5 feb. 2008

The opposite of stretching is being ensconsed in a particular specialty and achieving mastery. That is also valuable. In fact, such a specialist makes the best generalist. You have to have depth in at least one thing. Breadth will come through wanting to understand other things in equal depth, and usually failing at it.


When quoting from a secondary source in my own writing this morning, I noticed a clash of styles: "[...] the perspective from which the Beats should be evaluated is from within the myth of American exceptionalism" (John Lardas, The Bop Apocalypse). The insight is essential, or I wouldn't have quoted it, but I would have rewritten that sentence a few more times, eliminating both the passive voice and the overall awkwardness. I'm not saying I never publish a bad sentence, of course, but in this case the quoted sentence stood out from my prose, making my writing look a bit more elegant by contrast. Quoting writers better than myself, or simply different in tone, register, style, might have a similar effect. Quotation, then, serves a stylistic function of alllowing the reader to perceive the distinctiveness of one's own prose.

In writing about poetry, the perceived quality of the poetic excerpts quoted also has an effect. Poetry will almost always produce a stylistic clash with the surounding prose, but if the poetry is perceived to be not very good, it will weaken the argument, even if the argument does not depend on an aesthetic judgment. With very bad prose about poetry, the impression will be that the critical discourse has not come up to the level of the poetry.

When taking issue with another critic, the stylistic contrast becomes doubly significant. One can gain the rhetorical upper hand by quoting awkward or banal sentences, without even pointing out those qualities in the prose of the criticized critic.

I will never be a good enough prose writer to satisfy my own standards. Yet it is because I feel this way that I am a better writer than I would otherwise be.

4 comentarios:

Jay dijo...

Great observation about the stylistic function of quotation.

By the way, how do you distinguish between "tone", "register", and "style"?

Jonathan dijo...

I wasn't really trying to distinguish among the three, which overlap a good deal. I was just covering my bases.

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Great post. And a very useful label ("scholarly writing") for this blog. Problem is you have only used it once (it seems). Are you going to add it to older posts on this topic?

I'll do it for you if you let me edit your blog for a few days.

Jonathan dijo...

I'm going to use it *from now on*

For now, it mostly coincides with stupid motivational tricks.