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Showing posts from November, 2015

On Franco Moretti

Thanks to Franco Moretti's surprisingly readable prose, my project to refresh my 'literary theory' in 2015 is still on track!** It's fair to say, of course, that Moretti is not a theorist in quite the same way as Henri Lefebvre or Lauren Berlant, but his work (of which this is a collection of essays across time) certainly asks some big questions.

1. Perhaps the first thing to state is that Moretti is interested - perhaps a little unfashionably - in the large-scale. At a time when every generalisation (let alone meta-narrative) is likely to be shredded in a critical landscape which tends to value the particular context and the 'overlooked' specific variable, it is interesting to see Distant Reading still working with ideas like 'European literature' or 'the rise of the novel'.

As he himself states, perhaps the two models of the 'large scale' that dominate his work are the tree and the wave. And, as the essay 'Evolution, World-Systems,

Quests Without Objects

One of the strange, unpredictable things about teaching is the odd and sometimes serendipitous juxtapositions. Last week, I worked with third year undergraduates in the context of a research-led nineteenth-century module, discussing Mary Shelley's apocalyptic novel The Last Man. The day before, my first year seminar tackled Middle English staple Gawain and the Green Knight. It's fair to say that I wasn't expecting the two experiences to imply much of a dialogue. Gawain is a medieval chivalric fantasy; The Last Man is a Romantic plague narrative at turns gothic and sentimental. Yet, in both seminars, some very interesting discussions emerged around quest narratives and their subversion.

In terms of Gawain, this sprung out of a question common in critical debate on the text: realism vs. romance. Many of the student responses, as well as the ensuing discussions, implicated the pattern of the quest. To give three examples:

a) The quest that Gawain sets off on is double: in fac…