Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cycles of culture

In his recent SALT talk, Steven Johnson plugged the book Graphs, Maps, Trees by Franco Moretti. I just finished it, and it's hands-down one of the best analyses of literary history I've ever read.

Moretti practices what he calls "distant reading," looking at the full literary output of a society over time. His models—the graphs, maps, and trees of the title—bring some hidden cycles of human culture into sharp relief. He also offers some tentative, but compelling hypotheses regarding how and why new artistic forms arise, evolve, and decay.

P.S. Anyone interested in an engaging debate about cycles of artistic form should also check out the discussion of music—and specifically, David Levitin's book "This Is Your Brain on Music"—taking place in the North American Future Salon Yahoo! group. Look for the subject header "Accelerating Change."