STYLE: An Anti-Textbook by Richard A. Lanham

STYLE: An Anti-Textbook

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Lanham inveighs at length against the prevailing pedagogic approach to prose style, commonly thought to emanate from logical thinking -- a function of clarity and sincerity. He proposes ""an alternative goal: . . . a self-conscious pleasure in words"" in ""the spirit of play,"" delighting in ""form for its own sake."" No longer subservient to ideas or facts, style becomes the subject matter itself, in the manner of writers such as Lyly, Joyce, or Nabokov. It can be evaluated according to euphony, rhythm, syntactical balance, shape, and grace. Lanham calls such writing ""opaque,"" as opposed to the intended transparency of ""scientific"" prose. Style, then, becomes a mask for the writer, and ""stylistic study, by the logic of its address, unmasks us. It teaches us that there is nothing inevitable about, our self, our selves, our thoughts, or the words they are clothed in."" Lanham is correct in observing that Americans view prose pragmatically (""utility at the expense of joie de vivre"") and puritanically (""expression is a duty, not a pleasure""); but surely it is inappropriate for a scientist to be concerned with euphony in his report. His censure is excessive; sincerity and clarity are valuable standards, even when the style is ""opaque."" Lanham's ""Anti-Textbook"" (whatever that means) is original but somewhat intemperate.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1974
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press