Distant Reading

Franco Moretti, Author
Franco Moretti. Verso (Norton, dist.), $22.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-78168-084-1
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-1-78168-112-1
Open Ebook - 136 pages - 978-1-78168-333-0
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In the 10 linked essays in this collection, Moretti (Signs Taken for Wonders)—a literary historian and the director of Stanford University’s Literary Lab—fearlessly, often gleefully, challenges entrenched conceptions about world cultures and arts. In “Modern European Literature: A Geographical Sketch,” he disputes the notion of a literature that reflects “a European ‘essence,’ ” arguing instead that European literature comprises “national (and regional) entities, clearly different, and often hostile to each other,” bound in a relationship of “productive enmity.” In its companion piece, “Conjectures on World Literature,” he similarly explodes the notion of a single contemporary literature that accommodates the writing of all nations, pointing out how the rise of the modern novel in non-Western countries often shows “a compromise between a Western formal influence... and local materials” (i.e., the social context of the nation in question). Some of the essays are fancy packages for obvious insights, among them “Planet Hollywood,” whose study of the popularity of American films in non-American markets will surprise no one with its revelation that action films cross national borders more easily than comedies, because the action films replace language and words with “sheer noise”—“explosions, crashes, gunshots, screams”—that all cultures understand. Regardless of whether readers agree with Moretti’s conclusions, they will find that his application of economic theory, network theory, and evolutionary models to literature and culture shows these subjects from fresh and often provocative new perspectives. (June)
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