This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, see our privacy statement

New Left Review 41, September-October 2006

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.



A reply to Christopher Prendergast

Christopher Prendergast’s critique of Graphs, Maps, Trees in ‘Evolution and Literary History’ raises objections of an empirical, theoretical and political nature. [1] Christopher Prendergast, ‘Evolution and Literary History’, nlr 34, July–Aug 2005; Graphs, Maps, Trees. Abstract Models for Literary History, London and New York 2005 (henceforth, elh and gmt). The main disagreement is this: for Prendergast, nature and culture function in such incomparable ways that evolutionary theory, which was devised to account for the one, cannot possibly work for the other. This conceptual misalignment makes evolutionary ‘explanations’ of literature incapable of mastering any actual historical evidence, and forces them to rely on circular reasoning and various petitiones principii instead. In this analytical void, the market acquires an exaggerated importance, that makes it appear as ‘a cognate of Nature’; and the final result is that Graphs, Maps, Trees’s ‘no-nonsense realism . . . deteriorates fast into the language of the winner-takes-all attitude’ that is typical of social Darwinism. [2] elh, p. 61.

Subscribe for just £45 and get free access to the archive
Please login on the left to read more or buy the article for £3


Franco Moretti, ‘The End of the Beginning’, NLR 41: £3

If you want to create a new NLR account please register here

’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’

New NLR website coming soon—click here for a preview.