pursue: first, that the nineteenth-century English novel sidesteps realism. Second, that cinema takes over as a foothold of realism in the twentieth century, and, third, that the intelligence of tragic realism serves to explain history as a structure of catastrophe, as evidenced by the Second World War. Taken together, these three claims seem to chart a tacit theory of tragic realism that supplements Mimesis and invites a theory of modernity. In order to engage them to this end, I will draw on select nineteenth-century English novelists (notably Jane Austen and, surprisingly perhaps, Elizabeth Barrett Browning) and on filmmakers whose cinematic leave-taking from the Second World War took form of a tragic invocation (John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens), with a view of scholarship influenced by Auerbach (Fredric Jameson, Hayden White). Also, it is in this way that I respond, and contribute, to the conceptual stakes of this conference, whose name relies on the Second World War as a historical watershed against which to examine realism.