Saturday, May 10, 2008

theology of stylin & "one hell of a good time"

Loving both academia and blink-ing holy hunch unobviousness,
I felt sure there would be something prophetic in the book laying by my wife's schoolwork and computer.

I don't know if this book has ever been quoted in a theological, emergissional blog (or whatever this animatrix is). But that may be the point; and reason enough to highlight it.

The other point is:

In a church culture that must in this weird and malleballisimo moment in history wrestle widely and wildly with style/form/format; sometimes turning "style into revolt" and always refusing and defusing the stylolatry of "my way is Yahweh,"

there's inevitably something telling and teaching in a boring looking little book called "The Elements of Style."

"Que paso?" someone just said.

Yes, THAT William Strunk and E.B. White (yes, THAT EB White: Pulitzer Prize-winner, author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little) . It's the "manual" on writing. The New York Times said it, "Buy it, study it, enjoy it..It's a timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility." Even though that quote about the age may be as aged as... forty nine years ago, when the book was written, try out a bit of the closing commentary of "The Elements of Style" (ironically found in pasted from a website selling term papers!):
The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time. To suggest that a young writer not swim in the main stream of this turbulence would be foolish indeed, and such is not the intent of these cautionary remarks. The intent is to suggest that in choosing between the formal and the informal, the regular and the offbeat, the general and the special, the orthodox and the heretical, the beginner err on the side of conservatism, on the side of established usage. No idiom is taboo, no accent forbidden; there simply is a better chance of doing well if the writer holds a steady course, enters the stream of English quietly, and does not thrash about.

"But," the student may ask, "what if it comes natural to me to experiment rather than conform? What if I am a pioneer, or even a genius?" Answer: then be one. But do not forget that what may seem like pioneering may be merely evasion, or laziness -- the disinclination to submit to discipline. Writing good standard English is no cinch, and before you have managed it you will have encountered enough rough country to satisfy even the most adventurous spirit.

Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for as an elderly practitioner once remarked, "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar." This moral observation would have no place in a rulebook were it not that style is the writer, and therefore what a man is, rather than what he knows, will at last determine his style. If one is to write, one must believe -- in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message. No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader's intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.

Many references have been made in this book to "the reader" -- he has been much in the news. It is now necessary to warn the writer that his concern for the reader must be pure: he must sympathize with the reader's plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know his wants. The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Let him start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and he as good as dead, although he may make a nice living.

Full of his beliefs, sustained and elevated by the power of his purpose, armed with the rules of grammar, the writer is ready for exposure. At this point, he may well pattern himself on the fully exposed cow of Robert Louis Stevenson's rhyme. This friendly and commendable animal, you may recall, was "blown by all the winds that pass/And wet with all the showers." And so must the young writer be. In our modern idiom, we would say that he must get wet all over. Mr. Stevenson, working in a plainer style, said it with felicity, and suddenly one cow, out of so many, received the gift of immortality. Like the steadfast writer, she is at home in the wind and the rain; and thanks to one moment of felicity, she will live on and on and on.
-Strunk and White, "Th Elements of Style"

Note, EB White also said:

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult."

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