In recent years, literary critics and theorists have turned increasingly toward cognitive science for models, including in discussions of literary style. More than is usually recognized, such an approach recalls the “affective stylistics” developed by Stanley Fish in the 1970s — a similarity evident in the heavy use both theories make of the term “information.” The assumptions behind the use of this term, however, are deeply misleading. “Information” implies that styles are parcels or propositions rather than expressions of attitude, and invokes a causal vocabulary that fails to capture how texts convey moods and communicate ideas. More plausible models of understanding can be culled from Donald Davidson’s account of Mrs. Malaprop and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s descriptions of “seeing-as.” Avoiding the twin temptations of skepticism and dogmatism, these discussions suggest that cognitivist and affective theories are logically dependent on the practices of actually existing readers, whose engagements with style are at times effortless and at times full of confusion. Styles are not discrete objects, as the language of “information” implies, and understanding them demands a complex training and historically variable set of skills, sometimes referred to as know-how and wit.


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pp. 133-162
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