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Sunday, May 1, 2011

More Classic Style

It suddenly occurred to me yesterday why I wanted to use the "classic style" in a book about late modernism. This literary movement is very self-confident; it wants to occupy the cultural center without "hedges" about its own value. I want to write about it without having to justify its value. I wanted to make the strongest possible argument without questioning myself at every turn.


My attitude toward the reader is that I will offer the strongest arguments I can. The reader will be able to accept or reject these arguments, because they are clearly made. I doubt anyone will agree with every single thing I say, but I want to be as convincing as I can.


I've been obsessed with aphorisms lately, as you will know if you are also a reader of the other blog. The aphorism is a "classic" genre in the sense that it asserts its conclusions with no argument, no hedges. I am writing a chapter of the book about aphorisms, so I think the style, there, is going to be part of the argument.


Of course, my numerous departures from the classic style, whether intentional or unintentional, will mean that my stance will not be that absolute. I will have to justify these departures for myself.


The theory of language of classic style is that thought precedes language. Of course, this is the opposite theory that obtains in late modernism, where language comes first and thought afterwords. In other words, I am deliberately writing this book in classic prose, not in a modern, self-reflexive prose that imitates the poetry it explicates. I feel the need of a strong and clear separation between the object of my study and my own language. Classic prose is elegant, so it won't be the same kind of discordant feel as when a writer writes badly about good writing.


Should I announce in the preface that I am attempting to use this style, or simply use it? The second option is more "classic," but I also want my readers to know that I am making a conscious choice.


Vance Maverick said...

Just use it. Nobody will think you wrote that way by accident.

I like the "that" in "...my stance will not be that absolute." A usage I associate with Pynchon (or maybe it's the corresponding "this").

Jonathan said...

Yes, and if I announce that I'm using this style, departures from it will be counted against me. That would be an unclassic distraction.

Andrew Shields said...

As with your essay without signposting, it's much more interesting to not talk about the style you've chosen to write in. (After all, the hedgings of contemporary scholarly style are never discussed by the hedgers.)

Jonathan said...

That would at least be more consistent: "... please excuse me while I do some more signposting here..."