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Franco Moretti as Satirist

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

My first encounter with Franco Moretti's work was “conjectures on world literature,” from which his book distant reading takes its title. The essay was first published in 2000 in the New Left Review, the original home of seven of the ten essays reprinted in Distant Reading. I happened across it in 2004 amid a fit of procrastination fueled by anxious uncertainty. I was unsure about how, or even whether, to revise a dissertation on popular novels in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, many of which had been translated from the French. No one really knew much about them. They were miserably cataloged; generations of Prussian librarians had been ordered not to collect them—and to throw away any that had managed to take up shelf space in the first place. In 1795 the reactionary, antirepublican Johann Georg Heinzmann opined, “So lange die Welt stehet, sind keine Erscheinungen so merkwürdig gewesen als in Deutschland die Romanleserey und in Frankreich die Revolution” (“Since the beginning of time nothing was more noteworthy than the revolution in France and the reading of novels in Germany”; 139; my trans.). But an awful lot of these novels are now gone. Critics sometimes say they were read to shreds. And whereas Heinzmann—and generations of state and church censors before him—cared a great deal about the republican potential of German Romanleserey (“reading of novels”), I wasn't confident anyone did today.

Type
Theories and Methodologies
Copyright
Copyright © 2017 The Modern Language Association of America

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