:: Buzzwords

A certain style

Ali Smith at this year’s recreation of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference 1962:

It’s the easiest argument in the world, and one of the most specious, style v content. The cliched view of literary style, especially style which draws attention to itself as style, is that it’s a surface thing, a thing of appearance, a skin-deep thing; a fraudulent thing, not the real thing, blocking us from what it’s trying to say even as it says it.

But everything written has style. The list of ingredients on the side of a cornflakes box has style. And everything literary has literary style. And style is integral to a work. How something is told correlates with – more – makes what’s being told. A story is its style. A style is its story, and stories – like onions, like the Earth we live on, like style – are layered, stratified constructs. Style is never not content. This is because words themselves when put together produce style, never lack style of one sort or another. Otherwise we could junk, say, one of the most recent translators of Madame Bovary, Lydia Davis (who went back and looked at Flaubert’s edits and took into account for her translation his removal, from draft to draft, of metaphoric or lyrical elements in the language of the novel), and just run Madame Bovary through Google Translate.

Style isn’t the ghost in the machine, it’s the life that disproves the machine. There’s nothing ghostly about it. It’s alive and human. More, style proves not just individual human existence, but communal existence.

First posted: Saturday, August 25th, 2012.

Comments are closed.