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Further Reading & Resources for Style

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Barnard, Ian. “The ruse of clarity.” College Composition and Communication 61.3 (2010): 434-451.

In this essay, Ian Barnard questions the demand for clarity promininet in composition textbooks and public debates about writing.  He traces the presence of calls for clarity in grading rubrics from a variety of universities including his own, but he notes that demands for clarity are seldom paired with an elaboration of what it means to be ‘clear’. This pedagogocia demand stands in sharp contrast with the fact that as academics we frequently celebrate difficult prose in both scholarship and fiction.  This contrast creates a system where writing faculty are effectively telling our students that they must write differently than ‘real writers’ or ‘real scholars’. Barnard argues that we should develop pedagogical strategies open to the complexities of student writing and recognizing the rich variety of good prose that students might produce.  He concludes that “we need to ask, then, what kinds of ideas (and what kinds of writing) are resisted in the name of ‘clarity.’ We need to ask what values and institutions are being privileged, and what systems underline these values and institutions. We need to ask what clarity really means” (447).

Butler, Paul. Out of style: Reanimating stylistic study in composition and rhetoric. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2008.

This book is a foundational text in the re-emergence of style as a scholarly topoi within composition studies.  Butler demonstrates that style was a critical, but since forgotten element of the process era.  Until recently, this concern with style has been largely abdicated by composition scholars.  Discussions of style still inhabit a corner of composition textbooks, but the debates about style have largely been ceded to ‘public intellectuals’ (writers, journalists, and others) outside the field.  Butler argues that compositionists risk sacrificing a key aspect of the discipline’s public identity by failing to claim style as a sphere of expertise.

Carillo, Ellen C. “(Re) figuring Composition through Stylistic Study.” Rhetoric Review 29.4 (2010): 379-394.

Carillo argues that composition pedagogy has focused on cultivating students’ ability to read and write arguments at the expense of cultivating their ability to describe fully how and why prose works in particular situations.  To remedy this deficiency, she proposes actively teaching figures of thought, which, in Quintilian’s words “earn approval, either by making the speaker’s character attractive, or with the object of winning favour for the Cause, reliev(e) boredom by variety, or hint at certain points in a more seemly or less risky way” (qtd. in Carillo 380).  Jeanne Fahnestock (parsing Quintillian) characterizes figures of thought as “interactional devices” that function more like gestures than thoughts (qtd. in Carillo 383).

Asking students to pay attention to figures of thought, Carillo demonstrates, “may help to draw students’ attention away from content, the statement or the expression itself (that is, the argument), and toward how these elements work to evoke the context or particular situation of the text and its participants” (383).  Moreover, because figures of thought circulate in everyday conversation (and thus have a colloquial power), the strategy can be used to “animate” student writing and give it an authentic “voice” (she cites Elbow to show that good writing often mimics good speech) (388).  She debates how many labels to give students, but argues that even the phrase interactional device can deepen their sense for how language works. -Sarah Pittock

Clausson, Nils. “Clarity, George Orwell, and the Pedagogy of Prose Style; or, How Not to Teach “Shooting an Elephant”.” Pedagogy 11.2 (2011): 301-323.

Duncan, Mike and Star Medzerian Vanguri.  The Centrality of Style. Fort Collins:  WAC Clearinghouse/Parlor Press, 2013.

Elbow, Peter. “The Music of Form: Rethinking Organization in Writing.” College Composition and Communication 57.4  June (2006): 620-666.

Fahnestock, Jeanne. Rhetorical style: The uses of language in persuasion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Fahnestock, Jeanne. "Rhetorical stylistics." Language and literature 14.3 (2005): 215-230.

Fish, Stanley. How to write a sentence: And how to read one. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

As its title suggests, How to Write a Sentence is both a how–to manual and a book of analysis. It is also an ode to the written word and the ways it can be organized. In chapter one, Fish provides the reader with a clear, concise definition of what a sentence is: “a structure of logical relationships” that organizes the world. Much of the chapter is spent showing that the reader can learn to write and later become a good writer by understanding and imitating sentence forms from many different styles. Indeed, Fish himself is a self–described sentence connoisseur who characterizes his enthusiasm as akin to a sports fan’s love of highlights, and relishes the craft of everyone from the refined Victorian critic Walter Pater to Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. A good resource for teachers looking to teach a class on style and form, with a focus on sentence composition.  -John Lee

Johnson, T. R.  A rhetoric of pleasure: Prose Style and Today’s Composition Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 2003.

Holcomb, Chris.. “'Anyone can be President': Figures of speech, cultural forms, and performance." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37.1 (2007): 71-96.

Holcomb, Chris, and M. Jimmie Killingsworth. Performing prose: The study and practice of style in composition. Carbondale: SIU Press, 2010.

Johnstone, Barbara. “Enregistering style.” Rhetoric Society of America conference.  Minneapolis, MN. May 2010.

In this essay Johnstone attempts to set aside the competing epistemologies of style that inhabit our textbooks and teaching by embracing the semiotic concepts of enregisterment and indexicality.  Enregisterment occurs when a particular style is made explicit and indexed to a population.  As an example, she cites a billboard that critiques the use of ‘like’ by young people. This billboard ‘enregisters’ the use of ‘like’ as a stylistic element indexed to youth.  Johnstone wants us to set aside, for the moment, epistemological divisions between advocates for clarity in style and more rhetorical approaches to style.  She wants us to ask ourselves how we enregister style in our classrooms and assignments.  What markers of style to we thematize for our students?

Lockhart, Tara. “Emerging Voices: The Shifting Rhetorics of Style–Writing in Action in” Modern Rhetoric”.” College English 75.1 (2012): 16-41.

Lockhart reflects on Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s watershed textbook from 1949, Modern Rhetoric, to extend the work of Paul Butler and other recent scholars in rehabilitating the history of style, a history neglected in the field of composition.  Lockhart offers both an analysis of how historical research of textbooks is an important way to investigate the “’archive of instruction’” (Jean Ferguson Carr, Stephen Carr, and Lucille Schultz quoted in Lockhart) and a commentary on how the pedagogy of style has shifted in significant ways over the past four generations of writing instruction. Lockhart “chart[s] the negotiation found in…textbooks between broader, rhetorical versions of style and the teaching of style as a way of encouraging students to develop as a particular type of writer” (18). In particular, Lockhart looks at how, in associating Brooks and Warren with a reductive view of New Criticism, we may overlook their contributions to contemporary values in composition and rhetoric.

Lockhart points out that Brooks, a leading scholar of poetics, and Warren, a renowned poet and novelist, used their text to explain the important synthesis between both “low” style (geared toward accessibility, clarity, and rationality) and “high” style (that employs literary devices and formal syntax) in academic prose. Lockhart’s argument is relevant to the instructional challenges of teaching writing across the disciplines and the shifting stylistic expectations of scholarly audiences. While concerns for accessibility and clarity remain high for all disciplines, traditions of highly specialized language and structure sometime undermine these goals. Lockhart does call attention to how, over the course of four editions spanning thirty years, the textbook seemed to strain under the pressure of responding to a market increasingly dominated by composition specialists, not the authors’ area of expertise. Lockhart cites the significant pitfalls in Brooks and Warren’s increased reliance on stressing writing in “modes,” a pedagogy that detracts from the ways that work with style can illuminate “the promising partnership between literary and rhetorical approaches to reading and writing” (36). Her research suggests that investigating this break and other areas of tension between style and writing instruction can help open a place for productive teaching of style in our writing and rhetoric classrooms.  -John Peterson

Medzerian, Star. “Style and the Pedagogy of Response.” Rhetoric Review 29.2 (2010): 186-202.

Ronald, K. “Style: The hidden agenda in composition classes.” In W. Bishop (Ed.), The subject is writing: Essays by teachers and students. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 1999, 167-82.

John, Tinker. “Vagrant sympathies: From stylistic analysis to a pedagogy of style.” Style 37.1 (2003): 86.

Several recent literary studies argue that style in language is an essential element in the formation of subcultures and subjectivities. This article examines two of these studies and asks what their methods and findings suggest about the teaching of style in composition and rhetoric classes. If style is instrumental to the coherence of localized cultures and to individuals’ understanding of themselves in language, as these literary studies suggest, an effective writing pedagogy will teach students to question the stylistic expectations of academic discourses, to respond to these expectations with a strategic balance of compliance and resistance, and to develop a large palette of stylistic options in order to understand how this feature of language shapes point of view. The article concludes with questions about how new writing technologies may require us to think about style.  -Kevin DiPirro