franco moretti and the devil


A few words further, however, must be said about Moretti’s body of work. First of all, it is important to recognize that he is, in the most literal sense, inimitable. His experiments are, as he often self-effacingly confesses, one-offs, little tinkered-together bits of one and another theory soldered onto the apparatus of one or another non-traditional tool: maps, graphs, trees, network theory. What they are meant to do is fit a particular problem—understanding the plot structure of Hamlet, retracing the development of the market for novels in 18th century England, determining the importance of clues in accounting for Arthur Conan Doyle’s success—and each problem, once identified, requires an original contraption. This bespoke process makes it very difficult merely to paraphrase Moretti’s arguments; the point is as much in observing the gradual concatenation of insights and rejected hypotheses as it is in the finished product, for the ways his experiments take shape are far more illuminating in their singularity than they could be in consistency. What is consistent, though, from experiment to experiment, and book to book, is Moretti’s dedication to breaking a new path, his insistence that current methods are not adequate. Moretti is thus right to connect, in the first passage quoted above, the question of how one reads to the question of how much one reads. Close reading is slow reading, and slow reading can never be very much reading, even if one is very devoted (and very gifted with grants or teaching exemptions).

more from Andrew Seal at The Quarterly Conversation here.