Trees and information

As the chapter states in the beginning maps and graphs attempt to measure more quantitative data as opposed to trees more qualitative data. And yet maps can still be skewed by a cartographer’s bias in gauging two locations distance on the visual representation of the map. Graphs usually are the most objective of the three since they rely on scales and pure numbers and mathematics then the other two. When it comes to trees though how is the decision made of which branch is related to which one more? When it comes to the highly subjective nature of interpreting literature the answer gets muddier.

Franco Moretti mentions this in his trees chapter of “Graphs, Maps and Trees” with his mention of “objective” and “subjective” trees. And I see how the distinction could be made as I suppose you could make associations between something like genres with cataloguing keywords that are often used within a genre. But that method could be hardly called objective since the criterion for such an evaluation would almost certainly have to be arbitrary. I suppose given the nature of genres as largely arbitrary and literature’s nature as subjective, measuring more metaphysical things as genres will always be to some extent approximations rather than cold hard objective statements.

I wonder if such a thing as a completely objective tree could exist? A objective graph and for the most a part a fairly subjective map could used using mathematics. I think the distinction lies within that element. For the most part as far as my knowledge extends, most trees do not make use of formulas and data and the ones that do don’t really have hard criterions to make evaluations with. Though I’m sure some do, the ones that I have seen such as the ones in Franco Moretti’s “Graphs, Maps and Trees” don’t really let the reader in on their methodology either. Of course I am not implying that trees are a inherently inferior way of categorizing informatino just that the deficiencies built into the tree method are interesting to think about


“…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


I find this section to be quite interesting and pretty user friendly for the reader. Moretti uses “trees” as a way to categorize and break down certain evolutionary  literary studies over time, or in other words “systematically correlated with form”. (69) I like the idea of  the “detective fiction” because it’s a clever and fun way to attract readers to a novel, and help them critically think about all the obvious and not so obvious clues given within the plot. The idea of a tree diagram becomes very useful for readers because it makes an easy to follow pattern connecting other similar works together. I’d like to look at it as a “family tree”.  It allows things to connect to other things that have similarities. Lets take the idea of a fair tale for instance. Each cliche story would include a damsel in distress, a handsome prince, villain, and magic for instance. These things could be tracked in a form of a tree to make it categorized in a very specific way that stands out from the rest of genres of stories/novels.

I think that this for of categorization is very useful and intriguing to the reader. It gives readers a good and clear picture of certain genres for instance and the common bonds they all share. It is also good for giving dates of works over time to create and evolutionary chart that will keep expanding as time moves on. It is a fun way to make connections to things and help draw out an actual picture for the reader to understand.

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.’

trees and novels

Unlike graphs and maps, trees allow one to connect the dots in a novel and see the cause and effect of a certain action. Trees enable a reader to follow a plot and by doing so can be especially helpful when reading gothic novels or mysteries, as Moretti points out. These works of fiction use clues to drive the plot forward and the clues only work if they are made comprehendible to the reader. If the reader is unable to create a tree of some sort then it is easy to lose interest in the plot. The joy in reading a mystery like a gothic novel is the ability to figure out the ending along with the main character or detective. Typically, mysteries include the following elements: a detective, suspense, trial and error, piecing together clues, a crime, a misdirect, a calling card at the crime scene, and, lastly, the solving of the mystery and apprehension of the perpetrator. A tree diagram allows from these components to be diagramed in a useful manner. Tree diagrams can also be useful in distinguishing between novels of the same genre. Take for instance The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho. Both are gothic mysteries that take place in a castle and contain the typical gothic villain, a virtuous young woman, and a hero. However, this is where the similarities end and a tree diagram would be able to chart exactly where the differences begin.


In “Graphs,Maps,Trees” by Franco Moretti the tree section deals with Darwin’s theory of survival of the species. The tree diagram on page 6 figure 28: divergence of character represents the growth “were history is systematically correlated with form of a character in a novel.(69)” There are breaks and separations from characters in relation to their generations. The diagrams do not only represent the characters historical family generation but also languages and their origins. Another example of this tree diagram is on page 71 and shows how language moves from one country to the next. “A tree is a way of sketching how far a certain language has moved from another one, or from their common point of origin. Language and its patterns of popularity and movement can be seen in the graph just like in genres of language Moretti goes into further detail and has a tree graph on genres. Genres can reveal the relationships between different authors. It also reveals the popularity of certain genres and their popularity or their extinction. Darwin’s example can express the idea of transformations, historical generations as well as evolutions of novels. What I found specifically interesting was when Moretti mentions The Ulysses and it’s narration of  free indirect discourse. I am currently reading the super complicated/ confusing novel for my Literary History course and am still trying to find out the difference between the characters actions and thoughts. Moretti explores this free indirect discourse narrative and makes a tree graph on page 84. The tree graph shows the difference in styles that have changed. From 1800-2000 free indirect discourse has migrated into different forms. In the 1800’s the narration style that was popular at the time was second person narration, in the 1880’s the naturalist movement formed, in the late 19th century the nationaliso of antagonism as well as individual ambition. In the 19th century there was also a movement in which writers started dropping original styles of narration and went towards the objective side of free indirect discourse. ” In The Ulysses, the third person is constantly drifting towards, but also yielding to the first person of Joyce’s chosen technique, the stream of consciousness. (80)” Moretti mentions that culture somehow influences all of these changes and is influential towards the changes in texts throughout history.

Graphs, Maps, Trees

This book goes a much more into further detail of the topics covered in our last class discussion. It focuses on a much broader way to research literature over a humongous period of time. It also shows us the rise of novels throughout different countries around the world, including Britain, Japan, Italy, and Spain. It goes a little further into these divisions and subdivisions of genres, as they try to categorize them.

I found it extremely interesting that there were several downturns within literature due to politics. Political crisis had a lot to do with the way in which a novel is written. I would find this quite the opposite if I was a reader during a time of war and so on. I would actually find a novel more intriguing to read through the eyes of someone else, especially if they have an opposing view as mine. In modern day, we have social media to share our opinions on political views, now more than ever since we are having such an unorthodox election. As upset as people get, they still enjoy reading posts about the presidential candidates as a weird pleasure for themselves. I would assume this would be the same for someone reading a novel around the time of the Risorgimento War (pg 9) for instance.

I don’t have much of a question, but rather an observation that through these digital studies, we are able to really break down reading material into way we never thought possible. It is a very helpful tool to use because it lets you see works from all different types of angles. It also is very useful to make comparisons with novels from different countries, and analyze why one may have a great downfall than the other, by putting it all into a more mathematical term that could be understood a lot more clearly through graphing. The graphing also helps everyone see why certain categorizes for genres are made, and why there are ever sub categories a well. That’s very useful when examining a novel much more closely.