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New Left Review 24, November-December 2003

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?



Abstract Models for Literary History—1

What follows is the first of three interconnected articles, whose common purpose is to delineate a transformation in the study of literature. Literature, the old territory; but within it, a shift from the close reading of individual texts to the construction of abstract models. The models are drawn from three disciplines—quantitative history, geography and evolutionary theory: graphs, maps and trees—with which literary criticism has had little or no interaction; but which have many things to teach us, and may change the way we work. [1] The articles were first imagined at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and presented in an early version as the Beckman Lectures at Berkeley, and then elsewhere. My thanks to the many people who have helped me to clarify my ideas.

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Franco Moretti, ‘Graphs, Maps, Trees - 1’, NLR 24: £3

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