cover image Far Country: Scenes from American Culture

Far Country: Scenes from American Culture

Franco Moretti. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-27270-8

“Short in pages, and compressed in style,” according to the author, this smart collection from Moretti (The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature), cofounder of the Stanford Literary Lab, takes five introductory lectures on literary history out of the classroom. His selections pair authors in unexpected ways, such as Walt Whitman and Charles Baudelaire, or Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, or, branching out from literature, Jans Vermeer and Edward Hopper. Moretti has a penchant for grammatical analysis, at one point counting the number of prepositional phrases (25) in a passage from Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.” He observes that sentences such as “In his shirt the breast pockets bulged against him with his lunch and his fly book” tell the reader what the character has already done, so that action is implied, but “not really visible anymore.” This interest in the invisible or the “missing thing” also gets applied to the use of repetition in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives (Moretti argues that the difficulty of Stein’s language duplicates the problem of expressing one’s inner state), and to the sense of mystery Vermeer creates about what might have happened just before the scene depicted in a painting. Learned without being difficult or jargony, Moretti proves that criticism can be both thought provoking and fun. (Mar.)