Does Franco Moretti's notion of “distant reading” really provide a liberating and democratic approach to literature, as it promises? Far from opening new perspectives, distant reading may actually blunt our critical faculties, inviting us to inadvertently adopt biased views of literature under the mask of objectivity. This essay aims to reveal the pseudoscientific nature of distant reading as applied to the analysis of literary genres. In “Conjectures on World Literature” (2000) Moretti discusses two basic cognitive metaphors: the tree and the wave. These and other metaphors are at the core of the three essays Moretti published in the New Left Review in 2003 and 2004 under the common heading “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History.” I argue that although Moretti draws his models from scientific disciplines (graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary theory), he actually uses them to support theories that lack proper verification, incurring the danger of bending reality to theory.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.