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EVOLUTION AND LITERARY HISTORY
A Response to Franco Moretti
During the past four decades or so, literary history has proven to be something of a problem child in the discipline of literary studies. Over this time span, it has found itself confronted with three fundamental questions. The first—is literary history desirable?—was particularly active in the Parisian polemics of the 1960s that generated the dramatic encounter between Raymond Picard and Roland Barthes, an exchange—or rather a dialogue de sourds—which gave us Critique et vérité, Barthes’s crisply magisterial statement of the new anti-historicist critical temper.  The second question—is literary history possible?—was more the product of a developing scepticism as to the grounds of historical understanding itself.  Franco Moretti’s response to both these questions has been robustly affirmative, while much of his career has been devoted to figuring out answers to the third question: if literary history is both desirable and possible, then how exactly to do it? His recent triptych of articles in New Left Review—‘Graphs’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Trees’, with the running subtitle ‘Abstract Models for Literary History’, published in book form by Verso this September—is his most considered reflection to date, proposing an intriguingly novel way of both construing and resolving a number of central issues in the field. Taken together (as indeed they must be), his three figures or representations—derived respectively from quantitative history, geography and evolutionary biology—weave an intricate and richly textured intellectual fabric. 
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- Franco Moretti: Graphs, Maps, Trees - 1 The first of three essays setting out to demonstrate the power of abstract models to revolutionize our understanding of literary history. What do the quantitative curves of novel production tell us about the interplay of markets, politics, sexes, generations, in the life and death of literary forms?
- Franco Moretti: Graphs, Maps, Trees - 2 After ‘Graphs’ (see NLR 24), maps: geography, or social geometry? Literary spaces plotted as competing fields for industrialization, peasant rebellion, state formation. The second of Moretti’s three essays conceptualizing patterns of genre and history, form and force.
- Franco Moretti: Graphs, Maps, Trees - 3 After ‘graphs’ and ‘maps’, trees: can evolutionary theory help pattern the transformation of cultural forms and divergence of genres, through time and space? Franco Moretti’s final essay on abstract models for literary history.
- Kenta Tsuda: Academicians of Lagado? Vast claims have been made for the application of Darwinian concepts—purged of biological determinism—to the study of societies. Kenta Tsuda offers a penetrating and original critique of selection theory, finding a paradigm with limited explanatory value and shaky conceptual foundations.