Or, the Function of Measurement in Literary Theory
‘Operationalizing’ must be the ugliest word I’ve ever used, but it is nevertheless the hero of the pages that follow, because it refers to a process which is absolutely central to the new field of computational criticism, or, as it has come to be called, of the digital humanities. Though the word is often used merely as a complicated synonym for ‘realizing’ or ‘implementing’—the Merriam-Webster online, for instance, mentions ‘operationalizing a program’, and adds a quote on ‘operationalizing the artistic vision of the organization’—the original root of the term was different, and much more precise; and for once origin is right, this is one of those rare cases when a term has an actual birth date: 1927, when P. W. Bridgman devoted the opening of his Logic of Modern Physics to ‘the operational point of view’. Here are the key passages:
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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.
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.
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.