Monthly Archives: August 2011

MagMods Essay Club: Moretti Replies!

The Essay Club comes to an end, as the book club did, with a generous reply from the author.  Franco Moretti is the author of Signs Taken for Wonders (1983), The Way of the World (1987), Modern Epic (1995), Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (1998), and Graphs, Maps, Trees (2005) and the chief editor of The Novel (Princeton, 2006). He founded the Center for the Study of the Novel and, with Matt Jockers, the Stanford Literary Lab.

First of all, thanks to all of you for your generosity and engagement. Though I cannot address all your points, I will try to include all controversial and/or interesting issues. Answers 1-3 concern the pamphlet; 4-6 broader issues, that are open or require more thought. And 7, a couple of problems raised by Matt Huculak. Continue reading

If Shakespeare Had a Transistor: A Response to Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory…”

The third participant in the MagMods essay club is Matt Huculak, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Dalhousie University and Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC). His current research examines “the review” as both a literary artefact (a magazine) and as a modernist practice of cultural mediation (“reviewing”)—a site of exchange between elite moderns and the reading public. 

Dramatis Personae
I want to focus on Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” and how it could potentially translate into the theorization of modernist periodical networks. First, I must note (and admit jealousy) that Moretti is working within a rigorous, well-defined space of theorization: the play Hamlet. That is, he has a set of solid data from which to work. Our first problem in the field of modernist periodicals (as noted by Scholes and Wulfman in Modernism in the Magazines) is that no such dataset exists for us. The Modernist Periodicals Database will be an attempt to rectify that situation, but even if it is successful, we are years (perhaps even a decade) away from completing an accurate and “stable” dataset from which to work. Thus, my first question for Dr. Moretti is how useful is this type of network analysis when the network is still being mapped? Continue reading

A Method to the Model: Responding to Franco Moretti’s Network Theory, Plot Analysis

The second participant in the MagMods Essay Club is Lisa Rhody, a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Maryland.  Her dissertation bridges her interests in digital humanities and Modernism by using network theory to revise existing models of Modernist and postmodern ekphrasis.  She edits the Teaching and Learning News and Teaching Resource Guide for the Center for Teaching Excellence at UMD.

Franco Moretti’s description of his own research and subsequent reactions to Pamphlet 2: Network Theory, Plot Analysis are often framed in the language of time and space.  Moretti refers to network analysis as a way of freezing the narrative progress of Hamlet and capturing the play’s plot all at one glance in a visual display of its character network.  Popular responses, such as Kathryn Schultz’s in The New York Times, focus on the danger of fixating the living, breathing work of literature into the space of a limited and admittedly insufficient network that cannot fully represent the text. Meanwhile responses by literary scholars shape themselves around the limitations of Moretti’s metaphors: Is the model a skeleton? An x-ray? A map?

The language of time and space surrounding Moretti’s work reminds me of the rhetoric of the Sister Arts tradition, in other words, the relationship between poetry and painting that has existed since Horace’s analogy—“as painting, so is poetry.”  In his book Iconology (1990), W. J. T. Mitchell recounts the ut pictura poesis tradition as rife with political, moral, and social anxieties. In Western civilization, the seemingly immediate and transparent image repeatedly challenges the authority of language and by association theology, which must fend off the assault of the deceptively accurate image by explaining it away with words.  At the nexus of this vexed tradition exists a genre of poetry called ekphrasis, defined as the poetic representation of visual representation.  Studies in ekphrasis frequently revolve around the polarities of time (i.e. language) and space (i.e. visual art) as hostile and gendered oppositional forces, one always striving to co-opt and to remediate the other. Continue reading

How to Do Things with Networks: A Response to Franco Moretti

The first post in the Magazine Modernisms Essay Club reading of Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” comes from James Murphy, editor of this blog.  He is a recent Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s English Department, where he wrote a dissertation on the theory and practice of modernist revision, and then joined the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature at Harvard University. He has published essays on Robert Frost and meter, Henry James and revision, editing and electronic archives, and teaching serialized novels.  He is currently working on a book entitled Modernist Economy, but don’t hold him to that title.

The publication of Franco Moretti’s essay  “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” as the Stanford Literary Lab’s second pamphlet is an exciting event for those of us interested in new approaches to the study of literature made possible and provoked by the digital.  Digitization hasn’t only provided unprecedented access to our literary heritage–it’s begun to redefine what we think that heritage is and asked us to find new ways and new tools to conceptualize and curate this growing horde of materials.  It’s on these last two fronts that network theory and social network analysis (SNA) come in, but more on them later.

It’s a real pleasure to respond to “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” and to look at how its insights might be expanded to modernism and periodical studies because Moretti has been an inspirational and validating figure in the relatively young fields of quantitative literary analysis and digital literary history since the publication of “Conjectures on World Literature” in 2000.  His Graphs, Maps, and Trees:  Abstract Models for a Literary History was a gateway for this reader and many others into thinking about (non-belletristic) literary history rather than literary criticism and the difference between the two.  He also argued more cogently than anyone else out there (at a moment when it wasn’t clear to the non-initiated that there was anyone else out there) that there could be real power in looking at large numbers of books, at titles, at production numbers, and other kinds of data, rather than, as I’d been trained, at the content of particular texts. Continue reading

MagMods Essay Club: Franco Moretti and the Prospects of Social Network Analysis for Literary Studies

Ok, “essay club” doesn’t have quite the ring that “book club” has, but we hope you get the idea.  Four Magazine Modernisms contributors are going to be posting several responses to Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” (click title to get the essay) over the next week, and we invite all readers to jump in with their own comments.  *Professor Moretti has generously agreed to reply to the posts after they’ve been posted.*

Moretti’s essay uses social network analysis (SNA) to chart the relationships among the characters in Hamlet and, among other things, examine plot as a spatial phenomenon and not, as is typically thought, just a temporal one.   What’s SNA?  It’s a methodology, developed by sociologists,  for analyzing  the structures of relations between individuals in groups.  SNA typically graphs these relations (aka edges or ties) between individuals (aka nodes) in order to view their structure holistically, since it is that structure that in part determines the identity, attributes, and opportunities of individual nodes.  A quick Google search will show you a lot of diagrams of people’s Twitter and Facebook networks.  Here, for instance, is a map (made by Marc Smith), of the connections among the Twitter users who recently tweeted the words #rw2011 on April 28, 2011.  The National Security Agency has used SNA to study the records of millions of tapped phone calls in order to locate terrorist networks.  Epidemiologists have used it to trace the spread of disease.  The artist Mark Lombardi fused SNA, Sol LeWitt, and Cy Twombly (“these are a few  of my favorite things . . .”) in order to expose networks within and between corporate boards and governments.  If you’ve ever played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon you’ve basically played around with social networks.

Literary studies has not done a great deal with SNA.  One notable exception is Bonnie Kime Scott’s map of modernism in The Gender of Modernism, although she wasn’t working formally with network theory–which is why the important notion of centrality (more in my post tomorrow) is absent from the diagram.

Scott’s diagram suggests that in order to get a better grasp of what modernism was, we need to expand our purview beyond the ten or so figures we tend to focus on in modernist studies.  I’d add on that we needn’t limit ourselves to authors or even individuals.  Nodes don’t have to be humans, and edge relations can take lots of forms.  We might fruitfully use the methodology to look at characters, genres, publishing houses, periodicals, and even themes in the literary field.  Moretti’s essay, which is not at all about modernism, provides us  an opportunity to think about the prospects of SNA for studying magazine modernism over the next week.  We’ll be taking up this issue again at a roundtable at the Modernist Studies Association meeting (3:30 on Friday October 7) in Buffalo in October, so come by if you’ll be there.

Read the essay.  Comment below.  How can you imagine using SNA to study modernism, magazines, and literature?  And please add your comments to our responses, which will be about Moretti’s essay, about SNA, about Digital Humanities, and, of course, about what any of these things have to do with magazines and modernism.

New Issue of Journal of Modern Periodical Studies Released

Volume 2.1 of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies is available now through Project Muse.  Table of Contents after the jump. Continue reading

Mediamorphosis Conference site is up

See the complete program, abstracts, and other information at the conference website.