What do the obituaries in Manhattan’s leading daily tell us about the nervous system of America’s liberal democracy? The filters and foibles of the success story as a grid for social memory.
NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARIES
If you go to New York, chances are that you will read the New York Times, that is to say one of the most overrated papers on earth. But don’t miss its truly great page: the Obituaries. It’s the only section I read every day, because I admire the intention that animates it: to remember. And to do so on a large scale, five, six, eight short biographies per day. Compared to Italian newspapers, which devote a very large space to very few people, the Obits have an open, ‘democratic’ feel: lots of people, of many kinds, and most of them not at all famous. Reading their stories, you are reminded that society is made of different worlds and temporalities: where the 36-year-old choreographer who has just put on his first Broadway show appears next to the 101-year-old man who had fought in ‘Palestine’, against the Turks, in the Jewish battalion of the British army.
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
Pivotal to Aby Warburg’s enigmatic Atlas Mnemosyne—which attempted to track morphological similarity from classical art down through the Renaissance—was the idea that there may be formulae for pathos. If so, what can quantitative analysis tell us about them?
What can quantitative linguistic analysis reveal about global institutions? From Bretton Woods to the present, the language of World Bank reports has undergone telling modulations. Moretti and Pestre track the decline of concrete referents and active verbs, the triumph of acronyms over nation-states—and irresistible rise of ‘governance’.
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.
Why did a bourgeoisie commended by Marx for its ruthless rationalism surround itself with clouds of mystification? Franco Moretti traces recurrent refusals of precision through Victorian culture, from Carlyle to Millais, Tennyson to Conrad.
Network Theory, Plot Analysis
What can quantitative methods tell us about literary plots? Franco Moretti maps character networks from Shakespeare, Dickens and Cao Xueqin to shed light on questions of sovereignty, legitimacy and the reciprocity of social relations.
The Grey Area
Flexible morality and capitalist imperatives of the bourgeois fin-de-siècle, as captured in the obscure misdeeds of Ibsen’s protagonists.
The Novel: History and Theory
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 End of the Beginning
Franco Moretti responds to criticisms of his quantative approach to literary history, from Christopher Prendergast and Roberto Schwarz. Origins, upshots—and potential limitations?—of the abstract models developed in Graphs, Maps, Trees.
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.