Laurie Epps

Methodological Analysis #2

February 28, 2016

Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis”

James Moretti’s language in explaining a highly intellectual and difficult area of expertise is surprisingly coherent in most of his essay; however, through his use of random examples, it complicates what he is trying to argue in the beginning.  He is looking for a way to calculate plot lines through characters, which he defines as creating connections on a graph that mark exchanges in speech with each other and also exchanges that take place at the same time but parallel to.  The argument in regards to measuring language of characters seems his best because it actually makes more sense to me, the reader.  As he continues, however, it balls and grows into a ferocious process of which he sees no real solution.

In the introduction, Moretti appropriately explains what is already being networked and done right—style in language is being consistently measured, quantified in systems that allow progress in humanities. Moretti uses typical canonical examples to formulate his theory and construct his graphs—using mainly Shakespearean tragedies to show character interactions and non-interactions and how they all intersect in the big picture.  This approach seems very legit and quite intriguing but then he notices friction, “flaws”. The connections of language are not “weighted” (cannot measure the importance of words phrases or thematic importance) and they have no “direction”.  Throughout his experiment with networking language, he portrays a moment-to-moment discovery method which is actually very realistic.  This trial and error method for the reader to experience shows that Moretti himself is a learner and willing to experiment with his own theories and ideas in regards to what is growing as network theory.  One accomplishment that is essential to his work is presented and solidified, “Making the past just as visible as the present.” This, of course, can be very useful in seeing the big picture when looking into literary texts—to visually construct an idea on the work as a whole, past to the present.  This statement substantiates his theory further.

Moretti continues with a discussion of models, which allow graph viewers to see underlining structures of a complexity.  This is helpful but just a stepping stone into what becomes a network too big to understand or control. In fact, he subtitles the next section, “Centrality, Conflict, Clustering”, suggesting an infiltration of confusion and complexity. Acknowledging all these large and small connections creates a vast system of network.  All of these, what he call “tendrils”, are the small details that lead to the very big things in the literary work.  Moretti is staying on track with his theory and making progress in educating his reader—everything seems quite extravagant but measureable and comprehensible.

In the middle of Moretti’s piece, it gets quite incomprehensible. He uses a vast web of examples, most of which I am not familiar with, to explore symmetry, guanxi (connections of a different sort) and others.  Quite frankly, Moretti’s realization that his theory might not hold true.  He admits, “I soon realized that the machine-gathering of the data, essential to large-scale quantification, was not yet a realistic possibility.” (11) His idea of quantifying plot, the essential missing piece of network theory, is not coming together as planned.  Networks themselves, however, were certainly the most useful because researchers could see lots of data in a two-dimensional space in a brief examination of the graph of data.  Moretti holds himself to the trial-error reality that his hypothesis did not come together as planned.  He credits Matt Jockers for his construction of the algorhythm and others in the field of continuing the study of networks and the usefulness of data at large.

Finally, he explores two graphs that include input from Jockers and Heuser and they are highly defined networks of connections that are far from where Moretti began.  They explore characters, their language interceptions, occurrence and understanding, and various other measurements of interactions between characters.  They are clearly well-thought out but at the same time, very difficult to even begin to understand.  This further substantiate’s Moretti’s dilemma with the difficultly of what he’s working with and just how hard it is to come to logical and useable conclusions, which could further the study of network theories.