Epic Ecologies (II)

Epic Ecologies (II)

1999-01-15
Riposte to: 

Franco Moretti responds to the review of his Modern Epic by Marjorie Perloff.

Marjorie Perloff’s review of Modern Epic is extremely detailed and generous - and I am very thankful for it. We disagree on several things, which is good. But in her final page she badly misrepresents my position, and I feel the need for a brief response.

Perloff’s point comes in three stages. First, I “still adhere to the Marxist…model of decline” (of modern culture). As a consequence, second, I am “nostalgic for the ‘organized whole’, for a pre-Capitalist world”. And finally, third, I “regard the aporias of the modern metropolis…as if the Communist East had somehow produced more fruitful epic paradigms”. Well, no. The theoretical backbone of the entire book (which Perloff must dislike, she never mentions it) is the application of the Darwinian paradigm to the history of culture. Now, how can one misread evolution for decline? Evolution is not “progress”, of course, but it is an attempt to explain how extremely complicated structures come into being: and, within this framework, “decline” is a meaningless concept.

Just as I enjoy the open-ended logic of evolution, I have neither sympathy nor respect for pre-capitalist utopias, that are as a rule sentimental lies about ruthless systems of exploitation (as for ‘organized whole’, the expression is Edgar Morin’s, and he usually applies it to modern capitalist societies!). I cannot imagine where Perloff found evidence for this “nostalgia” of mine, or for the fruitful communist East, which, for the record, I have never viewed as an improvement on western capitalism.

Funny destiny Modern Epic has. In Italy, attacked in the newspaper of the former communist party as a servile homage to American imperialism; in the USA, criticized for its anti-capitalist bias. What can I say, I wanted to describe (some of) the injustice of capitalism - and yet account for its cultural creativity and hegemony. The two go together, I am afraid, although it may be difficult to accept the fact that an unjust system can be very intelligent - or an intelligent system very unjust. But that is how it is, so let’s try to understand it.