Cleanth Brooks, a well known close reading theorist establishes his theory in the essay, “The Well Wrought Urn,” which focuses on understanding the poem as a whole, explaining that a poem cannot be deconstructed into fragments and that a reader must not paraphrase a poem , as it damages the poem’s original intent.
Secondly, Franco Moretti, a distant reader developed a theory far from the realm of Brooks in, “Graphs, Maps and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History,” an essay that proclaims that literature can be understood when viewed from afar. Both theories, while very different, with Brooks criticizing the structure and unity of poetry and Moretti evaluating the cultural impact on novel genres and their unity, both focus on patterns, structure, and unity. The approaches are logical whilst maintaining a literary perspective; this common denominator is more important than the dissimilarities among their theories.
The literary theories of Brooks and Moretti are strikingly different, however, both theorists choose a logical approach to analyze literature at at the level of the poem (Brooks) or at the level of all novels (Moretti) in which both theorists examine literature as a whole rather than subjecting it to a deconstructed meaning generated by its readers.
In addition to the examining poems and novels as units, Brooks and Moretti express the need to read poems and novels without subjecting them to one’s own personal emotions, therefore preserving the poetry and novels as units of art. This keeps the critical analysis as a logical one that leaves the literature free from misinterpretation. First, Brooks is an advocate for keeping external perspectives outside of the structure and form of the poem that author penned for a specific purpose. Reading a poem is an experience, but it is not “a mere statement about experience,” thus the poem is a part of life, not a medium, in which, the reader is to take something away from it (1228). This leads into the logical approach to close reading poetry that Brooks discusses in this essay; he believes that “poetry...makes no use of ideas, or that either is merely emotional” (1228). He is saying that the truth of a poem- the truth that the author wrote into its words, structure and form, are separate from those emotions or former experiences that the reader may have and therefore those emotions must be external to the literary analysis. Moretti mirrors this ideology in his theory as well, and commands that literature be analyzed from a scientific and logical perspective. Dissecting novels teaches nothing of the purpose and meaning of literature, thus quantitative analysis of the novel genre will yield the core meaning of literature (2445). Moretti goes onto say that a quantitative approach of the genre as a whole “is ideally independent of interpretations” that leads to an objective interpretation of novels, rather than a subjective one (2445). The two theorists are synchronous in preserving the “essence” of literature and both declare that as scholars, we should not search for “the general effect” of literature (the paraphrase of a poem or analysis of a novel, which is convoluted with personal projections), rather the academy must strip away the subjective analysis for an objective analysis that exposes “the real core meaning” of the art as a “collective system" (1219 and 2442).
This logical and collective approach to literature is more important than the other components of each literary theory. As Brooks and Moretti agree on unity and objective analysis, they do not agree on a canon and the depth of the reading, however, these two components of each theory do not compare to the the theorists’ desire to have literature critically analyzed through a specific method. Analyzing literature as a whole rather than choosing to select or not to select a canon will strengthen the academy’s grasp on the depth and sociopolitical implications of novels and poetry. Brooks advocates a narrow canon of a dozen poems that he feels sums up the excellent literature (in poetry) of history, while Moretti suggest not reading any novels at all, as it would not result in a collective analysis of the novel genre. Brooks narrow canon does not provide an insight into the meaning of literature. However, his objective method of analysis, choosing not to break apart the poem into fragments and to “preserve the unity" of poetry makes his theory one to be commended (1229). Keeping a poem whole exemplifies the authorial intent of the poem, illustrates the “straightforward formulation", and extracts the meaning of it as a “rational statement" of art (1227). It avoids invading the words, structure and form from personal experience. On the other side, distant reading, as expressed by Moretti has no canon from which the academy reads. In fact, he suggests not reading at all, exclaiming that it is the historical data of book history that provides the academy the sociopolitical meaning that literature lends to culture (2442,2462). Not reading literature seems absurd, but he makes a viable stance, as this method strips the process from any external bias because he is analyzing the trends of all novels throughout history and interpreting it as the impact of culture on writing and the impact of writing on culture. Gaining a clearer understanding of the implications of literature throughout the ages is more important than selecting a canon or reading anything for that matter. Brooks and Moretti do not have to agree on a canon as they both agree that their field of literature would do much better without “emphasizing the uniqueness” of individual words or individual novels (2441). The theorists want to examine it in unity and extract its natural truth; this ideology is critical to the academy, and trumps the notion of canons and the exact depth of the reading. Adapting a logical and less subjective method for literary analysis will rid the English department of loaded ideals and bring the department to a unified understanding of the importance of novels and poetry with respect to authorial intent, structure and form, and the sociopolitical purpose of literature as a whole.
Theory in literature can put the Department of English in muddy water. There are critics who believe in close-reading, there are critics whole read from afar, and there are critics who find themselves stuck in the middle. Oftentimes, close and distant theories are in opposition, much like Brooks and Moretti, yet, there are intersections within these theories in which the theorists can stand together. Moretti and Brooks have that intersection in a most important aspect: they both fight for an objective analysis of all literature that evaluates the inherent truths and implications of poetry and novels as a whole. While Moretti examines all novels and Brooks views individual poems (a component on which they definitely disagree), the men do not separate the words and impress an individualized meaning to the medium/content. Brooks examines the whole of a poem as it is melted together with its structure and form; he says that the poem is an experience that cannot be turned into altering experiences for each reader. In relation to this, Moretti compiles vast amounts of literary data on novel trends, then abstracts the meaning and importance of novels throughout history. He does not separate the novels into eras or sections...he criticizes novels as a whole. The theorists attempt to make a logical, even scientific approach to literature, which is an approach that would serve the academy well. Perhaps these theories could be melted together to give birth to a theory that abstracts sociopolitical influence, an objective method of analysis, and a well-balanced style of literary criticism.