Posts filed under: notes

Today marks the half-year anniversary of Rhetsy, and while half a year doesn’t sound like much to me as I write it out, it means that, for the past six months, I’ve been collecting links on a daily basis and synthesizing them weekly for general consumption. On the one hand, it’s not a lot of work, but on the other, when I multiply by six months the time I’ve spent on it, Rhetsy begins to occupy just a bit more of my scholarly identity. So congratulations to me, I guess.

The feedback I’ve received on Rhetsy has been universally positive, which makes sense, considering that a single (unsubscribable) email per week is a pretty small price to pay for its potential benefit. If there’s one question that people ask me about it, it’s about the process. When I was at the RSA Institute a few weeks ago, the question came up again in a couple of contexts, and so I thought I’d write a little bit about my process, and share it for this issue as a way of marking the milestone.

When I started up Rhetsy, I had in mind a handful of inspirational/aspirational newsletters (which I’ve written about before), and the name itself, which was a mashup of rhetoric and Etsy. With the decline in (my own) blogging, my feeling was that part of what I’d lost was the benefit of link blogs, trusted voices who would point my attention to interesting resources and essays. …

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[It occurred to me that, after sharing my Reading Notes assignment, I should be doing more of this myself. I don’t know that this will last, but in the interest of walking my talk, I’m going to try to contribute some entries to my class’s shared bibliography. I’ll post them here and at the course wiki, and I’ll be covering essays that I wasn’t able to include in the syllabus itself. My goal is to average an essay a week for the semester–I doubt that I’ll do this evenly, but we’ll see. I’ll probably work ahead a little this weekend.]

Moretti, Franco. “Operationalizing: Or, the Function of Measurement in Literary Theory”

Moretti, Franco. “Operationalizing: Or, the Function of Measurement in Literary Theory.” New Left Review 84 (Nov/Dec 2013): 103-119. (paywall)

Abstract: Moretti suggests “operationalizing” as the bridge between the quantitative study of literary works and the theoretical concepts with which critics approach them. He demonstrates this by operationalizing Alex Woloch’s concept of “character-space,” testing it via word counts and network centrality maps. But Moretti also argues that this kind of operationalization must do more than simply provide additional detail or precision if it is to have value. In the case of character-space, he argues that “Two conflicting criteria for protagonism emerge from the two types of measurement…[and this] shows that the ‘protagonist’, far from being a fundamental reality of dramatic construction, is only a special instance of the more general category of ‘centrality’” (109, 112). …

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