Manovich and Moretti on Visualization

Should I be surprised, at this point, at the diversity of approaches to any element of digital or visual humanities? This week's readings from Manovich and Moretti model the expansive ideology of visual representations of literary or humanities content, with Manovich focusing on the technology and structure of visualization (culminating in a vision of "visualization without reduction" (12)) while Moretti pursues the relationship between visual representations of inherently abstract or theoretical elements. I am temperamentally attracted to Moretti's idealistic introduction, which poses visualization as an agent of the tension between the abstract and the concrete, of past and future:

"Finally, these three models are indeed... abstract. But their consequences are on the other hand extremely concrete: graphs, maps, and trees place the literary field literally in front of our eyes-- and show us how little we still know about it. It is a double lesson, of humility and euphoria at the same time: humility for what literary history has accomplished so far (not enough), and euphoria for what still remains to be done (a lot). Here, the methodology of the book reveals its pragmatic ambition: for me, abstraction is not an end in itself, but a way to widen the domain of the literary historian, and enrich its internal problematic" (2).

Manovich seems to value information visualization as an end in itself, a new stop on the ever-expanding subway map of literary studies, if you will. His project "Mapping Time" is a constructed artifact of Time magazine covers from 1923 to 2009, and he notes that this visual arrangement reveals trends of cover saturation and contrast that can be placed and analysed within a historical context. He praises the high-resolution computing power that allows the preservation of detail and color (for "visualization without reduction"). However, while preserving all aspects of "visualization," Manovich's project is still a condensation, a compressed vision of the information it holds; hence, its analysis produces generalizations and trends rather than comprehensive structure. I admire his archival impulse. But I appreciate Moretti's exploration of visual mapping as a circular project of referentiality, rather than a linear expansion. Moretti's humble summary of data visualization is a representative abbreviation of complexity: "Granted, things are not always so neat. But when they are, it's interesting" (42).