Study Guide

Franco Moretti Introduction

Franco Moretti Introduction

So, you've got your New Critics, who are all into close reading, and you've got your New Historicists, who insist that you read a work in its historical and social context... and then you've got Franco Moretti. He's his own thing altogether.

We think you're gonna like this guy, because he completely goes in his own direction. His big idea is that the social sciences have an advantage over literary studies precisely because social sciences are, well, scientific.

See, Moretti likes to organize and categorize and put information in classes and groups. His literary criticism is about digital and quantitative studies. That's why he started the Stanford Literary Lab—"lab" being the operative word there. His idea of a good time is diagraming relationships between characters in a novel, or listing all of the details of domestic life cited in various novels—and then crunching the numbers on his findings.

You may need beakers and latex gloves for this stuff.

Don't talk to Moretti about lazing around enjoying a novel; summer reading is for ninnies. Moretti has a bigger plan. He calls it "distance reading," in direct opposition to a little something you may know as "close reading" (take that, Cleanth Brooks).

Moretti's not a supporter of dwelling on a small canon of literature. In fact, he pooh-poohs the canon altogether. He likes to cast the net wide because he thinks that for all the close reading people have been doing for so many years, they still don't know much about the big picture.

For Moretti, digital humanities (DH) is where it's at. He's not shedding a tear over the rise of Kindle and the end of libraries as we know them. He loves Google Books, and he's got his own little project going on called Stanford's "Lit Lab Corpus." What can you find there? How about 3,500 nineteenth-century novels in one digital place. That kind of thing lets you dig into massive amounts of work and do wacky things like compare the opening paragraphs of 100 different novels in 12.2 seconds. (Or something like that.)

So get your lab coat and safety goggles on, 'cause we're going in.

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