“…branches of a morphological tree capture with such intuitive force. ‘A tree can be viewed as a simplified description of a matrix of distances’…And if language evolves by diverging why not literature too?” (Moretti 70). We can relate this to Moretti’s past chapters on Graphs and Maps and how genres have grown and changed throughout the years. I wouldn’t use the word matured, every generation has a preference, mainly because of the social happenings going on during that time period.

So what information can trees present to the reader? Genres within literature begin to divide even further from their original classification when using a tree diagram. Showing how different written texts can become separated and easily broken down for a clear view. When grouping together similarities are shown between genres that we wouldn’t normally assume belong together. Options have opened and our interpretations have the power to expand.

Shannen Coleman

Development of a Genre

In this section Moretti begins by explaining that language has changed over time then poses this question: And if language evolves by diverging, why not literature too?”  I found the evolution of detective fiction very intersting.  At this point in time, hearing about any style of detective fiction before the current version seems ridiculous.  I’m fascinated by idea of the genre having to develop the use of clues, and once clues were used, their use needed to be developed as well: “This pressure of cultural selection probably explains the second branching of the tree, where clues are present, but serve no real function: as in ‘Race with the Sun’. for instance, where a clue reveals to the hero that the drug is in the third cup of coffee, and then, when he is offered the third cup, he actually drinks it.” (72).  Being exposed to the current state of story telling and detective fiction, I found myself more prone to imagine a scenario where the hero had some intricate plan and good reason for drinking the poison.  Ideas of him having built up a tolerance to the poison in order to fake the effects, knowing that they will take him back to their hideout once he is incapacitated, where he can then launch a surprise attack from within while their guard is down popped into my head rather quickly.  It took a few moments of concious effort to wrap my head around the idea of a writer not knowing how to use clues.  So, now I wonder if some writer might remake one of these old detective stories and completely throw the audience for a loop.  Could this be affective or would it now just be seen as a lousy detective story?  I would like to read this story and see how it comes to a resolution with a detective dim-witted enough to knowingly drink poison.  I would like to see if the story comes out okay or if it is just ridiculous.  The other funny thing about clues was that at one point in the progression the detective mentions the clues in his final explanation but they were never revealed throughout the story.  I think brining the audience in on the clues was a major development for the genre.  I found this part very interesting.  I have noticed a similar effect when watching old movies, so it wasn’t a terribly surprising section, but the level of detail was fascinating.

'We know the elephant died when he jumped off the roof. But the other guy? It's a mystery.'
‘We know the elephant died when he jumped off the roof. But the other guy? It’s a mystery.’


“Distant reading…where distance is however not an obstacle but a specific form of knowledge” (Moretti 1). I’ve never actually head anyone use distant reading in any english course I have taken. This one passage really caught my eye, and I assumed Moretti meant speed reading and looking at the text as a whole. Just to confirm my assumptions I looked up distant reading and realized my idea was incorrect. The New York Times actually published an article based on “What is Distant Reading?”.

Is Moretti saying we need to stop reading books in order to learn more? That sounds a bit contradictory to what we have been taught in a classroom for the past two decades. Books may hold knowledge, but we need to expand our minds and push through our limitations. Using  graphs as a device can help us find the distinctions throughout genres and not trust only our knowledge of what the writing could be classified as. Just because I want to identity a novel as a gothic piece of literature, the graph could open the possibilities of many more genres I had not even thought of.

Moretti crosses the line in using scientific method in literary terms. “Here he abandons the quantitative method and turns to morphology, concluding that ‘the cycle is the hidden thread of literary history” (Moretti 26). I always viewed science and literature as two completely different entities. Here, Moretti is saying they are morphed into one another.

Shannen Coleman

Gender and Generation

In his interpretation of the 44 genres that rise and fall during the history of the British novel from 1760-1900, Franco Moretti theorizes that it is the audience which accounts for the shifts in genre, that it is generational shifts in taste that has a direct effect on the style of novels being published. I find this analysis interesting because its logic seems to play out and be continued throughout multiple art forms and business models. Advertising lives by this idea, sometimes quite directly and literally with slogans like “the choice of a new generation” but what Moretti is describing is something more subtle and below the surface. I have a few questions about these findings–

1. Where do the authors fall generationally? For someone like Dickens who was prolific for a long enough career to please several generations of readers — was he a savvy businessman studying the changing demographics or was he simply swept into the prevailing zeitgeist unaware?

2. How would this method of inquiry play out in other art forms? I was intrigued by the one map that looked at success of American comedic film overseas. The conclusion drawn by the author was that jokes don’t translate, but I couldn’t help but notice that Serbia topped the list of countries not laughing at American humor during a time that directly coincided with great political upheaval and genocide in their country– an idea mentioned earlier with novels changing during periods of upheaval and revolution.

3. Finally, the gender shift in novels was interesting to me because I don’t think other art forms included female artists in quite the same way. Could we find a similar swing of the pendulum in painting from the same time period? Music composition? Or film direction of the last 100 years? Why are those forms so dominated by men but novels have included women writers in more equal fashion?

“Graphs” Digital Humanities?

In this section Franco Moretti showed a lot of research on how literature has changed over time.  He showed the number of novels written per year with different figures for different regions and showed how the genres overlapped.  The genres were interesting because of the overlap.  One genre would start falling in popularity just as another genre was emerging.  Moretti suggested a sort of generational activity behind the replacement of genres but didn’t seem to have a full theory on the matter.  I found this to be interesting research.  He sort of went behind the scenes and discussed the corelation between the novels and outside events that might have had an impact on them, displaying the novel’s place in the larger framework of history throughout the world.  It seems that there are internal and external factors affecting the timeline of novels.  Technology, wars, trade, materials, etc. all have an effect on the novel, its content, production, and distribution.  But there are also internal forces which changed the way people read, for example reading many texts once vs. reading many over and over again in great depth.  A lot of this work seemed like presenting and interpreting data, doing historical comparisons, and making conclusions, some of which seem larly speculative.

While I find this work interesting so far, I am not sure what to consider it.  Is this digital humanities?  It does seem to be a sort of macro analysis, but it all seems to be about numbers and data in terms of the life cycle of the novel in general without any analysis of content.  Is this the digital humanities of just the study of the progression of the life of the novel?  Considering it the latter is not to discredit the work in any way.  It might just be the foundation for digital humanities work in the ‘maps’ and ‘trees’ sections.  It might already be considered digital humanities, im not sure.