Professor (emer.) of English and Comparative Literature
Born in 1950 in Sondrio, Italy
Studied Modern Literatures at the University of Rome
False MovementMy project next year will consist in completing a collection of essays that will try to cast a retrospective glance at twenty-five years of quantitative literary research. Some of the studies contain original research - on the operationalization of Aby Warburg's Pathosformel, the simulations of dramatic networks, or the lost bestsellers of nineteenth-century Britain - but the main thread is an (often self-critical) reflection on what the quantitative approach has and has not achieved so far. Neither a success story nor a recantation, the collection's working title is "Qualcosa": "something," "etwas." The new approach has reached some interesting results, but most certainly not all that seemed possible at first - and, often, in different fields from those that seemed more likely. Maybe the title will change and become "False movement," in homage to Wim Wenders' great remake of Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister."
The final phase of the work, which should cover more or less the entire academic year, will focus on the conceptual issues that have arisen in the course of my empirical research, such as the implicit (and usually wrong) assumptions that guide the visualization of cultural data, the relationship between measurement and hermeneutics, and the disparate explanatory roles of anomalies, norms, and extreme cases. Much of the work addresses the epistemology of the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences - and the possibility (or not) of bringing them together within a single framework. To pursue such a project, I can think of no place that would be better than the Wissenschaftskolleg.
Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading. London: Verso, 2013.
-. "The Roads to Rome: Literary Studies, Hermeneutics, Quantification." New Left Review, no. 124 (July-August 2020): 125-136.
-. "Simulating Dramatic Networks: Morphology, History, Literary Study." Journal of World Literature 6, no. 1 (2020): 24-44.
Tuesday Colloquium, 27.04.2021
A Passion for Anomaly: Exceptions, Norms, Extreme Cases, and Carlo Ginzburg
Last September, my colloquium on tragic language was cancelled because of travel restrictions. I was about to give the exact same talk now, but - after listening to your "Three Cultures Forum" on outliers a couple of weeks ago - I decided to change plans and replace it with a talk on anomalies, norms, and extreme cases instead. I will begin with a brief discussion of Carlo Ginzburg's "The Cheese and the Worms", a classic case study of an anomaly, switch to the role of average values and extreme cases in quantitative literary history, and end by returning to Ginzburg's insistence on the significance of exceptions.
The talk, like others of a similar nature I have written recently, casts a retrospective glance at twenty-five years of quantitative literary research, focusing in particular on the conceptual difficulties that have emerged from empirical work. These include the implicit (and often wrong) assumptions that have guided our visualization of cultural data and the problematic relationship between quantification and interpretation, morphological simulation and historical explanation. Much like your "Three Cultures" meetings, the crux of the matter has to do with the possibility - or not - of establishing a unified epistemological framework for the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. Ginzburg's work, with its intransigent opposition to the quantitative historiography of the "Annales", is the perfect starting point for addressing the issue in a radical way.