Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-lxvtp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-24T04:16:45.902Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

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.

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2017 The Modern Language Association of America

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Works Cited

Alexander, Elizabeth. “The Venus Hottentot.” Poetry Foundation, 2017, Scholar
Bishop, Elizabeth. The Complete Poems, 1927–1979. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.Google Scholar
Cheeke, Stephen. Writing for Art: The Aesthetics of Ekphrasis. Manchester UP, 2008.Google Scholar
Costello, Bonnie. Planets on Tables: Poetry, Still Life, and the Turning World. Cornell UP, 2008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Diggory, Terence. William Carlos Williams and the Ethics of Painting. Princeton UP, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Routledge, 1989.Google Scholar
Gould, Stephen Jay. The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History. W. W. Norton, 2010.Google Scholar
Horace. “Ars Poetica.” Adapted by William Harmon from translations by C. Smart and E. H. Blakeney. Classic Writings on Poetry, edited by Harmon, , Columbia UP, 2003, pp. 6374.Google Scholar
Keats, John. The Poems of John Keats. Translated by Sélincourt, E. De, Dodd, Mead, 1905.Google Scholar
Lessing, G. E. Laocoon. Translated by Phillimore, Robert, Macmillan, 1874.Google Scholar
Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann. Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts. Cambridge UP, 2011.Google Scholar
McGann, Jerome. Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.Google Scholar
Mitchell, W. J. T. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. U of Chicago P, 1986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mitchell, W. J. T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. U of Chicago P, 1994.Google Scholar
Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading. Verso, 2013.Google Scholar
Plutarch. De gloria Atheniensium. Edited by William W. Goodwin. Perseus Digital Library, Tufts U, Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.Google Scholar
Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. National Endowment for the Arts, June 2004, PDF download.Google Scholar
Rhody, Lisa Marie. “Why I Dig: Feminist Approaches to Text Analysis.” Debates in the Digital Humanities, U of Minnesota P, 2016, Scholar
Schulz, Kathryn. “The Mechanic Muse—What Is Distant Reading?The New York Times, 24 June 2011, Scholar
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci.” Edited by Melissa J. Sites and Neil Fraistat. Romantic Circles, U of Maryland, Feb. 1997, Scholar
Stein, Richard L. The Ritual of Interpretation: The Fine Arts as Literature in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pater. Harvard UP, 1975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar