Sunday, January 11, 2004

Moretti and the Systematic, Empirical Study of Literature


Stanford Prof Franco Moretti has discovered what we knew to be true all along.

In a January 10, 2004 article in the New York Times, Emily Eakin relates the most interesting results of Moretti's empirical research on the history of literature - see Studying Literature by the Numbers.

Eakin relates that Moretti argues that:
"Literary study ... has been a random, unsystematic affair. For any given period, scholars focus on a select group of a mere few hundred texts: the canon. As a result, they have allowed a narrow, distorting slice of literary history to pass for the total picture."

As a result,

"Mr. Moretti argues, literary history looks significantly different from what is commonly supposed."

As might be expected, Yale Prof Harold Bloom, an old fashioned supporter of canonical (orthodox) literature, considers Moretti's empirical, statistical approach to literature to be absurd and is quoted as saying

"I am interested in reading ... That's all I'm interested in."

Bloom misses the entire point. HIS students read what HE selects and literary profs greatly mold literary tastes by THEIR selections. Moretti is saying that an objective, statistical view of literary history shows that our literary selections at any given time - including selections made by the Professors - are largely subjective, and, may indeed not even be representative of the actual state of literature in that era.

We agree with Moretti.

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