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Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History

The “great iconoclast of literary criticism” reinvents the study of the novel.
In this groundbreaking book, Franco Moretti argues that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead. In place of the traditionally selective literary canon of a few hundred texts, Moretti offers charts, maps and time lines, developing the idea of “distant reading” into a full-blown experiment in literary historiography, in which the canon disappears into the larger literary system. Charting entire genres—the epistolary, the gothic, and the historical novel—as well as the literary output of countries such as Japan, Italy, Spain, and Nigeria, he shows how literary history looks significantly different from what is commonly supposed and how the concept of aesthetic form can be radically redefined.

Reviews

  • “It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hell-bent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”
  • “The great iconoclast of literary criticism... Moretti's discourse, as has often been noted, is marked by the same subtlety and unpredictability as his fellow Italian, Umberto Eco.”
  • “Mr. Moretti makes his most forceful case yet for his approach, a heretical blend of quantitative history, geography and evolutionary theory.”

Blog

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    In the latest issue of New Left Review:

     

    Lena Lavinas: 21st Century Welfare

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  • New Left Review-issue 81 out now



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  • Hamlet in the machine—Franco Moretti's distant reading in the New York Times

    Finally, a solution for bibliophiles drowning under the weight of their own book purchases: don't read those voluminous tomes, feed them into a computer and make graphs instead! Heresy? This, according to literary scholar cum-statistician Franco Moretti, is the only way to grasp the immensity of world literature. William Gladstone claimed that one could read 22,000 books in a lifetime. But who has the time or shelf space? Luckily Moretti's Stanford Literary Lab is designed to solve such burning bookish anxieties. The New York Times had the following to say about Moretti's literary rebellions:

    As its name suggests, the Lit Lab tackles literary problems by scientific means: hypothesis-testing, computational modeling, quantitative analysis. Similar efforts are currently proliferating under the broad rubric of "digital humanities," but Moretti's approach is among the more radical. He advocates what he terms "distant reading": understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data.

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Other books by Franco Moretti Afterword by Alberto Piazza