June 25, 2004

Last two days, Franco Moretti's Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to Garcia Marquez. I started reading it when I was tired and thought I would read it in preparation for a nap but was awake 100 pages later. Great conversational style that I want to learn how to also. One hears a clear voice, sense of improvisation (which I assume is crafted), of someone having fun with argument. Which surprised me because I had expected more a voice of power (some days I'm convinced no one gets a job without Moretti having something to do with it). So big learning here on style.

The book is all men, all the time. I don't think there is one reference to anything written by a woman, critical or literary. Which usually drives me nuts in any book written after the 1980s (why should I read anything where the author has used something like gender (or race or nation) to limit their ideas, especially in a book about world literature?) But somehow the conversational style made me forgive it. It felt like listening to annoying but smart uncle who is out of date but still has much to say and you just see the narrow vision as something that is from another generation and thus not at all threatening. Plus there are things to be learned from this uncle, so you listen.

And at moments the book present a lot of major assumptions as fact. i.e. the canonical status of Joyce goes unquestioned. Or this sentence about Garcia Marquez: "For the first time in modern history, the centre of gravity of formal creation leaves Europe, and a truly worldwide literary system . . . replaces the narrower European circuit." Seems true only if you are standing in Europe. And I think it is done with the idea of being provocative, of straight talk about literature. This performance is less interesting to me finally. And yet, interesting observation about how One Hundred Years of Solitude might be the novel of 68. Or how the banning of the novel in Central and South America by missionaries led to the health of that literary scene because the novel is a sort of invasive plant that soaks up all the nutrients of the other genres.

I've also been mesmerized by the Moretti installments in New Left Review on literary graphs, etc. Great fun.

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