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Distant Reading

The formation of an unorthodox literary critic

How does a literary historian end up thinking in terms of z-scores, principal component analysis, and clustering coefficient?

In the ten essays collected in this volume, Franco Moretti reconstructs the intellectual trajectory of his philosophy of ‘distant reading’. From the evolutionary model of ‘Modern European Literature’, through the geo-cultural dominant of ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ and ‘Planet Hollywood’ to the quantitative findings of ‘Style, inc.’ and the abstract patterns of ‘Network Theory, Plot Analysis’, the book follows two decades of critical explorations that have come to define – well beyond the wildest expectations of its author – a growing field of unorthodox literary studies.


  • “One of the most daring and intellectually exciting books of the year.”
  • “A great iconoclast of literary criticism.”
  • “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.”
  • “Moretti, a mythopoeic figure, generates around himself a dense network of folklore and apocrypha.”
  • “Moretti is already famous in bookish circles for his data-centric approach to novels, which he graphs, maps, and charts ... if his new methods catch on, they could change the way we look at literary history.”
  • “Distant reading might prove to be a powerful tool for studying literature.”
  • “Moretti's new collection of essays, Distant Reading, provides a retrospective of his remarkable trajectory.”


  • Who Wrote Lolita First? An Interview with Michael Maar

    Michael Maar, the iconoclastic literary critic, caused a stir in the literary world when in 2005 he published his investigation into Nabokov's Lolita. Maar's book, The Two Lolitas, showed that Nabokov's work had a startling similarity to another Lolita, written some 40 years beforehand, by Heinz von Eschwege - a writer who would later became a famous Nazi journalist. A classic of literary sleuthing, The Two Lolitas asks whether Nabokov knew of von Lichberg's tale and if so, did he adopt it consciously, or was this a classic case of "cryptoamnesia," with the earlier tale existing for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory?

    In this interview, by German magazine Cicero and translated by the Paris Review, Maar discusses his investigation into the case of the two Lolitas.

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  • New Left Review - Issue 92 out now

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  • The Library of New Babylon

    Just imagine we did all live in the future utopia that is Constant’s New Babylon. What would the library be like? I expect it would feature a greatest hits edition of the theory that helped us all get there. Here’s some notes towards it.

    Sometimes to take three steps forward, you have to first take two steps back. I have been thinking that it might be worth stepping back into the archive of historical materialisms, critical theories and such, to see if there are neglected resources there. Perhaps we can’t just built on previous selections from it.

    Perhaps we have to find new ways of reading even those texts that have become relentlessly canonic. New futures call for new pasts. So let’s find some! Here I have organized some working notes towards a revised resource guide to the past for this present.

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Other books by Franco Moretti