Refiguring Prose Style
Possibilities For Writing Pedagogy
Publication Year: 2005
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.
Published by: Utah State University Press
Download PDF (247.5 KB)
Download PDF (253.6 KB)
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 ...
1. STYLE AND THE RENAISSANCE OF COMPOSITION STUDIES
Download PDF (293.9 KB)
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,...
2. WHERE IS STYLE GOING? WHERE HAS IT BEEN?
Download PDF (313.6 KB)
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...
3. CONTEXTUALIST STYLISTICS: BREAKING DOWN THE BINARIES IN SENTENCE-LEVEL PEDAGOGY
Download PDF (281.5 KB)
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...
4. STYLE REDUX
Download PDF (292.3 KB)
Patricia Williams begins The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor with 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...
PART II : BELLES LETTRES AND COMPOSITION
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..
5. THE USES OF LITERATURE
Download PDF (282.3 KB)
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...
6. PERSUASION, MORE THAN ARGUMENT: MOVING TOWARD A LITERARY SENSITIVITY IN THE CLASSROOM
Download PDF (279.0 KB)
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...
7. AN ARTS-CENTRIC COMPOSITION CLASSROOM
Download PDF (276.1 KB)
The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote about a Dionysian spirit of inspiration called duende, a cornerstone of his poetics: “The duende is 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...
8. PLAYING WITH ECHO: STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING REPETITION IN THE WRITING CLASSROOM
Download PDF (270.6 KB)
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...
9. THE “WEIRD AL” STYLE METHOD: PLAYFUL IMITATION AS SERIOUS PEDAGOGY
Download PDF (265.5 KB)
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...
10. WHEN THEIR VOICE IS THEIR PROBLEM: USING IMITATION TO TEACH THE CLASSROOM DIALECT
Download PDF (272.7 KB)
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..
PART III: TEACHING PROSE STYLE
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...
11. STYLE : THE NEW GRAMMAR IN COMPOSITION STUDIES?
Download PDF (278.3 KB)
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...
12. BALANCING THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION: A SHORT COURSE IN STYLE
Download PDF (292.4 KB)
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...
13. RETHINKING STYLISTIC ANALYSIS IN THE WRITING CLASS
Download PDF (291.7 KB)
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...
14. RE-PLACING THE SENTENCE: APPROACHING STYLE THROUGH GENRE
Download PDF (286.2 KB)
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...
15. TUTORING TABOO: A RECONSIDERATION OF STYLE IN THE WRITING CENTER
Download PDF (273.4 KB)
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...
16. RHETOR-FITTING: DEFINING ETHICS THROUGH STYLE
Download PDF (276.9 KB)
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...
17. STYLE AS A SYSTEM : TOWARD A CYBERNETIC MODEL OF COMPOSITION STYLE
Download PDF (281.6 KB)
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...
18. TEACHING THE TROPICS OF INQUIRY I N THE COMPOSITION CLASSROOM
Download PDF (271.4 KB)
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..
19. WRITING WITH THE EAR
Download PDF (292.0 KB)
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...
Download PDF (270.0 KB)
Download PDF (296.4 KB)
Download PDF (257.0 KB)
Download PDF (256.6 KB)
Publication Year: 2005