If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
Moretti has conceptualized Distant Reading, a type of reading that functions at such a remove that it can take in the larger literary movements that happen at the world, national and historical scale…..I think. To the common reader this might sound uninteresting, as, in theory, Distant Reading does not involve the actual reading of any single novel e.g. you will not be hunched over Die Papiere des Immunen trying to figure out what precisely Lötscher was getting at in Theater des Stolperns. Instead you will have question marks circling above your cranium in pursuit of answers to questions such as: What are the commonalities in terms of narrative technique that marked the successful Helvetic lit-mavericks? Do they in anyway fit in with others in the German-writing world? Have they any other narrativesakes in the global Graphosphere? What sets them apart and what was the evolutionary genesis of this different lit-outliers?
…At first sight, such questions might make one‘s lids feel heavy for they seem to imply nothing more than the stratospheric yet oxygenless flight of theory. In search of patterns whose beauty one would think are revealed only at close range, that is, close reading, actual sentence for sentence drudgery-equanitmity-epiphany. But assuming for any readerly mind a minimum-modicum of curiosity, what one, your average reader, gets out of it [if, for a few moments, we can bear pragmatism] is a fascinating road-map or network of the interconnecting dots of the graphosphere: you catch a glimpse of what you could be interested in reading next in a way that deviates from the algorithmic vista provided by Amazon‘s „Customer‘s who bought this item also bought“-galley.
Rather than focus on the now and taste, Distant Reading affords one a wicked appreciation of the underlying narrative skeleton. What‘s up with crime novels in the 19th century? How to compare the western to the Chinese narrative? It shifts one‘s attention away from the pure flesh and blood of present prose. I adore prose at least as much as I do Jolly Rogers, but it are the latter that pique my minimum-modicum: from up high I want to see the burried bones. Read so much until one finally unreads, connects the nodes between authors and readers and centuries. But what, anyway, could this mean? After all, no matter how high, one always wants to experience the gravity of meaning, the unavoidable pull of signification, be it structural or semantic.
Well, for example, what could one search for in a literature of present-day EurAfrica, these wildly seggregated continental shelves and people? Tragedy! The tragedy of being kept apart by waters and inhuman policies. When actually, reading Moretti in a pro-humanist vein, this tragedy should be avoided in the name of diversity, a literary fertile diversity: “Once more, the Europe we need is Guizot‘s , with the constituitive dis-union of its cultural scene. And this means that Europe doesn‘t simply offer ,more‘ space than any nation state, but especially a different space: discontinuous fractured, the European space functions as a sot of archiipelago of (national) sub-spaces, each of them specializing in one formal variation”(Moretti 2013: 12).
This is not an attempt at high-cultural frivolity, where the indescribable, unforgivable suffering of the migrants is forgotten for the benefit of cosmopolitan culture, it is just one more argument out of millions [each migrant being one] for dissolving the barbarian borders of Europe. The be humane, to be fertile, we must allow for diversity. For a moment we might step away from Moretti the literary-critique and consider his argument in a sociological, even a civilizational light: “Space, spaces, plural, of neighbouring, rival cultures; where the exploration of formal possibilities may be allowed….the space of a divided Europe”(Moretti 2013: 13).
I suppose there is a middling to good chance that I am attempting to do too many a thing at once: I want to identify the state of the world and the state of my mind, in toto, via the books I read, also in toto. Foolish and idealistic, for I hardly even read the daily news, nor muster much interest in present affairs. The Zeitgeist, as antiquated a notion as there is, seems more tempting. But now, without more dillydallying, I must state that I can recognize a present day collective neurotic disorder that haunted coffee-sweating Vienna at the turn of the last, those days when Freud learned how to ,sweep the chimney‘ from Pappenheim via Breuer. Yes, a woman was the mother of both Sigmund‘s Oedypus and Electra – what a smallish surprise, what an instructive fact. The condition these Viennese doctors and intellectuals found themselves in might for our times‘ sake undergo a slight name change and be called “pragmatic nihilism”, though the outcome is much the same: the diseases of society defy curing! And if there is no cure there are only a few alternatives: the jeremiad, the palliative care [monetary donations to NGOs] and the acid whirlpool of cynycism [you think you‘re having fun but you‘re actually dissolving]. There is nothing to be done so the best we can do is acknowledge this very fact and shrug our shoulders. This allows for more passivity than one of the many other options, e.g. a) something can be done but it‘s pretty damn hopeless
b) something can be done but not by me; i just got back from work
c) something can be done but that‘ll make matters worse, my friend, etcetera.
But then if indeed nothing could be done, why go on? Because of the egomaniac phallacy, a phallacy that might rest where Freud claimed such dissonances rest, deep down & burried: I myself am divinely exempted from the human lot.
Do I believe fully in the above account? Half a page for the grand human contemporary condition? Nobody could; one couldn‘t believe in a 10‘000 page account of the present state of affairs with a flak-canon held to one‘s head.
The very least one could do is introduce a second account running in parallel: the optimistic take on what is going on. Unfortunately, our consciousness, at least mine, does not really allow one to hold in mind two seemingly mutually exclusive concepts at the same time. Thus I will first think of a guy on the bus who accidentally shoved me as an uncaring pr%ck, then perhaps later when I‘ve rezened myself and happen to see him with his nuclear loved ones [his Nulos, this will be a thing now for me, Nulos] down by the lake feeding a goddamn swan, then see him as a sort of decent family guy, just a Griffin-grade Joe Schmo. But to hold those two images in this sore head of mine at the same time as his begrimed shoulder rubbs up against my ribs on the bus, what a thing that would be! To know that even through the mud of a DSDS conversation shimmers the genius of human ingenuity, that one could wish for for the human mind. Because if we are allegedly such great multi-taskers, why not attempt the same thing at the cognitive level and, whenever cynical images arise overlay them with a gossamer of friendlyhearted optimism? The 19th century Viennese have played their bit in history, no need to repeat their masterly performance.