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· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·


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· Points on Style's Triangle ·

Style is a difficult term, clearly in need of definition. From the Latin stylus, its root suggests a "sharply pointed writing instrument." Though adequate, that definition is limited at best. It's true, of course, that Style is a writing instrument — a quill, pen, and even MT-powered computer — but the term extends as well, and even more importantly, to the writer, reader, and meaning. No writer has made that point better, I think, than J. Middleton Murray.

Murray's classic The Problem of Style (lectures delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford, in the summer of 1921) is handy here, and I note therein this interesting passage:

We may make a little clearing in the jungle by considering the way in which the word Style is commonly used. I think that I detect at least three fairly distinct meanings; they appear in these three sentences. First, "I know who wrote the article in last week's Saturday Review — Mr. Saintsbury. You couldn't mistake his style." Second, "Mr. Wilkerson's ideas are interesting; but he must learn to write; at present he has no style." Third, "You may call Marlowe bombastic; you may even call him farcical; but one quality outweighs his bombast, his savagery, and his farce — he has style."

 · Style's Rhetorical Triangle ·

Murray naturally goes on to explain the sentences, delineating what is often depicted as the ethos, pathos, and logos of style's rhetorical triangle. Style is, as Buffon writes — adding some needed French orthography — l'homme mêmé: "the man himself." Again, it's a "teachable" technique — "only properly applied to the exposition," as Murray thinks, "of intellectual ideas" (though that's debatable). And last, it's a more "absolute" notion, referring to a quality which "transcends all personal idiosyncracy, yet needs — or seems to need — " Murray claims, "personal idiosyncrasy in order to be manifested. Style," he writes, "in this absolute sense, is a complete fusion of the personal and the universal."  J. Middleton Murray, The Problem of Style, Oxford UP, 1922, 4-6.

That's heady stuff, but it delineates the point well enough — at least for today. Maybe triangulates it.

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