In the reading from Franco Moretti’s: “Graphs, Maps, and Trees,” Moretti argues that literary history cannot be fully grasped by studying individual books, but that it must be studied by analyzing the system of literature as a whole, using large sets of data such as graphs, maps, and trees. Using such literary data, Moretti makes strong claims about various cultures around the world, including the culture of Japan beginning in the 1700’s (page 9). Moretti attributes the growth and decline of novels in Japan to the politics of that era, specifically because of:
“A direct, virulent censorship during the Kansei and Tempo periods, and an indirect influence in the years leading up to the Meiji Restoration, when there was no specific repression of the book trade.”
The growth and decline of the novel in Japan is shown in the graph below, which does indicate a number of shifts in the amount of novels being produced per year, however Moretti’s claim makes many assumptions about the political arena in Japan, which is not supported with any further evidence.
Although Moretti’s assumptions about Japanese history are not supported with factual evidence, they are historically significant and accurate. The Kansei and Tempo periods in Japanese history saw harsh censorship and government control, due to military dictatorships, which occurred from 1787-1793, as well as 1830-1844. The Meiji Restoration began in 1868, when the strict government was overthrown. This led to a rise in independence and creativity in Japan. These periods in Japanese history greatly affected the publications of books in Japan, which was accurately predicted by Moretti in his study of big sets of literary data, shown in the graph above. Therefore, Moretti’s assumptions about Japanese politics are very accurate, which further enhance his claim that a nation’s culture can be predicted by studying literary systems.