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The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature

"'I am a member of the bourgeois class, feel myself to be such, and have been brought up on its opinions and ideals', wrote Max Weber, in 1895. Who could repeat these words today?"

Thus begins Franco Moretti's study of the bourgeois in modern European literature, where a gallery of individual portraits is entwined around the analysis of specific keywords—such as "useful" and "earnest", "efficiency", "influence", "comfort", "roba"—and of the formal mutations of the medium of prose. The book charts the rise and fall of bourgeois culture, exploring the causes for its historical weakness, and searches for the seeds of its failures.

Reviews

  • “The great iconoclast of literary criticism.”
  • “Moretti is a passionate and astute scholar.”
  • “Cleverly strips away the counting-house walls, watch chains and waistcoats to reveal a phase of middle-class history that was at least as anxious and self-scrutinising as its snobbish detractors could wish.”
  • “There's no scholar around I'm more eager to read, nobody by whom I'm more provoked or inspired.”
  • “Shows how the novel as form served as the capacious and adaptable home within which the bourgeois could both assert and camouflage itself.”
  • “It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hellbent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”
  • “An illuminating, data-rich analysis of a fraught and nuanced null set.”
  • “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.”

Blog

  • 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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  • "Staggering in breadth and depth" - Alexa Firat reviews Alexandre Beecroft's 'An Ecology of World Literature'

    Writing in the Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World, Assistant Professor of Arabic at Temple University Alexa Firat reviews Alexander Beecroft's 'An Ecology of World Literature: from Antiquity to the Present Day.' Firat praises the books scale and erudition, writing that 'the journey through the six ecologies Beecroft lays out is altogether fascinating and staggering in breadth and depth.'
















    Alexander Beecroft’s most recent study, An Ecology of World Literature, is a profound undertaking that uses the scientific framework of ecology to “facilitate the comparative study of the interactions between literatures and their environments” (28), and hopefully to provoke discussions about particular cultural contexts with specific ecologies. Beecroft’s intellectual interests grew out of his desire to say something useful about literatures (in his case ancient Greece and early China) in conjunction with each other that did not depend on claims of contact, leading to his acclaimed study Authorship and Cultural Identity in Early Greece and China [1].  Furthermore, the critical discourses on world literature, as productive as they are, left Beecroft searching for a theoretical model that could make sense of, for instance, the relationship between political fragmentation and cultural unity found in early Greece and China, and that furthermore did not use as a premise the value we, as modern readers, add to the texts we read (2) [2]. In addition to these questions, Beecroft was introduced to the work of the Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock. The confluence of these elements led him to consider that the models for understanding how literature circulates were actually a series of different concrete answers, emerging in specific contexts, to the same set of problems about the interactions between literatures and their environments (3). Drawing from the work of literary and linguistic scholars and modeled on the science of ecology, Beecroft developed a scheme of six ecologies for his interaction: the epichoric (or local), panchoric (a generic term he derived from Panhellenic), cosmopolitan, vernacular, national and global, that offer a conducive framework for comparative studies not bound by time, geography or language.

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  • New Left Review - Issue 92 out now




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Other books by Franco Moretti