Volume 77, Issue 3 | September 2016

Special Issue: Scale and Value: New and Digital Approaches to Literary History

Author Title
James English and Ted Underwood Introduction
Author Title
Sharon Marcus Erich Auerbach's Mimesis and the Value of Scale  
Through a reading of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, which readers inside and outside the academy have valued for decades, this essay teases out how literary critical value is often aligned with scale: big claims, minutely close readings, and the ability to move gracefully between them. The essay also identifies and discusses four techniques basic to literary criticism: description, interpretation, explanation, and evaluation. A coda speculates about the links between Mimesis and a visual technology introduced into university lecturing a few decades before Auerbach wrote his magnum opus: the slide projector.
Jordan Sellers and Ted Underwood The Longue Durée of Literary Prestige  
A history of literary prestige needs to study both works that achieved distinction and the mass of volumes from which they were distinguished. To understand how those patterns of preference changed across a century, we gathered two samples of English-language poetry from the period 1820–1919: one drawn from volumes reviewed in prominent periodicals and one selected at random from a large digital library (in which the majority of authors are relatively obscure). The stylistic differences associated with literary prominence turn out to be quite stable: a statistical model trained to distinguish reviewed from random volumes in any quarter of this century can make predictions almost as accurate about the rest of the period. The “poetic revolutions” described by many histories are not visible in this model; instead, there is a steady tendency for new volumes of poetry to change by slightly exaggerating certain features that defined prestige in the recent past.
Günter Leypoldt Degrees of Relevance: Toni Morrison and Walter Scott  
How can we relate the quantitative presence of literary artifacts to their ability to make a difference, and how does the problem of scale define public accounts of what can be considered relevant literary value? The idea of a singular space of reception (one literary “marketplace,” say, or one “public sphere”) is unhelpful. Rather, literary artifacts have potentially multiple social lives that differ in their relation to “sacralized” and “everyday” practices. An aesthetic object can thrive in many simultaneous or successive practice spaces that use and value it differently and that embed it in differing sites of authority. Moving from the Romantic period to the present, this article looks at the trajectories of Walter Scott as an earlier and Toni Morrison as a recent candidate for culturally relevant authorship.
Hoyt Long and Richard So Turbulent Flow: A Computational Model of World Literature  
This article uses computational modeling and large-scale pattern detection to develop a theory of global textual transmission as a process of turbulent flow. Specifically, it models stream-of-consciousness narration as a discrete set of linguistic features and rhetorical elements and uses this model to track the movement of this modernist technique across generic boundaries (from anglophone modernism to more popular genres) and linguistic ones (from English to Japanese). Oscillating between statistical models and moments of close reading, the article shows how a quantitatively scaled-up approach, rather than reinforcing an image of global textual flows as singular and monolithic, illuminates world literature as a system constituted by patterns of divergence in structure and of difference in sameness.
James English Now, Not Now: Counting Time in Contemporary Fiction Studies  
Scholars of contemporary fiction face special challenges in making the turn toward digitized corpora and empirical method. Their field is one of exceptionally large and uncertain scale, subject to ongoing transformation and dispute and shrouded in copyright. It is, however, possible to produce an illuminating map of the field through statistical analysis of midsize, handmade data sets. On such a map one sees a striking shift in the typical temporal setting of the novel, a shift that corresponds to major rearrangements of the relation of literary commerce to literary prestige. This correspondence between formal and institutional developments in turn lends empirical support to the argument that, where anglophone fiction is concerned, the “contemporary” period begins around 1980.
Heather Love Small Change: Realism, Immanence, and the Politics of the Micro  
In recent debates about reading methods, in the field of microsociology, and in the history of the novel, small-scale observations of everyday life tend to be understood as conservative, reinforcing the status quo. Through a reading of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) in relation to documentary lyric and the online genre of microaggressions, this essay argues for the political utility of description at the micro scale.
Mark McGurl Everything and Less: Fiction in the Age of Amazon  
What does it mean to think of the rise of Amazon.com as an event in contemporary literary history? This essay analyzes the literary practices and programs “organic” to the Amazon digital ecology, including Kindle Direct Publishing, and then asks how the entrepreneurial logic, ethos, and temporality of “customer service” might be taken as the dominant logic of contemporary fiction as such.

Modern Language Quarterly | Department of English, Box 354330 | University of Washington | Seattle, WA 98195-4430