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
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
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.
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