Thursday, January 12, 2006
Many thanks to everybody writing about the book - and four brief rejoinders.
Does work like mine belong in a History department, rather than in English? I take the idea as a compliment - trying to make literary study a part of historical research has always been a fixation of mine. Does this abolish the pleasure of reading literature? No - it just means that between the pleasure and the knowledge of literature [or at least a large part of knowledge] there is no continuity. Knowing is not reading.
Are literary cycles limited to the 19th century? I doubt it. Virtually all the evidence I know of [from studies in French, British, and other western european literatures] points to the existence of genre cycles well before then, and the 20th century largely confirms the pattern, in literature and outside [think of war films, or westerns]. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of the literary [and cultural] field is affected by cycles. But even if it’s only 50%, wouldn’t that be a significant find?
Is it possible that relying on secondary sources may produce distortions? Of course. Point out a large enough number of distortions, and I will abandon the enterprise. But I’m not going to do so simply because of the “possibility” of a distortion. I firmly believe in falsifiability, but falsification is a matter of fact, not of possibility.
Do maps reveal very little about literature? Well, it depends. Those of village stories, for instance, bring to light a type of spatial perception that would be hard to envisage otherwise. The map of Paris from the Atlas - especially in connection with the London maps from the same book - explains why youth and social class play such different roles in the two traditions. And so on. Still, a lot of people have that reaction to maps - “Of course things are this way. What’s the big deal?” So, may I suggest a little wager-experiment? Sometime in the future I’d like to make maps of regional narratives [Hardy, Verga]. Why don’t map-skeptics write in advance what I will “obviously” find - and we compare the results once the maps are done?