Franco Moretti, Permanent Fellow
Professor (emer.) of English and Comparative Literature
Born in 1950 in Sondrio, Italy
Studied Foreign Literatures at the University of Rome
Conflict and FormIn 2020-21 I will develop my research project on tragic form, investigating the kind of conflicts that arise within a homogeneous culture (the same city, state, or family), and that usually lead to the death of one (or both) of the antagonists. In this perspective, tragedy functions as an ideal small-scale model for those uncanny struggles to death - most radically, civil wars - that are one of the salient aspects of human societies.
In this year, I will focus on the shifting historical relationship between the context and the content of conflict. As the tragic "scene" shifts from the Greek polis to absolutist courts and modern households, the reasons for strife also change, from the one-sided demands of the state and the family described in the Phenomenology of the Spirit and the Aesthetics, to the irreconcilable extremes (the tyrant Macbeth and the martyr Lear) that sever the figure of the sovereign, all the way to the class oppression that haunts Büchner's "proletarian" Woyzeck and the misery of bourgeois legality denounced by Ibsen's "feminist" Nora.
Concretely, I will concentrate my investigation on two main objects: dramatic networks and rhetorical confrontations. Networks are ideal for visualizing tragic structure as a system of "regions", alliances, and oppositions: they offer a simple and powerful approach to the "macro" dimension of drama. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the study of the "micro" strategies that major characters adopt when putting into words the principles they stand for: from the stichomythia so characteristic of Greek plays to Hamlet's puns, Calderon's cosmic monologues, Racine's symmetrical exchanges, Schiller's face-to-face confrontations, Büchner's out-of-control metaphors, or Ibsen's prose. In this respect, the project will also have the methodological ambition of achieving a synthesis of traditional literary hermeneutics with the new possibilities opened up by computational criticism.
Moretti, Franco. "Network Theory, Plot Analysis." In Distant Reading, 211-240. London: Verso, 2013.
-. The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature. London: Verso 2013.
-. Signs Taken for Wonders. Rev. ed. London: Verso, 1988. See esp. chap. 2, "The Great Eclipse: Tragic Form as the Deconsecration of Sovereignty" and chap. 10, "The Moment of Truth."
Tuesday Colloquium , 28.05.2019
Under which King, Bezonian? Literary studies between hermeneutics and quantification
What relationship is there between the new quantitative literary history of the past twenty years and the older hermeneutic tradition? Answers have typically been of two kinds: for traditional literary studies (let's call them that), the two approaches are incompatible, and the quantitative one has no real critical value; for the latter, they are perfectly compatible, and in fact complementary. Working on this presentation has convinced me of a third possibility that will emerge step by step from a comparison of how the two strategies work. How they work, literally: practices reveal assumptions and priorities that theories often remain unaware of, so I will base my argument on what the two methodologies do, rather than on what they claim theyre doing.
I will illustrate the hermeneutic approach by interpreting a passage from a Hemingway short story ("Big Two-Hearted River", published in 1926) and the quantitative one by summarizing the analysis of a corpus of 19th-century British novels that was conducted at Stanford a few years ago. I will try to show what aspects of literary phenomena each methodology is designed to capture and how they concretely manage to do so; what the two approaches have in common and where they are instead in disagreement with each other; how they relate to the notion of "form" - which is arguably the cornerstone of literary study - and how they relate to the world outside literature. It is a methodological presentation, hence a little dry and technical; but it tries to answer a question - Why study literature, and how? - that lies at the heart of an entire discipline.