Sharon Marcus is Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature and dean of humanities at Columbia University. She is author of Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007) and coeditor of special issues of Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film, Public Culture, and Representations. She is writing a book tentatively titled The Drama of Celebrity.
Through a reading of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, which readers inside and outside the academy have valued for decades, this essay teases out how literary critical value is often aligned with scale: big claims, minutely close readings, and the ability to move gracefully between them. The essay also identifies and discusses four techniques basic to literary criticism: description, interpretation, explanation, and evaluation. A coda speculates about the links between Mimesis and a visual technology introduced into university lecturing a few decades before Auerbach wrote his magnum opus: the slide projector.