All or Nothing: Reading Franco Moretti Reading

A Review of Distant Reading and The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature by Franco Moretti

in Historical Materialism
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Published in tandem in 2013, Franco Moretti’s two most recent books continue his on-going project to develop radical new methods of literary history and to propose new formulations and frameworks for understanding the relationship between form and history and form and ideology. Bringing together the series of essays through which he developed his concept of distant reading, his collection of the same name argues for a ‘falsifiable criticism’ grounded in the data now available through digital technologies and for the concept of a ‘world literature’ that it is the task of comparatists to theorise. His book on the bourgeois – characterised by Moretti as a project of an entirely different nature – finds in the minutiae of language the construction of a bourgeois culture in which the figure of the bourgeois himself ultimately disappears. Contra Moretti, the review contends that these books are deeply interrelated and that the limits of Moretti’s method are to be found specifically in the issues of scale raised by reading these two works in dialectical relationship to each other. In particular, while Moretti importantly forces us to confront in world literature what Fredric Jameson refers to as the ‘scandal of multiplicity’, his method is unable, in the end, to account for a reading of the world in literature in which both the empirical fact of a dead history and the allegorical possibility of another history already in the making can be found.

All or Nothing: Reading Franco Moretti Reading

A Review of Distant Reading and The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature by Franco Moretti

in Historical Materialism

Sections

References

AdamsJames Eli ‘Woman Red in Tooth and Claw: Nature and the Feminine in Tennyson and Darwin’ Victorian Studies 1989 33 1 7 27

AdornoTheodor ‘The Actuality of Philosophy’ Telos 1997 31 120 33

AdornoTheodor JephcottE.F.N. Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life 2005 London Verso

AndersonPerry Considerations on Western Marxism 1976 London NLB

ApterEmily Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability 2013 London Verso

AracJonathan ‘Anglo-Globalism?’ New Left Review 2002 II 16 35 45

ArrighiGiovanni ‘The Winding Paths of Capital: Interview by David Harvey’ New Left Review 2009 II 56 61 94

FishStanley ‘The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality’ New York Times 2012 January 9 available at: <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/the-digital-humanities-and-the-transcending-of-mortality/>

HardtMichaelNegriAntonio Empire 2000 Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press

JamesonFredric ‘Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture’ Signatures of the Visible 1990 New York Routledge

JamesonFredric Valences of the Dialectic 2009 London Verso

JayMartin Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas 1984 Berkeley University of California Press

LeninVladimir Ilyich Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism A Popular Outline 1939 New York International Publishers

LiuAlan GoldMatthew K. ‘Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?’ Debates in the Digital Humanities 2012 Minnesota University of Minnesota Press

McGurlMark The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 2009 Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press

MorettiFranco FischerSusanForgacsDavidMillerDavid Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms 1983 London Verso

MorettiFranco ‘Modern European Literature: A Geographical Sketch’ New Left Review 1994 I 206 86 109

MorettiFranco Atlas of the European Novel: 1800–1900 1998 London Verso

MorettiFranco ‘Network Theory, Plot Analysis’ New Left Review 2011 II 68 80 102

MorettiFranco Distant Reading 2013a London Verso

MorettiFranco The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature 2013b London Verso

NegtOskarKlugeAlexander Geschichte und Eigensinn 2001 Frankfurt Suhrkamp

SandersValerie Review of The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature Times Higher Education 2013 June 27 available at: <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/the-bourgeois-between-history-and-literature-by-franco-moretti/2005020.article>

The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 available at: <http://www.humanitiesblast.com/manifesto/Manifesto_V2.pdf>

WattIan The Rise of the Novel 1957 Berkeley University of California Press

1

Jameson 2009p. 420.

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Lenin 1939p. 25.

3

Jameson 2009p. 423.

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Jameson 2009p. 428.

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Jameson 2009p. 415.

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Jameson 2009p. 419.

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Jameson 2009p. 423.

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Moretti 2013ap. 62.

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Moretti 2013ap. 89.

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Moretti 2013app. 203–4.

16

Originally published as Moretti 1994.

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Originally published as Moretti 2011.

18

Fish 2012.

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Moretti 2013ap. 89.

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Moretti 2013ap. 48.

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Moretti 2013ap. 180.

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Arrighi 2009p. 73.

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Arrighi 2009p. 74.

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Arrighi 2009p. 75.

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Arrighi 2009p. 76.

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Moretti 2013ap. 49.

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Moretti 2013ap. 155.

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Moretti 2013ap. 158.

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Moretti 2013bp. 89.

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Moretti 2013bp. 4.

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Moretti 2013bp. 149.

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Moretti 2013bp. 178.

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Moretti 2013bp. 39.

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Moretti 2013bp. 181.

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Moretti 2013bp. 19.

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Moretti 2013bp. 178.

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Moretti 2013bp. 163.

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Moretti 2013bp. 164.

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Moretti 2013bp. 39.

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Moretti 2013bp. 100.

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Moretti 2013bp. 91.

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Moretti 2013bp. 100.

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Moretti 2013bp. 178.

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Moretti 2013bp. 172.

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Moretti 2013bp. 176.

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Moretti 2013bp. 170.

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Moretti 2013bp. 186.

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Moretti 2013bp. 187.

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Arac 2002p. 38. Moretti quotes Arac’s description in his preface to ‘The Slaughterhouse of Literature’ favourably as a ‘nice formulation’ for capturing the kind of reading (of detective stories) he does in ‘Slaughterhouse’ which he doubts is ‘still reading’: ‘I read “through” those stories looking for clues and (almost) nothing else; it felt very different from the reading I used to know’ (Moretti 2013a p. 65).

54

Moretti 2013ap. 138.

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Moretti 2013ap. 181.

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Liu 2012p. 493.

58

Liu 2012p. 495.

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Moretti 2013ap. 92.

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Moretti 2013ap. 155. Much in the way that Perry Anderson characterises the theory/practice split in Western Marxism it is tempting to see this emphasis on method as dialectically related to the absence of a vibrant political ‘practice’ in our current conjuncture. Anderson refers to the ‘obsessive methodologism’ (Anderson 1976 p. 53) of Western Marxism citing as exemplary books such as Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution Della Volpe’s Logic as a Positive Science Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Althusser’s Reading Capital. In his Introduction to Atlas of the European Novel Moretti states ‘In this book clearly enough the method is all.’ (Moretti 1998 p. 5.) In a different vein he admits that The Bourgeois is an ‘exclusively historical study with no true links to the present’ (Moretti 2013b p. 23) and hopes that as his inscription to Perry Anderson and Paolo Flores d’Arcais is meant to convey he will ‘one day . . . learn from them to use the intelligence of the past for the critique of the present’ (Moretti 2013b p. 24).

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Moretti 2013bp. 115.

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Moretti 2013bp. 141.

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Moretti 2013bp. 178.

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Sanders 2013.

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Moretti 2013bp. 6.

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Moretti 2013bp. 74.

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Moretti 2013bp. 140.

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Moretti 2013bp. 159.

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Moretti 2013bp. 179.

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Moretti 2013bp. 137.

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Moretti 2013bp. 108.

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Moretti 2013bp. 102. This view of the bourgeoisie reflects Moretti’s reliance on Max Weber far more than Marx or Lukács throughout The Bourgeois which may in turn contribute to his non- or anti-utopian vision of (literary) history more generally. Martin Jay in Marxism and Totality distinguishes Lukács from Weber (and Simmel) by his ability to ‘move beyond [their] stoic pessimism by linking their intellectual dilemmas to the reified nature of bourgeois life an explanation that grounded them historically’ (Jay 1984 pp. 109–10). Interestingly Moretti also invokes Weber in one of the final essays in Signs Taken for Wonders ‘The Moment of Truth’ as a figure from whom we still have much to learn regarding a realistic ‘culture of the Left’ which would neither recklessly embrace what he refers to as ‘the moment of crisis’ nor succumb to ‘unending humiliations and compromises’. Moretti ends the essay by quoting the following lines from a speech of Weber’s: ‘What is deeply striking and moving . . . is the view of a mature man – it doesn’t matter whether young or old in years – who feeling truly and wholly his own responsibility for consequences and acting according to the ethic of responsibility still of a sudden does say: “I cannot do otherwise: I shall not retreat from here”. Here is a truly human and moving behaviour and such a situation must be possible at any moment for all of us who have not yet lost our inner life’ (Moretti 1983 p. 261).

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Moretti 2013bp. 109.

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Adams 1989p. 15.

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Adams 1989p. 16.

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Moretti 2013bp. 128.

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Hardt and Negri 2000p. 46.

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Moretti 2013ap. 119.

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Adorno 1997p. 120.

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