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Erich Auerbach (1892–1957) and Johan Huizinga (1872–1945) shared an interest in late medieval Burgundian art. My essay reads Auerbach’s famous Mimesis (1946) as addressing one of Huizinga’s most pressing concerns, namely periodization, not only as he articulated them in Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), but also as they dominated several of his (Huizinga’s) less well-known texts on the Renaissance that challenged the Burckhardt-inflected way both periods were understood at the time. Auerbach’s reception of Huizinga’s understanding in Autumn of late medieval realism in particular in a series of texts beginning in 1921 and running up through 1946 rattled at the foundation of the assumption that periodization was a relevant way of looking at cultural history at all. The alternative represented by his Mimesis focuses, rather, on what Auerbach describes in the “Epilegomena to Mimesis” (1954) as the “existential realism” he finds in texts from across the ages.
This Introduction outlines the theoretical, historical and technological contexts against which the exploration of the prosthetic imagination will unfold, in the chapters that follow. It develops an account of the relationship between mimesis and prosthesis, by teasing out a theoretical relationship with Auerbach’s Mimesis. It then demonstrates the ways in which the emerging prosthetic condition requires us to rethink the legacies of twentieth-century thought, and our conception of the historical function of the novel in imagining our lifeworlds.
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