Mundus Totus Exilium Est: Reflections on the Critic in Exile
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In his reflections on the project of literary criticism, Erich Auerbach cites the wisdom of a twelfth-century monk, who understood that while the ‘tender beginner’ cleaves to nationality, in the well-developed human being, ‘the whole world is a foreign country [mundus totus exilium est].’ What Auerbach means by quoting this is that a critic must work through his or her attachments to native soil, detach oneself from the local prejudices and comforts, and engage with one’s place as a foreigner or exile, who can thereby map such spaces critically without the distortions caused by undue familiarity. The exiles, émigrés, nomads, renegades, and refugees who create our literary maps also call for a criticism attuned to the spatial peculiarities of the conditions of exile. In an era of globalization, in which the project of literature is fundamentally transnational, the critic who can view the entire world as a foreign land is best suited to making sense of these postnational ensembles.