Refiguring Prose Style

Refiguring Prose Style: Possibilities For Writing Pedagogy

T. R. JOHNSON
TOM PACE
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 326
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgq34
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  • Book Info
    Refiguring Prose Style
    Book Description:

    For about two decades, say Johnson and Pace, the discussion of how to address prose style in teaching college writing has been stuck, with style standing in as a proxy for other stakes in the theory wars. The traditional argument is evidently still quite persuasive to some-that teaching style is mostly a matter of teaching generic conventions through repetition and practice. Such a position usually presumes the traditional view of composition as essentially a service course, one without content of its own. On the other side, the shortcomings of this argument have been much discussed-that it neglects invention, revision, context, meaning, even truth; that it is not congruent with research; that it ignores 100 years of scholarship establishing composition's intellectual territory beyond "service." The discussion is stuck there, and all sides have been giving it a rest in recent scholarship. Yet style remains of vital practical interest to the field, because everyone has to teach it one way or another. A consequence of the impasse is that a theory of style itself has not been well articulated. Johnson and Pace suggest that moving the field toward a better consensus will require establishing style as a clearer subject of inquiry. Accordingly, this collection takes up a comprehensive study of the subject. Part I explores the recent history of composition studies, the ways it has figured and all but effaced the whole question of prose style. Part II takes to heart Elbow's suggestion that composition and literature, particularly as conceptualized in the context of creative writing courses, have something to learn from each other. Part III sketches practical classroom procedures for heightening students' abilities to engage style, and part IV explores new theoretical frameworks for defining this vital and much neglected territory. The hope of the essays here-focusing as they do on historical, aesthetic, practical, and theoretical issues-is to awaken composition studies to the possibilities of style, and, in turn, to rejuvenate a great many classrooms.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-519-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-x)
    T. R. Johnson and Tom Pace

    It happens all the time: someone will use the word style and, at least slightly, the conversation will stumble. Rather more than most words, style means different things to different people. For some, style is always individualized and works in counterpoint to the surrounding community (“I like your style!”); for others, style is just the opposite—it refers to a broad, collective system of symbolic patterns, something like a discourse, even a worldview (“That whole style is so eighties!”). For still others, especially writing teachers, style calls to mind a rather old-fashioned mandate to get students to write more “clearly”...

  4. PART I: WHAT HAPPENED:: THE RISE AND FALL OF STYLISTICS IN COMPOSITION
    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-2)
      Tom Pace

      Since the early 1980s, many teachers of composition have associated the teaching of style with a naïve, product-oriented pedagogy that emphasizes standards of form and rules of usage and that relies on exercises stripped of rhetorical context. One of the primary reasons for the decline of style as a key component of composition scholarship and pedagogy over the last twenty years is a misunderstanding of style in rhetoric and composition’s history. The standard narrative held that process pedagogy supplanted current-traditional rhetoric, and that process, in turn, was supplanted by social constructionist and critical pedagogy. At every step, the profession pointed...

    • 1 STYLE AND THE RENAISSANCE OF COMPOSITION STUDIES
      (pp. 3-22)
      Tom Pace

      Why is it that the one feature most popularly associated with writing is the one most ignored by writing instructors? Many of us who became English majors in college and later pursued careers as professionals in graduate programs did so because of a love for the written word, that feeling of magic and mystery that overcame us when we read a well-crafted sentence or a perfectly placed word in our favorite book, poem, play, or essay. We wanted our writing to achieve at least some semblance of that magic. We wanted our writing to be beautiful, our language to inspire,...

    • 2 WHERE IS STYLE GOING? WHERE HAS IT BEEN?
      (pp. 23-41)
      Elizabeth Weiser

      Ron Fortune, in a 1989 article in the journal Style, wrote: “While style in composition has experienced the decline that several scholars in the field have noted, work currently being done seems to be laying the foundations for its reemergence as a major concern” (527). Fortune analyzed work from 1965, when Louis Milic’s foundational article “Theories of Style and Their Implications for the Teaching of Composition” appeared in College Composition and Communication, through the “paradigm shift” from product to process orientation that Maxine Hairston chronicled in 1982, to the then cutting-edge use of “style checkers” in word processing discussed by...

    • 3 CONTEXTUALIST STYLISTICS: BREAKING DOWN THE BINARIES IN SENTENCE-LEVEL PEDAGOGY
      (pp. 42-56)
      Rebecca Moore Howard

      The discipline of stylistics has gone through well-documented changes, from formalism through structuralism to contextualism.¹ Through it all, stylisticians have consistently self-identified their methods as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Stylistics, like linguistics, is descriptive, dispassionate, objective.

      Most of the twentieth-century interplay of formalism and structuralism is nevertheless hierarchical in its results. Literary texts are highly valued in Western culture; they are considered better than other texts. Regardless of how dispassionate their methods of analysis, when stylisticians endeavor to identify the stylistic qualities that mark a literary text, they are inescapably identifying and justifying the stylistic qualities of what the culture...

    • 4 STYLE REDUX
      (pp. 57-75)
      Kathryn Flannery

      Patricia Williams begins The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professorwith a “necklace of thoughts on the ideology of style” (1991, 1). As part of her reflection on the relationship between writing and the law, she tells the story of how she was barred entry to a Benetton store “at one o’clock in the afternoon” on a Saturday before Christmas with white customers clearly visible inside. Benetton, like other stores in New York City, had installed a buzzer system under the guise of security: to be admitted to the store, a potential customer had to have a...

  5. PART II: BELLES LETTRES AND COMPOSITION
    • Introduction
      (pp. 76-77)
      T. R. Johnson

      Composition has long been defined as a service course—a fairly tedious set of drills to polish the skills that will enable students to proceed to the real intellectual work of the university. The five-paragraph theme, the thesis sentence, the summary, the proper citation of sources, and so on. And, above all, the ideal of “clear,” error-free prose. But as long ago as 1974, Richard Lanham in Style: An Anti-textbookbegan to delineate a rather more adventurous way of approaching prose, one that had much to do with creativity and beauty. As we saw in the last section, Lanham’s ideas didn’t...

    • 5 THE USES OF LITERATURE
      (pp. 78-92)
      Tina Kelleher

      Elizabeth Rankin (2000) has identified two primary positions in contemporary style debates: neoclassicists contend style can be cultivated and learned through mimetic and practical exercises, to dress ideas and polish prose; neoromantics, on the other hand, construe style as a manifestation of a distinct voice, and the pedagogue serves to facilitate its realization and performance. Rankin contends that while neoclassicists ignore the extent to which anxieties about style interfere with an ability to formulate cogent arguments, neoromanticists imagine that “style is the man,” that achieving a distinct style somehow exemplifies the ineluctable character of a person. Both positions potentially leave...

    • 6 PERSUASION, MORE THAN ARGUMENT: MOVING TOWARD A LITERARY SENSITIVITY IN THE CLASSROOM
      (pp. 93-106)
      Allison Alsup

      As an aspiring author of fiction, I know that style is critical, and for those of us who consider ourselves literary fiction writers, style is often paramount. For the most part, we do not write about elves or vampires, bodies found in bathtubs or mutineered nuclear subs. This is not to make a snobbish distinction or to imply that writers such as C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien have not produced work worthy of being called literature. The term literary fiction does not usually designate a qualitative distinction but rather functions as the jargon of book promoters to...

    • 7 AN ARTS-CENTRIC COMPOSITION CLASSROOM
      (pp. 107-118)
      Gabriel Gomez

      The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote about a Dionysian spirit of inspiration called duende, a cornerstone of his poetics: “The duendeis a momentary burst of inspiration, the blush all that is truly alive.” He adds, “[B]efore reading poems aloud before many creatures, the first thing to do is evoke duende. That is the only way that everybody will immediately succeed at the hard task of understanding metaphor” (p. viii). Lorca argued that duendecaptivated the poet, musician, and dancer into an enlightened trance beyond the limitations of ordinary intelligence. Despite his unorthodox theory, Lorca understood the importance of engaging in...

    • 8 PLAYING WITH ECHO: STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING REPETITION IN THE WRITING CLASSROOM
      (pp. 119-129)
      Melissa A. Goldthwaite

      I remember the day in college when my advanced writing teacher introduced the class to “resumptive modifiers,” a term culled from Joseph M.Williams’s Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (2002, 196). Besides my introduction to the dash—which quickly became my favorite form of punctuation—I remember no lesson so clearly. I loved the way a resumptive modifier, which repeats a key word or phrase, could help me lengthen a sentence, the way it moved the sentence forward with such, well, clarity and grace.

      I quickly found, though, that not all of my teachers had been introduced to the...

    • 9 THE “WEIRD AL” STYLE METHOD: PLAYFUL IMITATION AS SERIOUS PEDAGOGY
      (pp. 130-138)
      Keith Rhodes

      I am going to argue that creative uses of imitation are the most promising approaches to teaching better style to first-year college students—and probably most college students. Like everyone else who wants to argue about teaching style by any means other than sentence combining, I do not have direct empirical support. Still, I hope to show that if we place creative imitation in the context of what else we know about teaching style, its prospects are the best available.

      Of course, we have to start with that great negative finding, that black hole whose gravitational field defines the territory...

    • 10 WHEN THEIR VOICE IS THEIR PROBLEM: USING IMITATION TO TEACH THE CLASSROOM DIALECT
      (pp. 139-150)
      J. Scott Farrin

      A colleague once told me that she learned grammar in order to teach it. “I never knew the rules,” she said. Did she mean she learned them so well that she was able to forget them? Maybe. But if she was like me, she gained her facility with language through conversation and reading. She learned how to use language by using it, by reading and speaking and being spoken to, her vocabulary and diction increasingly more sophisticated as the language she encountered was added to her own repertoire. That’s how I learned to write, if it’s not the method I...

  6. PART III: TEACHING PROSE STYLE
    • Introduction
      (pp. 151-152)
      Tom Pace

      When the field of rhetoric and composition moved away from an interest in prose style in the early 1980s, part of what drove this removal was the widespread sense that an interest in prose style simply meant requiring students to do a lot of exercises—and these exercises had no particular justification in the realm of high theory, which was then coming into vogue. In short, the problem with style-based pedagogy was that its value was exclusively practical. Now that the great boom of high theory has largely subsided, such a critique of style-based pedagogies looks awfully quaint and, ironically,...

    • 11 STYLE: THE NEW GRAMMAR IN COMPOSITION STUDIES?
      (pp. 153-166)
      Nicole Amare

      Grammar is a set of rules; style is a matter of choice. One of my high school English teachers gave me these two definitions, and I believed them as truths until I took my first introduction to literature course at a large midwestern university. During my first college English class, it didn’t take long for me to realize that style had its boundaries—for example, a student was dismissed from class one time for using the idiom “kick the bucket” and the diction “unnecessary abortion” in the same sentence—and that grammar had its preferences. Like most first-year students, I...

    • 12 BALANCING THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION: A SHORT COURSE IN STYLE
      (pp. 167-180)
      Lisa Baird

      Recently, a colleague and I were discussing my project on style. I said I thought students could write better prose if they were taught more explicitly about how nuances of language play an important, if indirect, role in argument. “Au contraire,” said my colleague, “what students need to learn is more rigorous argument.”

      Our conversation raised several issues, not the least of which is the perception writing instructors have of style. Style, it is assumed, is separate from the reasoning that goes into written argument. Such an assumption is easy to make since the field tends to portray style as...

    • 13 RETHINKING STYLISTIC ANALYSIS IN THE WRITING CLASS
      (pp. 181-197)
      William J. Carpenter

      My title suggests two complementary ideas: that stylistic analysis can have a useful role in writing instruction, but that it needs retheorizing for it to do so. The purposes of this essay are to explain just what that role could be and to describe a theoretical basis for stylistic analysis that correlates with what we know about composing processes and textual functions. Stylistic analysis is a type of research, a study of trends and irregularities in the linguistic and organizational structures of texts. It is meant to elucidate, to explain how authors manipulate language to achieve particular effects and coherent...

    • 14 RE-PLACING THE SENTENCE: APPROACHING STYLE THROUGH GENRE
      (pp. 198-214)
      Peter Clements

      The last decade or so has seen a critical reappraisal of the place of style in composition theory and pedagogy. For some, this reappraisal takes the form of a “what-if” story that questions the field’s wholesale rejection of style as a valid concern of writing classrooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In “The Erasure of the Sentence,” for example, Robert Connors (2000) examines the sentence-based pedagogies of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the “counterforces” that led to their devaluation at the beginning of the 1980s. He ties this devaluation to the antiformalist and antiempiricist attitudes that...

    • 15 TUTORING TABOO: A RECONSIDERATION OF STYLE IN THE WRITING CENTER
      (pp. 215-226)
      Jesse Kavadlo

      Writing center tutors are often advised to disregard style in their students’ essays, and for good reason: the earliest writing centers of the 1950s and 1960s, far from centers, were often remedial fix-it shops, designed as marginal facilities accommodating marginalized students (for writing center history, see Carino 1995). These centers, then more commonly called “labs,” and later “clinics,” frequently lived up to their medical metaphors, diagnosing and treating any number of grammatical maladies and functioning like emergency rooms more than providing preventative medicine. With the changes in ideology and pedagogy of the 1970s and 1980s, however, writing centers changed their...

  7. PART IV: NEW DEFINITIONS OF STYLE
    • Introduction
      (pp. 227-227)
      T. R. Johnson

      At the outset of this book, we suggested that perhaps part of what makes style such a difficult issue to discuss is that the topic is potentially too rich—that is, it can mean so many different things to so many different people that, at last, the possibility arises that it means nothing at all. We hope, however, that by carefully surveying the recent history of the discussion of prose style in the field of composition studies, by exploring ways it invites a certain overlap and cross-fertilization with the literary-aesthetic curricula, and by showing how it can focus practical issues...

    • 16 RHETOR-FITTING: DEFINING ETHICS THROUGH STYLE
      (pp. 228-240)
      Dion C. Cautrell

      No comprehensive treatment of rhetorical style (Greek lexis, Latin elocutio) rightfully avoids the ethical criticism that has plagued the third canon since at least the time of Gorgias (483–378 BCE). Plato censured rhetoric for its potentially damaging social and moral effects, deeming it a “knack” for mass manipulation rather than a discipline proper to achieving Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (Plato 2003, 463b; see also 465c). During the Renaissance, Peter Ramus limited rhetoric primarily to style, which he considered less rational because of its supposed imprudence. Ramus’s decision left stylistics with little more than a catalogue of verbal niceties (schemes...

    • 17 STYLE AS A SYSTEM: TOWARD A CYBERNETIC MODEL OF COMPOSITION STYLE
      (pp. 241-255)
      Drew Loewe

      As a writer and composition teacher, I have always been intrigued—and nearly as often bedeviled—by style. In trying to conceptualize and explain style, I’ve often felt like Potter Stewart trying to define obscenity; I can’t quite say what style is, yet I feel confident I know it when I see it. Using present theoretical models of style, I have found myself clinging to atomized descriptions that tend to focus on the writer’s choices, on speculations about the writer’s personality, or on the marriage of form and content. Too often, I have been left with the feeling that something...

    • 18 TEACHING THE TROPICS OF INQUIRY IN THE COMPOSITION CLASSROOM
      (pp. 256-266)
      M. Todd Harper

      It has been a little less than thirty years since critical theory began to entrench itself within English departments. And, yet, in those thirty years one of the most central lessons of critical theory, the lesson that inquiry is tropological, that at the bottom of discovery is figurative speech, seems largely ignored in English studies. In part, this is the result of the fact that most English departments focus on the interpretation rather than the production of texts. As a result, scholars and their students often demonstrated the malleability and indeterminacy of language within literary works while writing in an...

    • 19 WRITING WITH THE EAR
      (pp. 267-285)
      T. R. Johnson

      When a writer tinkers with the style of a particular sentence, she considers it and its different versions from a reader’s point of view. She might read the sentence aloud as she wonders which version sounds best, and, as she does, she bifurcates or doubles, for only when she becomes two can an inner dialogue ensue in which one self offers some words and the other listens and responds (see Murray 1982; Johnson 2003, 52–56). The writer can facilitate this inner dialogue, as Joseph Williams (2002) suggests, and can even anticipate to some degree how readers will experience a...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 286-293)
  9. REFERENCES
    (pp. 294-308)
  10. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 309-311)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 312-316)