I don’t see the point of asking whether literary criticism should be an art or a science. It’s obviously not a science and never will be. There’s simply no way as a critic that you can form hypotheses and test them, that being the heart of the scientific method. Yes, sure, you can try to determine the structures beneath texts, movements, etc., but I’ve never seen a literary critic make a single falsifiable prediction, not even in the sense of how it’s done in social sciences like economics and political science. And of course theorists like Paul de Man did nothing of the sort … not even Roland Barthes, who’s probably much closer to a “literary critic/scientist” than de Man, got even close to science.
Meanwhile, from the in-tray:
I took a course on 19th-century European novels from Dr. Moretti while at Stanford some 10 years ago, before he founded the Literary Lab, and his interest in analytical literature shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of his overall approach to books.
His lectures in what was very much a “great books” kind of course (Flaubert, Zola, Hardy, Dickens – the list goes on) were wonderful, penetrating 90-minute monologues on very un-quantitative questions of character and theme and setting and everything any classic lit buff would expect. I skipped a fair number of classes in college, but I never missed a Moretti lecture. So I think his new endeavor’s critics make valid big-picture critiques, but Moretti’s hardly advocating analytics as the sole (or even best!) approach to literature. Instead he’s doing his best to arrest Stanford’s incredibly lame degeneration into a school of pre-meds, pre-laws, and pre-techs – bringing in other disciplines to attract students otherwise warded off by the techie scorn of anything “squishy.”
And his approach actually makes sense! Great books are great, but the overwhelming majority of printed works are not. If these non-great books won’t yield arresting experiences, why not use them to ask and answer some macro-level questions about literature? Computers are bad at some things, but they’re great at boring repetitive stuff … like, say, scanning and parsing thousands of mediocre books no research assistant would want to approach. Moretti’s a brilliant scholar and teacher who’s using Stanford’s prodigious tech resources for some interesting research. There’s no battle of civilizations here, just an earnest effort to expand the relevance of literary analysis at a time when it’s not terribly valued.