Unrestrained Individuation

The Young Franco Moretti

In: Historical Materialism
Stefano Ercolino Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice Venice Italy

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This essay focuses on a little-understood phase of Franco Moretti’s work that spans 1976 to 1986. My aim is to shed light on Moretti’s cultural background as it was formed in that period and to account for the transition from the Trotskyist, politically-militant stance of his first book, Literature and Ideologies in England in the 1930s, to the idiosyncratic, seemingly disengaged character of Signs Taken for Wonders and The Way of the World. Adorno’s concept of ‘unrestrained individuation’ plays a crucial role in the argument. Following a personal political crisis, Moretti opted to enact a form of critical individuation, encoding the explicit social antagonism of the earlier years within a highly personal style and a new theoretical eclecticism. In this way, by disguising it as an alluring form of individualism, Moretti managed to smuggle an antagonistic critical discourse into an increasingly neoliberal world that would soon prove hostile toward it.

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