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Friday, January 14, 2011

Should Classic Prose Be the Default?

I have decided to adopt "classic prose" as defined by Mark Turner and his collaborator Thomas as my default mode for scholarly writing. I was moving in that direction already, and their book has helped me to clarify and articulate some of my preferences. I will inevitably deviate from the classic norm involuntarily from time to time, since it represents an extremely high standard. When I deviate from the norm deliberately, I will have a specific reason for doing so. The classic position will be the ethos that informs my writing.

While Turner and Thomas distinguish classic prose from the "plain style," it turns out that my manfesto in favor of plainness is quite similar to their defiinition of "classic."

What separates me right now from classic prose: my writing is not seamless enough; it contains too much signposting and hedging. It often sacrifices elegance for the sake of other scholarly values.

I cannot adopt the classic prose completely because of my interest in making arguments and marshaling evidence, in being accurate according to scholarly standards, even at the expense of an authoritative voice.

The classic pose could also reinforce some possible weaknesses in my writing: my tendency toward aphoristic high-handedness, for example. Classicism is based on some suppositions that I do not share; it is a useful set of fictions about the relationship of language to truth and writer to reader. What I think is that these fictions might make possible a certain sort of writing for me.

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