‘Graphs, Maps, Trees’

An excerpt from Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees. Moretti’s book begins with an epigraph from Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities:

“A man who wants the truth becomes a scientist; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity may become a writer; but what should a man do who wants something in between?”

Here’s the opening paragraph of Moretti’s book:

“The title of this short book deserves a few words of explanation. To begin with, this is an essay on literary history: literature, the old territory (more or less), unlike the drift towards other discourses so typical of recent years. But within that old territory, a new object of study: instead of concrete, individual works, a trio of artificial constructs-graphs, maps, and trees-in which the reality of the text undergoes a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction. ‘Distant reading’, I have once called this type of approach;’ where distance is however not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge: fewer elements, hence a sharper sense of their overall interconnection. Shapes, relations, structures. Forms. Models.”


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