Style Meld: A Questionnaire

Here’s a question for you to answer:  What writer (and by that I mean anyone who writes, whether literature, philosophy, history … whatever) do you most wish you could successfully reduplicate as a writer?  So as to make things more interesting, I will rule out the Obvious Answers:  Plato, Shakespeare, etc.  Be sure to also specify why you’ve chosen that writer:  what makes that particular writer the one you chose?  And, just for more fun, supply a characteristic sentence or two from the writer that you take to show or do what you’ve specified.

16 responses

    • I really don’t know. Hence my silly ‘etc.’ Choose anyone you think is the right answer to the question for you. Since a number of writers I admire read the blog now and then, I am very curious to see the answers. I wanted to rule out the obvious answers mainly so that the answers would provide new directions in reading, surprises.

  1. I’ve never commented here before, but Is it too obvious to say Cavell?

    “I am not this piece of flesh (though perhaps Falstaff was his); I am not in this flesh (though perhaps Christ was in his, but then his body was also bread); nor am I my flesh and blood (though somebody else is); nor am I of my flesh (though I hope somebody is). I am flesh.” (COR, 398)

    Cavell takes Wittgenstein’s conversation with himself in the *Investigations* seriously as the proper mode of doing philosophy. Instead of dashes all over the place, Cavell uses parenthetical comments to remind himself of why he is saying what he is saying, to remind himself that his conversation is as much with himself as it is with anyone else. This has changed the way that I write because I can be in conversation with myself as I go (hoping the reader tags along (and forcing me to tag along in ways I didn’t know how to before)).

    If I could pick two, I’d add Rowan Williams to the list.

  2. I can’t stick to one. The three writers I return to again and again are Woolf, Hemingway, and Morrison. Woolf for her attention to detail, her ear for rhythm and phrasing, her wit (along with her great sense of humor…I’m serious); Hemingway for his moments of nailing a description of scene or character; Morrison for her sheer power to move the earth (and me) to tears.

    From To The Lighthouse:
    It was a splendid mind. For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q. (53)

    From A Moveable Feast:
    A girl came into the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face as fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. (5)

    From Beloved:
    There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an island kind—wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place. (274)

  3. i find this a weird question. i’m not sure i would really like to reduplicate any author’s style. i associate style with aims, function, personality. if it’s already been done then it’s not what i’m doing, and it’s probably already been done better, or best.

    the ones i think of most as ideal extremes that i admire are pynchon, beckett in his prose, and john berryman. i’ve always liked the totally free shifts between high and low in them, and the willingness to make anything comic. i like their ears. the sense that they have brought many different sources together (least strong in beckett maybe).

    i’m interested in gadamer’s ease. it’s helpful to compare ‘truth and method’ to his essays or especially occasional talks. they slacken to the point that you’re surprised, given how much rigor one usually expects from anything that comes out of a philosopher’s mouth.

  4. I don’t want to copy anyone else’s style, but that I wish I had the ability to do so. Cavell, for instance, has a style that wonderfully allows him to have his own voice while still doing philosophy. But it would be a disaster if I tried to copy him. Perhaps others can do so successfully, either by recreating what Cavell does or by producing something new by attempting to reproduce his style. Mostly I try to write plainly, influenced to varying degrees by professional norms, Orwell, and Simone Weil (as well as a sense of my own limitations). But I do sometimes try to personalize my writing by attempting humor (probably a bad idea) and making references to things I like. One of these is Larkin’s poetry, and I have had lines from his poems in mind at times while writing, for instance “If I were called in to construct a religion I should make use of water”.

    On the other hand, I also wish I made use of more words than I generally do, and had the ability to keep multiple ideas in the air at the same time. It would be nice to be able to write as cleverly as Chesterton or De Quincey.

    Chesterton: Among the bewildering welter of fallacies which Mr. Shaw has just given us, I prefer to deal first with the simplest. When Mr. Shaw refrains from hitting me over the head with his umbrella, the real reason–apart from his real kindness of heart, which makes him tolerant of the humblest of the creatures of God–is not because he does not own his umbrella, but because he does not own my head. As I am still in possession of that imperfect organ, I will proceed to use it to the confutation of some of his other fallacies.

    De Quincey: Nothing, indeed, is more revolting to English feelings than the spectacle of a human being obtruding on our notice his moral ulcers or scars, and tearing away that “decent drapery” which time or indulgence to human frailty may have drawn over them; accordingly, the greater part of our confessions (that is, spontaneous and extra-judicial confessions) proceed from demireps, adventurers, or swindlers: and for any such acts of gratuitous self-humiliation from those who can be supposed in sympathy with the decent and self-respecting part of society, we must look to French literature, or to that part of the German which is tainted with the spurious and defective sensibility of the French.

    • Thanks, Duncan. I’m crazy about both Chesterton and De Quincy–and those are terrific passages. I don’t recall ever reading that passage of De Quincy.

      • It’s from the beginning of Confessions of an English Opium Eater, possibly the preface or something you might have skipped over. I remember liking his reference to fiscal emolument (i.e. pay), too, but I didn’t happen on that when I looked today.

  5. Yes, Chesterton is great. I wondered whether he might be too obvious, but he isn’t in the Shakespeare category. The De Quincey passage I quoted is from a note “To the Reader” at the very beginning of the book. The other passage I remembered (dimly) is this: “In so mighty a world as London it will surprise my readers that I should not have found some means of starving off the last extremities, of penury; and it will strike them that two resources at least must have been open to me—viz., either to seek assistance from the friends of my family, or to turn my youthful talents and attainments into some channel of pecuniary emolument.” I probably just liked the word ’emolument’ the first time I read it, but I still find his sentences very satisfying.

  6. Dear Kelly, Am late on the uptake here, but Elizabeth Bishop is ever a light. Her poetry, of course, but (perhaps even more) her droll letters (so living and just). They’re all just hopping with gems, so I open the collection at random: “March 21st, 1952 / Dear Cal, . . . the cook left, and for about a month I did the cooking. I like to cook, etc, but I’m not used to being confronted with the raw materials all un-shelled, unblanched, un-skinned, or un-dead. Well, I can cook goat now–with wine sauce. And we have a new cook, from the ‘north’ (the ‘north is regarded a little the way we regard the ‘south’) who came armed with a gigantic chromium crucifix. She ‘loves nature,’ so we hope she’ll stay. She loves it so much though that when you want her she’s usually out gathering flowers up on the mountain. The kitchen would do Max Schling credit, orchids and all. This morning I decided I wanted an egg. I said 5 minutes, and it arrived very watery, and she said there were 2 clocks in the kitchen and they are not running exactly together so she had no way of timing the egg, naturally . . . I have a TOUCAN–named Uncle Sam in a chauvinistic outburst. He’s wonderful, gulps down jewelry or pretends to , can play catch with grapes, and has brilliant blue yes like neon lights. / With love, Elizabeth” Lovely stuff. C.

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