Beyond Darwinian Distance: Situating Distant Reading in a Feminist Ut Pictura Poesis Tradition
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
The challenge facing “distant reading” has less to do with Franco Moretti's assertion that we must learn “how not to read” than with his implication that looking should take the place of reading. Not reading is the dirty open secret of all literary critics-there will always be that book (or those books) that you should have read, have not read, and probably won't read. Moretti is not endorsing a disinterest in reading either, like that reported in the 2004 National Endowment for the Arts' Reading at Risk, which notes that less than half the adult public in the United States read a work of literature in 2002 (3). In his “little pact with the devil” that substitutes patterns of devices, themes, tropes, styles, and parts of speech for thousands or millions of texts at a time, the devil is the image: trees, networks, and maps-spatial rather than verbal forms representing a textual corpus that disappears from view. In what follows, I consider Distant Reading as participating in the ut pictura poesis tradition-that is, the Western tradition of viewing poetry and painting as sister arts-to explain how ingrained our resistances are to Moretti's formalist approach. I turn to more recent interart examples to suggest interpretive alternatives to formalism for distant-reading methods.
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