Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric

Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric

Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric

Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric

Synopsis

Paul Butler applauds the emerging interest in the study of style among scholars of rhetoric and composition, arguing that the loss of stylistics from composition in recent decades left it alive only in the popular imagination as a set of grammar conventions. Butler's goal in Out of Style is to articulate style as a vital and productive source of invention, and to redefine its importance for current research, theory, and pedagogy.
Scholars in composition know that the ideas about writing most common in the discourse of public intellectuals are egregiously backward. Without a vital approach to stylistics, Butler argues, writing studies will never dislodge the controlling fantasies of self-authorized pundits in the nation's intellectual press. Rhetoric and composition must answer with a public discourse that is responsive to readers' ongoing interest in style but is also grounded in composition theory.

Excerpt

As a student in the French School at Middlebury College, I wrote a stylistic analysis of nineteenth-century French poet José-María de Heredia's sonnet (1978, 117), “Les Conquérants” (“The Conquistadores”), completely unaware at the time that the study of style is part of a rhetorical tradition that began more than 2,500 years ago. Examining the poem from several perspectives—phonological (sound and rhythm), syntactic, lexical, semantic, and rhetorical—I looked at such features as the poet's use of explosive consonants and stops (including enjambment) as devices to convey the harshness of the conqueror's “brutal” departure; the later contrast with certain liquid and nasal consonants and the repetition of assonant vowel sounds to signal a shift in mood after the discovery of an exotic new land; the poet's reversal of syntax, first to speed up and then to slow down the rhythm of the poem; the sonnet's changing lexical field, with an opposition between nouns with masculine and feminine genders that parallels the poem's increasingly ameliorative movement from conquest to hopeful acceptance; and the contrastive use of rhyme to reflect the imprisonment of the conquerors who, literally and figuratively, break away from their native country to an alluring new world. While analyzing the poem's stylistic features and patterns, I was able to demonstrate how Heredia deployed various elements of form to help achieve his overall effect. I now know that my analysis of the sonnet falls under the rubric of stylistics—or the study of style—whose history in literature complements its ancient counterpart in the history of rhetoric and its equally dynamic history in the field of composition.

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