You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
January 25, 2004
· "We Hold These Truths" on the First-Person Plural ·
Take, for instance, these uses of the first-person plural "we":
Now don't get me wrong. Like President George W. Bush, we might, by law, be pluralized someday into office — moving from obscurity into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue through a rare vote count in an election. But anyone might still agree that we might have a long way to go, especially when measured stylistically by the most honored of American presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
Consider, for instance, these two paragraphs from a student essay on "The Gettysburg Address" — an essay analyzing President Lincoln's subtle shadings of the plural pronoun in his dedication of a battlefield cemetery (a rhetorical task sometimes, I think, of necessity falling upon presidents):
Having heard George W. Bush's lengthy State-of-the-Union speech last week, we might ask if anyone serves us now as a good president, editor, or "tapeworm" even. Happily, with Thomas Jefferson still, we might all fittingly say: "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . "
Properly speaking (sotto voce), it is, of course, our challenge.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 18, 2004
· My Students Find "Interesting" Punctuations ·
Typically, after introducing my students to the two chief means of grasping punctuation ("regulatory" and "syntactical" I call them), I turn everyone loose diligently looking for "interesting" punctuations. My students take to the task well, finding in what they have first read for pleasure larger lessons in compositional technique.
For fun I have thought to share two such finds. Each comes from a now-dated class textbook handy for reference, Lynn Bloom and Edward White's Inquiry: A Cross-Curricular Reader. You, too, might find my students' punctuations "interesting."
Begging what I call "regulatory" questions, the first comes from Mike Rose's short essay, "'I Just Wanna Be Average'":
You can imagine my students' response. They like, of course, Rose's hyphenated boredom ("blah-blah-blah"), his paused, adjectival aside ("with studied, minimal effect"), his one solecism ("wanna"), and, mostly, his equivocal end-punctuation on "Average?!" "But is that right?" they ask, and I reply: "But of course! Was Rose here following some stuffy, single-minded grammarian's 'pointing rule'?"
My students take even more, however, to John Updike's "syntactical" stretch in his fine autobiographical essay, "At War with my Skin":
You can imagine my students' take. After traversing Updike's semicolonized lead sentence ("Svc; svc" is his pattern), they "gasp" inquisitively at a writer's deft style dashing their hopes for some subject-verb closure in his longer second sentence ("S — svc; svc — vc, c, c, c"). "Can Updike do that?" they ask, amused by his lengthy, comma-filled sentence ending. "Well, he did, didn't he? It's a stretch," I say, "but — hey! — if your old skin is rather inelastic, why not limber up your syntax? For Updike it's verbal gymnastics."
Students of course get my point, as they get, too, Victor Borge's in a still more stylish take on punctuation, happily recorded (even if without his accompanying story) partially online. Do enjoy.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 11, 2004
· From Substance to Style: G. H. Lewes Takes on Immanuel Kant ·
So what of English speakers? Well, we're of course betwixt-and-between, typically adopting Kant's essentially smart intellectual substance while necessarily abusing his style. Consider the mid-Victorian writer George Henry Lewes. His The Principles of Success in Literature (1865), published in The Fortnightly Review, catches well the spirit of Kant's words while abusing his often drab style. Take this from Lewes' sixth chapter, "The Laws of Style":
Lewes' vocabulary, "intellect" and "sensibilities," "ideas" and "emotions," is lifted, of course, right from Kant's three great classic critiques of reason, practicality, and judgment, but used in the direct service of literature, not of philosophy. Yet as to Kant's own prose style, Lewes himself disparages it as do most of my smart students. Take this brief passage from Lewes' fifth chapter, "The Principle of Beauty":
Before you gloat with my students, however, do at least consider this happy exchange from Friday afternoon's English 101 class:
Whether researching or writing, I do have, it seems, Lewes' point made expressly for my own style.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 6, 2004
· Returned from California Sun to Washington Snow ·
Naturally, San Diego was everything I had hoped for, sunny days spent partially out-of-doors, romantic street-side dining on each of three nights there, and MLA sessions graced indoors with sparkling, occasionally stilted, literary wit and wisdom. The Modern Language Association chose well its 2003 Convention.
But 2004 has already begun with a blast of frigid air here, an icy spirit having bumped my three classes back two days now and making me think (bundled up in my fleece and Merino wool) only of Emerson's romantically compensatory take on
Though I like Emerson's point, sometimes I'd rather have Percy Bysshe Shelley's more famous line, one riding on the prophetic spirit of a single thought trumpeted at the end of Ode to the West Wind:
At least I'm glad to announce (from the local TV news) a warming wind now rising from the far South Pacific.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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"We Hold These Truths" on the First-Person Plural
My Students Find "Interesting" Punctuations
From Substance to Style: G. H. Lewes Takes on Immanuel Kant
Returned from California Sun to Washington Snow
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax