Tag Archives: Moretti

Genres, Generation Cycle

The book, ‘Graphs, Maps, Trees’ by Franco Moretti, explores the cultural effects on novels. The book emphasizes the effect various aspects of culture have on the novels being read at a point in time. Moretti claimed in the novel that the regular rhythmic decline of genres of novels after 25 or 30 years is caused by ‘generations’. Moretti writes “but (almost) all genres active at any time seem to arise and disappear together according to some hidden rhythm.” This is show in the fig 9 of the novel that certain genres last for some years and a new set of genres replace them. He also states “this, then, is where those 25 – 30 years come from: generations.”

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Moretti argues that if one genre replaces another one then there can be a reasonable internal cause but when several genres randomly vanish collectively from the literary field, and another different unrelated group of genres enters, then it must relate to a change in audience. This is very true because only something external to the genres could cause the genre swap. It is rather strange for the group of genre to disappear randomly so it only makes sense that the audience dies out and a new one comes in. This leads to the idea of ‘generations’.

He says that “books survive if they are read and disappear if they aren’t: and when an entire generic system vanishes at once, the likeliest explanation is that its readers vanished at once.” This is similarly true because people in the same generation think alike. Though the term ‘generation’ is not exactly certain but it can account for the 25 – 30 years period of each genre. When a generation dies out and a new one comes in, they come in with different tastes so they demand a new genre and when their time is up, the cycle continues. In order to answer the Moretti’s question “since people are born every day, not every twenty-five years, on what basis can the biological continuum be segmented into discrete units?” Mannheim answered the question in ‘The Problem of Generations’ that it doesn’t matter when a new generation style emerges, what matters is the cultural trigger action that creates a bond between members of a generation. Mannheim referred to this process as ‘dynamic destabilization.’ This is a very good way to look at generations because it is wrong to categorize based on a regular time interval. The cultural effects make a stronger effect on the members of the generations giving them certain similar tastes. All these assumptions summed up can accurately explain the cultural effect on the genres. Moretti used these together to show that the generations have an effect on the active genres during a time period.

Truth Be Told- Moretti’s assumptions in “Graphs, Maps, and Trees”

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.

Moretti graph(Page 10)

 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.



Encyclopedia Britannica: