Wait… they don’t love you like I love you: Reading Maps
EM, who last time discovered something insipid in Moretti’s titular graphs and trees, highlights Moretti’s preference for geometry over geography in his discussion of maps (invoking, by way of contrast I imagine, Auden’s praise of an actual landscape1 ).
Matt Wilkens’s essay on mapping inspires in Jordan a reverie about a two-track English department (a “traditional” track, and a data-driven track); Jordan quickly stops day-dreaming though, in order to look more closely at the differences in the spatial approach offered by Moretti and Wilkens. That difference (and the broader difference about the “great unread” of which distant reading promises some glimpse), for Jordan, has a political/critical edge: “Wilkens’ question has less to do with a hunch about the nature of the texts and more to do with the conviction that these other texts that lie outside the purview of canonization are indeed worth investigation.”.
An ambivalence motivates Staci’s response to maps, at once interested and skeptical. She asks what relation these maps have to older literary maps—like the map of Yoknapatawpha County added by Faulkner to Absalom, Absalom!. Staci too notes that there is actually a rather broad diversity of method parading under the banner of “mapping” (admittedly, a banner I have created): “What Moretti does in the Maps section of Graphs, Maps, Trees seems worlds apart from what Matthew Wilkens does in ‘Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method’ in which he plots the geographical locations mentioned in 40ish novels of 1851, 1852, and 1874.” So, is mapping a “method” at all? Or is there, at best, a family resemblance between these various interests in space.
Updated:Adam entertains Jordan’s fantasy of a split English department, but sees no reason to be either frightened by the proposition, or to necessarily change what he is doing: “even those uninterested or unschooled in the DH can benefit from the results of distant reading.” Let, as they say, a thousand flowers bloom?