In Praise of Overstating the Case: A review of Franco Moretti, Distant Reading
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This review of Franco Moretti's Distant Reading summarizes Moretti’s major arguments within the larger context of recent debates in the digital humanities. Particular attention is given to Moretti’s uptake of Immanuel Wallerstein, to his controversial critique of close reading, and to the variety of digital-humanistic methods that comprise Moretti’s quantitative formalism. Most valuable as an artifact of literary-critical history rather than a how-to guide or theoretical treatise, this hodgepodge of essays is at its best as an audacious and defensive academic memoir tracing Moretti’s transformation into a digital humanist. As Moretti champions the broad explanatory power of quantitative literary analysis, he overestimates the scientific objectivity of his analyses while undervaluing the productively suggestive stories of doubt, failure, and compromise that lend nuance and depth to his hypotheses. Combative, absorbing, highly topical, and unevenly persuasive, Distant Reading embodies both the optimism of early digital literary studies and its perils.
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