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All or Nothing: Reading Franco Moretti Reading

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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Simon Fraser University


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