"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

24 December 2012

On Style

One of the books I'm perusing this break is Richard Weaver's Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, a book which is third in a trilogy about culture along with Ideas Have Consequences and Language is Sermonic.  Visions is his last work, published after his death in 1963.  It is, as the subtitle suggests, a definition of culture, an exploration of what has gone wrong in 20th century America, and how we can pursue the resurrection of a true culture.  The following passage, however, is a sort of side trip (to the point but not straight on it) having to do with style -- an issue writers and readers discuss and debate continually.  (I have added boldface.)

"True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance, which demand activity of the imagination and play of the spirit.  Elaboration means going beyond what is useful to produce what is engaging to contemplation.  Rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings.  In place of a meaningless continuum, rhythm provides intelligibility and the sense that the material has been handled in a subjective interest.  It is human to dislike mere lapse.  When one sees things in rhythmical configuration, he feels they have been brought into the realm of the spirit.  Rhythm is thus a way of breaking up nihilistic monotony and of proclaiming that there is a world of value.  Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy.  Extension and proportion in space, as in architecture, and extension in time, as in manners and deportment, help to give gratifying form to these creations.  All style has an element of ritual, which signifies steps which cannot be passed over.

"Today, these factors of style, which is of the essence of culture, are regarded as if they were mere persiflage.  Elaboration is suspected of spending too much time on nonutilitarian needs, and the limited ends of engineering efficiency take precedence.  Rhythm suffers because one cannot wait for the period to come around.  In regard to distance, there is felt that there should be nothing between man and what he wants; distance is a kind of prohibition; and the new man sees no sanction in arrangements that stand in the way of immediate gratification.  He has not been taught the subtlety to perceive that what one gains by immediate seizure one pays for by more serious losses.  Impatience with space and time seems to be driving the modern to an increasing surrender of all ideas of order.  Everywhere there is reversion to the plain and the casual, and style itself takes on an obsolescent look, as it belonged to some era destined never again to appear."

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