Playing on two tables

“A comparable oscillation is probably at work between High and Low forms, whose simultaneous existence is a well-known, if often ignored, fact of novelistic history: from the Hellenistic beginnings (divided between ‘subliterary’ and ‘idealized’ genres) through the middle ages, the seventeenth century (the BibliothèqueBleue, and aristocratic novels), eighteenth (Warner’s pair of ‘entertainment’ and ‘elevation’), nineteenth (feuilletons, railway novels—and ‘serious realism’), and twentieth century (pulp fiction—modernist experiments). Here, too, the strength of the novel is not to be found in one of the two positions, but in its rhythmical oscillation between them: the novel is not hegemonic because it makes it into High Culture (it does, yes, but it’s so desperately professorial to be awed by this fact), but for the opposite reason: it is never only in High Culture, and it can keep playing on two tables, preserving its double nature, where vulgar and refined are almost inextricable.”

—Franco Moretti, “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History—1.” New Left Review 24 (Nov/Dec 2003): 67-93

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