Franco Moretti

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Franco Moretti (born 1950 in Sondrio) is an Italian literary scholar, trained as a Marxist critic, whose work focuses on the history of the novel as a "planetary form". He is currently a senior advisor at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English (and, by courtesy, of German Studies) at Stanford University in California, where he also founded the Center for the Study of the Novel and the Literary Lab. Moretti has written seven books, Signs Taken for Wonders (1983), The Way of the World (1987), Modern Epic (1995), Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900 (1998), Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (2005), Distant Reading (2013), and The Bourgeois (2013). His recent work is notable for importing, not without controversy,[1] quantitative methods from the social sciences into domains that have traditionally belonged to the humanities. To date, his books have been translated into fifteen languages.


Moretti earned his doctorate in modern literature from the La Sapienza University of Rome in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. He was professor of comparative literature at Columbia University before being appointed to the Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professorship at Stanford University. There, he founded the Stanford Center for the Study of the Novel. He has given the Carpenter Lectures at the University of Chicago, the Gauss Seminars in Criticism at Princeton, and the Beckman Lectures at the University of California-Berkeley. In 2006, he was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also has been a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He is a frequent contributor to the New Left Review and a member of Retort, a Bay Area-based group of radical intellectuals. He is also a scientific adviser to the French Ministry of Research. Moretti retired from Stanford in 2016 and now lives in Switzerland.

He is the brother of Italian filmmaker and Palme d'Or-winner Nanni Moretti.[2][3] He played roles in three films directed by his brother: The Defeat (La sconfitta, 1973, short), Pâté de bourgeois (1973, short), and I Am Self Sufficient (Io sono un autarchico, 1976).


Moretti has made several significant contributions to literary history and theory. While the majority of literary critics of the 1990s-2000s were concerned with (relatively subjective) interpretations of literature, Moretti offered a variety of materialistic, empirical approaches to literature and other arts. His major contributions were in the domains of literary geography (which is now largely associated with Moretti's name[4]) and digital humanities; he also contributed to combining literary studies with the world-systems analysis and Darwinian theory of evolution. Moretti has coined several concepts that are now widely used in the humanities, the main of which is distant reading[5][6]. Distant reading is opposed to close reading: a traditional approach in literary studies when a critic closely examines a separate text, tracing all the possible intertextual connections, author's intentions, etc. Distant reading has the opposite goal: the scholar should "step back" from an individual text to see a larger picture: the whole field of literary production, a genre system, etc.[7] Moretti and his followers take the longue duree view of literature - looking at the temporal trends in dozens or even hundreds of years of literary history.

Literary Geography[edit]

Moretti has offered a new - cartographic - perspective on literature in his Atlas of the European Novel.[8] On the one hand, he demonstrated geographic patterns that can be traced within literature: the geography of Jane Austen's characters, places of origin of villains in British literature, the locations of Balzac's novels, etc. On the other hand, Moretti suggested studying the geography of literary economics: how and why translations of novels spread across Europe, how book selection in small town libraries differ from book selection in the libraries in large cities, etc.

Digital Humanities[edit]

Together with Matthew Jockers, Moretti has founded Stanford Literary Lab in 2010[9][10]. Already in his Atlas, Moretti approached literature with quantitative methods. The Literary Lab continued this direction of work, but this time - quantifying literature via the tools of digital text analysis. Those methods include counting word frequencies, topic modeling, building character networks[11], etc. The results of Lab's work were published as Pamphlets[12] of the Literary Lab (the history of how Lab arrived at this unusual publication format is described by Moretti in Pamphlet 12[13]). Stanford Literary Lab became one of the pioneering groups pursuing computational criticism, and a visible actor in the new field of digital humanities. Equally novel was the concept of the humanities "lab", as it is mostly associated with hard sciences.

World-Systems Analysis[edit]

In many of his works, Moretti relies on one strand of historical macrosociology - world-systems analysis - and its main theorist, Immanuel Wallerstein. World-systems analysis divides all countries into three groups: core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral. Core countries dominate the world by having a monopoly over some kind of products, which they export to the peripheral and semi-peripheral countries. Over time, the latter countries learn how to produce the much needed products themselves, but core countries usually acquire monopolies over other important products, and so the structure of the world-system remains relatively stable[14]. Moretti suggested that the same principle may work in the domain of arts. Certain countries have monopoly over producing film or literary forms, while other countries import those forms. According to Moretti, in the 19th century England and France constituted the core of the literary world-system[15], exporting novels worldwide; today, Hollywood, which exports movies has a similar role has[16].

Literary Evolution[edit]

Applying Darwinian theory to literature is an idea that dates back to the late 19th century (initial attempts were made by Ferdinand Brunetière and Alexander Veselovsky). Literary Darwinism becomes an influential movement in 20th century literary criticism. Joseph Carroll, Denis Dutton, Jonathan Gottschall, Brian Boyd, Ellen Spolsky, Nancy Easterlin, among others, contributed to the evolutionary literary studies[17][better source needed]. In their wake, Moretti used the techniques of "distant reading": statistics and computation to study literary evolution. The interest in Darwin's theory in the humanities coincided with the emergence in the 1990s and 2000s of the new research domain called cultural evolution[18][19].

Sexual assault allegations[edit]

In November 2017, Moretti was accused of sexual assaulting Kimberly Latta, a former graduate assistant, in the 1984-1985 academic year.[20][21] The alleged sexual assault took place while Moretti was a visiting professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Latta wrote a Facebook post, stating that Moretti “sexually stalked, pressured and raped” her.[22][23] Moretti has responded to the accusation, saying, "I did meet Kimberly Latta during my visit at Berkeley in 1985; we went out to dinner together one night and back to her apartment where we had fully consensual sex and I spent the night. I did not rape her, and am horrified by the accusation."[22] Latta has additionally claimed that Moretti threatened to "ruin her career" if she pressed charges, but Moretti denies that this conversation took place.[22] She has also claimed that when she attempted to report the assault to Berkeley's Title IX officer at the time, she was discouraged from using Moretti's name.[23] A Stanford spokesperson has confirmed that the university is determining “whether there are any actions for Stanford to take.”[21]

On November 16, 2017, soon after Latta made her statement on Facebook, information about two additional incidents emerged in an article by Fangzhou Liu and Hannah Knowles in The Stanford Daily.[24] Moretti denied the new accusations, stating that he had never sexually assaulted anyone and had never "knowingly engaged in any kind of unwanted contact.”[25]



  • Interpretazioni di Eliot. Roma: Savelli. 1975.
  • Letteratura e ideologie negli anni trenta inglesi. Bari: Adriatica. 1976.
  • Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms. Translated by Susan Fischer; David Forgacs; David Miller. London: NLB: Verso Editions. 1983. ISBN 0860910644.
  • Il romanzo di formazione. [Milano]: Garzanti. 1986.
  • Segni e stili del moderno. Torino: Einaudi. 1987. ISBN 8806593986.
  • The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. London: Verso. 1987. ISBN 0860911594.
  • Opere mondo: saggio sulla forma epica dal Faust a Cent'anni di solitudin. Torino: Einaudi. 1994. ISBN 8806135457.
  • The Modern Epic: The World-System from Goethe to García Márquez. London, New York: Verso. 1996. ISBN 1859849342.
  • Atlante del romanzo europeo, 1800-1900. Torino: G. Einaudi. 1997. ISBN 8806141325.
  • Atlas of the European novel, 1800-1900. London, New York: Verso. 1998. ISBN 1859848834.
  • Il romanzo. Torino: G. Einaudi. 2003. ISBN 8806152904.
  • Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London, New York: Verso. 2005. ISBN 1844670260.
  • The Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 2006. ISBN 0691049475.
  • Lee, Richard E.; Moretti, Franco (2011). Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World. Duke University Press Books. ISBN 9780822348481.
  • Distant Reading. London: Verso. 2013. ISBN 9781781680841.
  • The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Verso. 2013. ISBN 9781781680858.

Selected Journal Articles[edit]

  • Flores D'Arcais, Paolo; Moretti, Franco (March 1, 1976). "Paradoxes of the Italian Political Crisis". New Left Review. 0 (96): 35.
  • "Paradoxes of the Italian Political Crisis". Genre. 15: 7. Spring 1982.
  • "The Dialectic of Fear". New Left Review. 0 (126): 67. November 1982.
  • "The Comfort of Civilization". Representations (12): 115–139. October 1985.
  • "The Moment of Truth". New Left Review. 0 (159): 39. September 1986.
  • "The Spell of Indecision". New Left Review. 0 (164): 27. July 1987.
  • "Words Words Words: A Reply to Tony Pinkney". New Left Review. 0 (167page=127). January 1988.
  • "Modern European Literature: A Geographical Sketch". New Left Review. 0 (206): 86. July 1994.
  • "Narrative Markets, ca. 1850". Review (Fernand Braudel Center). 20 (2): 151–174. April 1997.
  • "Structure, Change, and Survival: A Response to Winthrop-Young". Diacritics. 29 (2): 41–42. 1999.
  • "The Slaughterhouse of Literature". Modern Language Quarterly. 61 (1): 207–228. 2000.
  • "Conjectures on World Literature". New Left Review. 0 (1): 54. January 2000.
  • "'New York Times' Obituaries". New Left Review. 0 (2): 104. March 2000.
  • "MoMA 2000—The Capitulation". New Left Review. 0 (4): 98. July 2000.
  • "Markets of the Mind". New Left Review. 0 (5): 111. September 2000.
  • "Planet Hollywood". New Left Review. 0 (9): 90. May 2001.
  • "More Conjectures". New Left Review. 0 (20): 73. March 2003.
  • "Graphs, Maps, Trees" (PDF). New Left Review. 0 (24): 67. November 2003.
  • "Graphs, Maps, Trees—2". New Left Review. 0 (26): 79–103. March 2004.
  • "Graphs, Maps, Trees—3". New Left Review. 0 (28): 43–63. July 2004.
  • "World-Systems Analysis, Evolutionary Theory, 'Weltliteratur'". Review (Fernand Braudel Center). 28 (3): 217–228. January 2005.
  • "The end of the beginning: A reply to Christopher Prendergast (Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History)". New Left Review (41): 71. September 2006.
  • "Cartes". Romantisme (4): 11. 2007.
  • "The novel: History and Theory". New Left Review (52): 111–124. July 2008.
  • "Style, Inc. Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740-1850)". Critical Inquiry. 36 (1pages=134-158). 2009.
  • "Critical ResponseII. Relatively Blunt". Critical Inquiry. 36 (1): 172–174. 2009.
  • "The Grey Area: Ibsen and the Spirit of Capitalism". New Left Review (61): 117–131. January 2010.
  • "History of the Novel, Theory of the Novel". Novel. 43 (1): 1–10. Spring 2010.
  • "Network Theory, Plot Analysis". New Left Review (68). March 2011.
  • "Introduction to 'Learning to Read Data'". Victorian Studies. 54 (1): 6, 186. Autumn 2011.
  • "Fog". New Left Review (81): 59–92. May 2013.
  • "Sobre l'evolució literària". L' Espill (43): 150–167. 2013.
  • Moretti, Franco; Sanders, Valerie; Shook, Karen (June 27, 2013). "Middle-Class Value Judgement". The Times Higher Education Supplement (2107): 46.
  • "'Operationalizing' or, the Function of Measurement in Literary Theory". New Left Review (84): 103–119. November 2013.
  • "Lukac's Theory of the Novel". New Left Review (91): 39–44. 2015.
  • Moretti, Franco; Pestre, Dominique (2015). "Bankspeak: The Language of World Bank Reports". New Left Review (92): 75–99.

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ Prendergast, Christopher (July 2005). "Evolution and Literary History: A Response to Franco Moretti". New Left Review. New Left Review. II (34).
  2. ^ Giampiero Mughini, «Moretti, il poeta organizzatore», Corriere della Sera, 21 November 2007
  3. ^ Valerie Sanders, The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature by Franco Moretti, Times Higher Education, 27 June 2013
  4. ^ Piatti, Barbara. "Mapping Literature: Towards a Geography of Fiction". Cartography and Art.
  5. ^ Schulz, Kathryn (June 24, 2011). "What is distant reading?". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Moretti, Franco. "Distant Reading".
  7. ^ Moretti, Franco (2013). Distant Reading. Verso.
  8. ^ Moretti, Franco. "Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900".
  9. ^ "Stanford Literary Lab".
  10. ^ Rothman, Joshua (March 20, 2014). "An Attempt to Discover the Laws of Literature".
  11. ^ Moretti, Franco (May 1, 2011). "Network Theory, Plot Analysis" (PDF). Stnaford Literary Lab Pamphlets.
  12. ^ "Pamphlets of Stanford Literary Lab".
  13. ^ Moretti, Franco (April 2016). "Literature, Measured" (PDF). Pamphlets of Stanford Literary Lab.
  14. ^ Wallerstein, Immanuel. "World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction".
  15. ^ Moretti, Franco (1998). Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900. Verso.
  16. ^ Moretti, Franco (2001). "Planet Hollywood". New Left Review. 9.
  17. ^ "Literary Darwinism. Wikipedia".
  18. ^ Mesoudi, Alex (2011). Cultural Evolution. Chicago University Press.
  19. ^ Richerson, Peter J.; Boyd, Robert (2005). Not By Genes Alone. Chicago University Press.
  20. ^ "English professor accused of sexual assault by former graduate student". Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  21. ^ a b "Former UC Berkeley visiting professor accused of sex assault by then-graduate student". The Daily Californian. 10 Nov 2017. Retrieved 10 Nov 2017.
  22. ^ a b c "Two women accuse former Stanford professors of sexual assault". The Stanford Daily. 9 Nov 2017. Retrieved 10 Nov 2017.
  23. ^ a b Mangan, Katherine (11 Nov 2017). "2 Women Say Stanford Professors Raped Them Years Ago". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 13 Nov 2017.
  24. ^ "Harassment, assault allegations against Moretti span three campuses". Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2017-11-24.
  25. ^ "Harassment, assault allegations against Moretti span three campuses". Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2017-11-24.
  26. ^ Kirsten Reach (January 14, 2014). "NBCC finalists announced". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  27. ^ "Announcing the National Book Critics Awards Finalists for Publishing Year 2013". National Book Critics Circle. January 14, 2014. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  28. ^ "National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners for Publishing Year 2013". National Book Critics Circle. March 13, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  29. ^ Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, [ "The Permanent Fellows "], Franco Moretti, 1. July 2018

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]