Towards the end of the Moretti article he states:

I began this article by saying that quantitative data are useful because they are independent of interpretation; then, that they are interesting because they demand interpretation; and no, most radically, we see them challenge existing interpretations, and ask for a theory.

In his article Moretti uses genre to reinterpret the rise and fall of the novel as a whole. What I found interesting is that Moretti talks about taking a macro view of the novel, looking at the “cycle” e.g. the ebbs and flows in the popularity of novels rather than the “event” e.g. the publication of one novel. However, the only way to get to this macro view of the novel is by producing more granular data. In other words, we need more detailed information about the “event” in order to create a “cycle.”

In order for Moretti to arrive to the point that specific genres of novels and their rise and fall in popularity are crucial in understanding the novel as a whole, genre specific data was necessary. The quantitative data collected had to include to type of genre, otherwise his reinterpretation would not be possible. It makes you wonder what data was included in his study and what data was omitted. It also begs the question, how was the genre of a novel chosen and who where the genre forms determined?

Perhaps the Google Book NGram viewer provides a solution. If the novel is the sum of various genres, are genres the sum of various styles, which in part are the sum of various words? For example, do certain genres use some words more frequently? Is “chastity” more commonly used in courtship novels than historical novels? If we study the frequency of words over time would they reinforce Moretti’s study of genre or would they “challenge existing interpretations?” Perhaps the study of words would help humanists understand how the genre forms were determined in the first place. This may even lead to the addition or elimination of some genres, which may alter Moretti’s theory (although I think not).

Part of me also thinks that we may reach a threshold of useful information. Moretti creates a concise understanding of literary genres that can be understood in the length of an article. If we get bogged down into looking at the frequency of individual words, do we learn more about the novel or do will simply muddy the water to the point where we cannot see through it? For example the Ngram of the word “chastity” below shows change over time. I wonder if this coincides with the popularity of certain genres or the replacement of the word “chastity” for another synonym.

Chastity In Google NGram

Chastity In Google NGram

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