In Graphs, Maps and Trees Moretti’s chief proposal is that literary historians should depart from close-reading of literature toward distant-reading through the mapping, graphing and counting of literature, by genre or country of origin, and that discourses on these novels should derive from their broader significant. For example, analyzing Orwell’s 1984 in a broader context of other novels from that time and space or genre to determine literary patterns and how they relate to, are caused by or are spurred from social and political phenomena (leftward shifts, declined readership, etc.)


Moretti’s concept no doubt would go hand in hand with the archival and digital capabilities accessible today, however, I also find his concept problematic for two reasons: For one, quantifying the novel would only provide a glimpse, albeit an important one, of cultural and other trends. This is because the novel has only been present among certain cultures, and though readership has expanded during the 20th and 21st centuries, assessing the novel would only provide insight into works deemed print-worthy by publications or those with the means to create novels themselves. Timothy Burke writes, “Moretti may be counting formal publication and finding that what is commonly taken to represent “national literature” is not typical or representative, but beyond that lies an even larger domain composed of the ephemeral, the unpreserved, the unrecorded.”[1] By design, this type of quantification would exclude a number of written or unwritten components that could easily have contributed to the shifts and value systems (presumably) formed around the novel. Secondly, I found the language of Moretti’s work to be problematic. This had less to do with computation and text and more with accessibility. Moretti and his contemporaries suffer the fate of their academic work in that their language is not conducive to the new forms of language and writing needed for the digital audiences they hope to serve.


Roy Rosenzweig in Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era addresses an important obstacle to archiving literary and historical works, that is, as technology evolves and improves (seemingly) exponentially, the ability to collect and digitize old modes will be very difficult:

“…preservation cannot begin twenty-five years after the fact. What might happen, for example, to the records of a writer active in the 1980s who dies in 2003 after a long illness? Her heirs will find a pile of unreadable 5 1/4″ floppy disks with copies of letters and poems written in WordStar for the CP/M operating system or one of the more than fifty now-forgotten word-processing programs used in the late 1980s”[2]


[2] Rosenzweig, Roy, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media, accessed February 07, 2014, http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=6.

[1] Burke, Timothy, “Book Notes: Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps and Trees,” The Valve, accessed February 07, 2015, http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/book_notes_franco_morettis_graphs_maps_trees/.


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