Moretti’s 5-volume Il romanzo recast the field of the novel—historically deeper, geographically wider, morphologically broader. What are the implications for its theory? Prose, adventure and xiaoshuo as explanatory vectors; and prevalence of older power relations in the bourgeoisie’s hegemonic literary form.
THE NOVEL: HISTORY AND THEORY
There are many ways of talking about the theory of the novel, and mine will consist in posing three questions: Why are novels in prose; Why are they so often stories of adventures; and, Why was there a European, but not a Chinese rise of the novel in the course of the eighteenth century. Disparate as they may sound, the questions have a common source in the guiding idea of the collection The Novel: ‘to make the literary field longer, larger, and deeper’: historically longer, geographically larger, and morphologically deeper than those few classics of nineteenth-century Western European ‘realism’ that have dominated the recent theory of the novel (and my own work). What the questions have in common, then, is that they all point to processes that loom large in the history of the novel, but not in its theory. Here, I will reflect on this discrepancy, and suggest a few possible alternatives.
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Lukács’s Theory of the Novel
Centenary reflections on one of the landmarks of twentieth-century thought about literature. Lukács in tension between Novalis and Weber during the Great War, and the implications for literary enquiry today of a conjugation that could never historically be repeated.
Can ‘digital humanities’ recover from Thomas Kuhn’s before-the-fact critique—that no new ‘laws of nature’ will be discovered just by inspecting the numbers? Testing the limits of the approach, Moretti investigates whether data-crunching can falsify Hegel’s theory of tragedy.
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Flexible morality and capitalist imperatives of the bourgeois fin-de-siècle, as captured in the obscure misdeeds of Ibsen’s protagonists.
The End of the Beginning
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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.
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.
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?
Replying to critics of his ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ (NLR 1), Franco Moretti considers the objections to a world-systems theory of the relations between centre and periphery in the sphere of the novel or poetry, and proposes some new hypotheses about the morphology of forms and the politics of comparative literary studies.