“But what would happen if literary historians, too, decided to ‘shift their gaze’ (Pomian again) ‘from extraordinary to the everyday, from exceptional events to the large mass of facts’? What literature would we find, in ‘the large mass of facts’?
All questions that occurred to me some years ago, when the study of national bibliographies made me realize what a minimal fraction of the literary field we all work on: a canon of two hundred novels, for instance, sounds very large for nineteenth-century Britain (and is much larger than the current one), but is still less than one per cent of the novels that were actually published: twenty thousand, thirty, more, no one really knows – and close reading won’t help here, a novel a day every day would take a century or so . . . And it’s not even a matter of time, but of method: a field this large cannot be understood by stitching together separate bits of knowledge about individual cases, because it isn't a sum of individual cases: it’s a collective system, that should be grasped as such, as a whole – and the graphs that follow are one way to begin doing this. (…)
A more rational literary history. That is the idea. (...)
Figure 1 (overleaf), which charts the take-off of the novel in Britain, Japan, Italy, Spain and Nigeria, is a case in point. See how similar those shapes are: five countries, three continents, over two centuries apart, and it’s really the same pattern, the same old metaphor of the ‘rise’ of the novel come alive: in twenty years or so (in Britain, 1720-1740; Japan 1745-1765; Spain, 1845 to early 1860s; Nigeria 1965-1980), the graph leaps from five-ten new titles per year, which means one new novel every month or two, to one new novel per week. And at this point, the horizon of novel reading changes. (…)
I began this chapter by saying that quantitative data are useful because they are independent of interpretation; then, that they are challenging because they often demand an interpretation that transcends the quantitative realm; now, most radically, we see them falsify existing theoretical explanations, and ask for a theory, not so much of ‘the’ novel, but of a whole family of novelistic forms. A theory – of diversity.“
(Franco Moretti: Graphs, Maps and Trees. Abstract Models for Literary History. Verso, 2005, 3-5, 30.)