All 3 entries tagged Franco Moretti

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March 15, 2010

Franco Moretti’s Trees

Follow-up to Franco Moretti's Maps from The Midnight Heart

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretto distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

Graphs,
Maps,
• and Trees.

Trees

Darwin

Darwin’s tree was more than just a diagram. Moretti describes Darwin’s kind of mapping as creating ‘morphological diagrams, where history is systematically correlated with form’ (69). Playing on evolutionary theory, Moretti suggests that ‘divergence pervades the history of life, defining its morphospace – its space-of-forms’ (70). But the question is, how does this work for literature?

Moretti begins to consider this question by focussing on British detective fiction, where divergence was dictated by ‘the literary market’ and its ‘ruthless competition – hinging on form’ (72). British detective fiction developed through the sophisticated presentation of clues in the narrative and Moretti explores which strategies worked and which were unsuccessful. What he discovers is that the ruthless market makes ‘writers branch out in every direction’, sometimes forcing them ‘into all sorts of crazy blind alleys’ (77). Consequently, ‘divergence becomes indeed, as Darwin had seen, inseparable from extinction’ (77). If there is divergence, there must also be convergence, but Moretti is keen to note that ‘Convergence […] only arises _on the basis of previous divergence, and its power tends in fact to be directly proportional to the distance between the original branches (bicycles and internal combustion engines)’ (80).

Having explored the evolution of a particular genre, Moretti turns to mapping a specific literary technique: free indirect style. Moretti suggests that free indirect style has a ‘composite nature’ which ‘made it “click” with that other strange formation which is the process of modern socialization: by leaving the individual voice a certain amount of freedom, while permeating it with the impersonal stance of the narrator. And the result was the genesis of an unprecedented “third voice”, intermediate and almost neutral in tone between character and narrator: the composed, slightly resigned voice of the well-socialized individual, of which Austen’s heroines – these young women who speak of themselves, in the third person, as if from the outside – are such stunning examples’ (82).

Moretti maps various branches and streams of free indirect speech in international fiction, such as British and Irish modernism and Latin American dictator novels. Moretti notices though that one convergence that was not possible is that of free indirect speech with dialogism. Interestingly, in response to this fact, Moretti comments that ‘Culture is not the realm of ubiquitous “hybridity”: it, too, has barriers, its impossible limits’ (85).

Overall, in mapping British detective fiction, or the use of free indirect style in international literature, what Moretti is suggesting is a different way for academics to analyze the novel. Ultimately, he asks us to ‘Take a form, follow it from space to space, and study the reasons for its transformation’ (90).

Further Reading

Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


Franco Moretti's Maps

Follow-up to Franco Moretti's Graphs from The Midnight Heart

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretti distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

Graphs,
• Maps,
• and Trees.

Maps

Three Mile Cross

In this section, Moretti focuses on Mary Mitford’s Our Village (1824-1832) which is based on a town in Berkshire called Three Mile Cross. Moretti makes a map of volume one of Our Village and shows that geographically the town is in the centre of a concentric pattern of events which spiral out into the surrounding countryside. The narrative space of the book circles around the village always returning to the centre.

Moretti explains that the first time he discovered this shape was in mapping Our Village and he had never encountered it before. In thinking about the concentric pattern of Our Village, Moretti suggests that the space reflects ‘the older, “centred” viewpoint of an unenclosed village’ (39).

Other texts that engage with the village as the centre of human society also show a concentric pattern like the one in Our Village. Moretti points us to Walter Christaller’s study Central Places in Southern Germany , where the centre is the target settlement which provides the most specialized services and trading. Around this target settlement grows a ‘market region’ and it is encircled by smaller versions of the largest, central town. Moretti maps this concentration of services and trade in Our Village too, noting that the characters have to make more and more journeys to urban centres to access their specialised services and shops.

Like John Galt’s Annals of the Parish (1821), Our Village represents simple, everyday life occasionally punctuated by surprises and remarkable events emerging from the urban centres. This contact with the urban and the national becomes more sinister though in Berthold Auerbach’s Black Village Stories (1843-1853), where outside interference in village life becomes oppressive and regulatory. Moretti concludes: ‘In their animosity towards national centralization, village stories diverge sharply from the provincial novels with which they are often confused, and are if anything, much closer to regional novels’ (52).

Out of these debates on these village stories, Moretti begins to think that his maps are not so much geographical, as they are diagrammatic. These diagrams map the object of the characters’ desires in some instances. For example, Moretti analyzed the Parisian novel and found that the young male protagonists all lived on the opposite side of the Seine to their lovers. The diagrams, however, can also map forces. Moretti explains that this involves ‘[d]educing from the form of an object the forces that have been at work; this is the most elegant definition ever of what literary sociology should be’ (57). Consequently, Moretti finds that in the Our Village stories from in and around 1828, the map of narrative space becomes less concentric, and Moretti suggests that this change is due to historical unrest at the time reflected in the 1830 Peasant Uprisings. The narrative space of the British novel can no longer be concentric, because such village idylls were being killed by industrialization. According to Moretti, Elizabeth Gaskell’s portrayal of rural life in Cranford (began serialization in 1851) ‘is Madame Tussaud’s idea of a village story’ (63).

While these insights may not be exactly new, it is fascinating to look at literature with Moretti’s approach and what is offered here is certainly a fascinating view of international writing and the space of narrative. The comparison of Mitford with Christaller, Galt and Auerbach is very convincing, and the chapter on ‘Maps’ does offer a new mode of reading literature through the ‘matrix of relations’ that makes up the social fabric of the novel (54).

Further Reading

Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


March 12, 2010

Franco Moretti's Graphs

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretti distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

• Graphs,
Maps ,
• and Trees.

Graphs

The first section of Franco Moretti’s study Graphs, Maps, Trees is of course on graphs and it poses some interesting ideas about how critics formulate literary history. What Moretti plots on his graphs is the rise and fall of the novel in various cultures from Britain to Nigeria. From these graphs, he discovers ‘[a]n antipathy between politics and the novel’ (12), and he quotes Michael Denning who tells us that in times of radicalism ‘writers have usually chosen shorter and more public forms [to express the zeitgeist], writing plays, poems, journalism and short stories’ (Denning qtd. Moretti 2007: 11).

Moretti

(Source: http://olivreiro.com.br/home/)

In mapping novelistic trends, Moretti wants to discover whether there are any patterns that emerge from approaching literature with such a broad, comparative scope. For example, he wonders whether the fall of novel reading in Japan has any relation to the decline of the novel in Britain or elsewhere. Is there some kind of historical pattern emerging? Between Braudel’s notion of longee durée and isolated events in literary history, Moretti poses ‘the – unstable – border country between them’: this is the cycle which is both repetitive and temporary (14).

Moretti likens cycles to genres, because both are ‘temporary structures’ and both have a limited ‘life-cycle’: ‘Instead of changing all the time and a little at a time, then, the system stands still for decades, and is “punctuated” by brief bursts of invention: forms change once, rapidly, across the board, and then repeat themselves for two-three decades’ (18). Thinking about why such cycles occur, Moretti suggests that, though evolution of genres is specific to the time (e.g. in eighteenth century Britian ‘amorous epistolary fiction being ill-equipped to capture the traumas of the revolutionary years’), it is ‘too much of a coincidence’ when a number of genres ‘disappear together from the literary field, and then another group and so on’ (20). Moretti believes the cause to be generational: ‘[W]hen an entire generic system vanishes at once, the likeliest explanation is that its readers vanished at once’ (20).

I find Moretti’s argument very interesting, but I do have some questions. For example, it is true that ‘amorous epistolary fiction’ declined during revolutionary years in eighteenth century Britain, but one might argue that it was reinvented in the novels of the nineteenth century in writers like Wilkie Collins (especially The Woman in White). So is it false to separate genres out in this way? Might not the Sensation novel be just another reinvention of the amorous epistolary novel? (This links to what Moretti writes about in the section on ‘Trees’ which I discuss later.)

I also have questions about Moretti’s discussion of cycles in relation to gender. Discussing the work of April Alliston, Moretti suggests that the ‘Great Gender Shift’ in the mid 1700s is merely part of an oscillating pattern: ‘[I]n all likelihood they are all observing the same comet that keeps crossing and recrossing the sky: the same literary cycle, where gender and genre are probably in synchrony with each other – a generation of military novels, nautical tales, and historical novels á la Scott attracting male writers, one of domestic, provincial and sensation novels attracting women writers, and so on’ (27). I find this statement to be rather worrying, because it seems to assume that women would be attracted to ‘domestic’ stories and it could be used as a very easy explanation for gender bias, when in fact many women writing subversive and powerful fiction did have problems when they tried to publish it. I don’t think that Moretti necessarily means to excuse the sidelining of women in literary history, but I think that this statement could use a qualification.

Overall though, I am sympathetic to Moretti’s ideas about ‘graphs’ and I like the idea of the cycle as the ‘hidden thread of history’ (26). The comparative approach is also very useful as Moretti demands ‘a theory, not so much of “the” novel, but of a whole family of novelistic forms’(30).

Further Reading

Benzon, William (2006) ‘Signposts for a Naturalistic Criticism’ Entelechy. Access online at HTTP: (accessed 12 March 2010).
Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


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