Moretti Fest '06

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And while I'm in the mood to promote good work that others are performing, let me recommend that you pay an hour or two's worth of attention to the discussion/event on Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees that Jonathan is organizing over at the Valve.

The book itself simply collects a three-part series of essays that Moretti did for the New Left Review a few years back, which I read a while ago, but the ideas therein are important enough that I went ahead and bought the book, too. No one who reads it could help (I think) but to see a little of his influence on the work that Derek and I are doing with CCC Online. Scott McLemee has a nice "Brief Guide to Avoid Saying Anything Too Dumb About Franco Moretti" over at IHE this week, if you'd like the thumbnail of what Moretti's talking about.

The only thing I'd add to Scott's account is something that you'll see if you check in periodically over at the nora project (as I do), and that's the crucial role that visualization plays both in Moretti's work and in this kind of work more broadly. Graphs, maps, and trees are three kinds of visualization techniques, and while people are debating the appropriateness of the disciplines from which the techniques are drawn, it may be more productive ultimately to ask whether or not language and culture can be captured visually these ways. (I think so. You may not.)

Moretti's work also connects for me with Gladwell's Blink in the sense that the snap judgments MG discusses are themselves a form of distant reading (one of FM's key terms). That may also be the other way around. But either way, distant reading is something of an occluded technique in the humanities, although it's not entirely absent. Think of our institution's emphasis on the impact factor of journal articles, or of the keywords supplied for an article, or of our (my) habit of scanning works cited and indices to gather a quick impression about whether or not to read a book. These are all different instances of the broader category of activity that Moretti is applying to literary history (I'd actually argue literary sociology, I think, in the way that Randall Collins does the sociology of philosophy, but that's another post that needs more close reading by me.).

Anywho, don't know that I'll have time to participate, but I'll be reading, and you should, too.


Thanks for the notice, Collin.

I hope to have Matt Kirschenbaum contributing a piece about the nora project.

That'd be great. You know, you might also drop a note to Steven Johnson--I think he studied with Moretti at Columbia, and he had an entry on his blog about him maybe a couple of months ago...

I hadn't heard about Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees until I read Scott McLemee's piece earlier this week, but from what McLemee wrote, I think your characterization of Moretti's project as literary sociology is apt. Moretti is clearly doing book history, and the annales school approach to book history began with Robert Escarpit's 1958 Sociologie de la Litterature. Nearly 50 years on, the fact that doing book history (media ecology of print culture) is still controversial says so much about why literary studies is becoming a marginalized discipline.

I'm looking forward to keeping an eye on the Valve.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on January 5, 2006 6:15 PM.

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