Elif Batuman Makes “Allopatric Speciation” Interesting

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You’d think an essay about Franco Moretti, morphology, and the diminution of classic novels to “five tiny dots in the graph of Figure 2″ would be academic and sawdust-dry.

Not in the hands of Elif Batuman, who brings her wry humor and quiet appreciation of human absurdity to just such an essay in n + 1 without sacrificing any of the necessary intellectual rigor.

Who else could write the sentence “Of all the concepts Moretti has received from the devil, ‘world literature’ is one of the slipperiest”? Or relay an anecdote about “a cover photo of William Empson sporting what appeared to be a feather boa, though I later learned it was his beard”?


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →