Sunday, May 28, 2006

Style 4

Style 4


Having absolutely no background in the finer arts or in style as it pertains, say, to architecture, fashion or design; I shall confine myself to what I do know a bit about, namely writing.   Suffice it to say that style apples right across the board from the design of buildings to landscaping to fashion, to food – in short to every aspect of human endeavour.

I wish now to say something about style in writing.  I have already alluded to the fact that there are as many styles as there are human beings.  As Buffon has said, “le style c’est l’homme même.”  How true, style is the person herself or himself – to be politically correct.  

Style has been the object of study from ancient times. Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian treated style as the proper adornment of thought. This view prevailed throughout the Renaissance period and long after.  For Aristotle (384 B.C.E. – 322) style contributes to successful and appropriate persuasion in more than the traditional decorative sense.  In other words we can use it rhetorically to persuade and to convince others – appropriately, of course.  (Hitler had a rhetorical style, one sadly and completely disjoined from any moral or ethical principles.  Martin Luther King had a marvelously moving and convincing rhetorical style, with much Biblical references and flourishes, but it was inspired by solid moral and ethical principles.  One could say that his was a true, authentic and congruent style while Hitler’s was false, inauthentic and incongruent and not in harmony with any ethical principles.  In this view, I am, of course, presuming that real style has an ethical and moral base.  This might be a contentious view in some circles, but I believe in it sincerely.  I am never unmoved when I sit and listen to Martin Luther King speak.)  Today, cognitive psychologists, for example, have encouraged us to see metaphor, a component of style and a central plank of Aristotle’s writing on style, as inherent to cognition: our basic ideas are structured according to root metaphors. Rather than something added to an idea, according to the theory of conceptual metaphor, we think by metaphors.  So Aristotle’s view on style could be seen as underpinning some modern views of metaphor.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-65 BC) is too well known to demand much of an historical introduction. Indeed, Cicero was praised since the Renaissance as the supreme orator, his golden voice of persuasion was assumed to be the business of any congressional orator in the U.S.A. since the schools there had reinforced this view from the days when the first Latin paradigms were learned. This was the great period of English and American Rhetoric.  As I well remember from studying Latin at secondary school here in Ireland, Cicero was the master of the long, oh so very long, periodic sentence.  One had to carefully and time-consumingly scan the whole period to find the various parts of speech – rather like searching for a needle in a haystack to the uninitiated.

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. AD 35-95) Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria can in many ways be read as a reaction against a later trend to an exaggerative and flowery style; it advocates a return to simpler and clearer language. It may also reflect the influence of the late Emperor Vespasian, who was “[a] man of plebian stock,…a down-to-earth realist with the common touch” (Murray, 431); Vespasian disliked excess and extravagance, and his patronage of Quintilian may have influenced the latter’s views of language. Cicero is the model Quintilian adopts as the standard-bearer for this form; during the previous century, Cicero’s far more concise style was the standard. This relates to his discussion of nature and art. Quintilian evidently preferred the natural, especially in language, and disliked the excessive ornamentation popular in the style of his contemporaries. Deviating from natural language and the natural order of thought in pursuit of an over-elaborate style created confusion in both the orator and his audience. “Even difficult questions can be dealt with by an orator of moderate ability if he is content to follow nature as his leader and does not give all his attention to a showy style” (Gwynn, 78).
Above centre once again we have the style of the late fifties/early sixties. I look about 1 1/2 years old or possibly 2, dating the picture at 1960 approx. My father ceased to split his hair in the centre shortly afterwards.

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