Revisiting Style in Literary and Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Articulations

by Jasmin Herrmann (Volume editor) Moritz Ingwersen (Volume editor) Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank (Volume editor) Olga Ludmila Tarapata (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 410 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Revisiting Style
  • Part I: Style in Theory
  • 1 Do Signs Have Styles?
  • 2 Deleuze on Style
  • 3 Coded Curves: Félix Guattari and the Problem of Style
  • 4 On Style, Prospectively: Derrida’s Gestures of Circumspection
  • 5 Style, Eternal Objects, and the Melancholy of Beauty
  • 6 Styles of Practice in Philosophy and Mathematical Science
  • 7 Art, Nature, Ethics: Nonhuman Queerings
  • 8 In Luce Ambulemus: Hanjo Berressem’s Luminous Philosophy – Some Musings in the ‘Light’ of Quantum Theory and Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy of the One
  • Part II: Style in Practice
  • 9 Observations on Rhythmic Style
  • 10 On Style: Gender, Boxing, and Masculinities in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century
  • 11 Elements of a Free Style: Subcultural Eloquence, Performance Affects, and the Transversality of Skateboarding (exemplified by Hesh)
  • 12 Walking and Falling in Style
  • 13 Of Syncretisms, Foils, and Cautionary Examples: Ruth Fulton Benedict’s Poetic and Ethnographic Styles
  • 14 Wearing Western Shirts: A Fiction of American Style
  • 15 And Things Were Looking Like a Movie: Suburban Chic and the 1980s
  • 16 The Glass House of Love: A Key Element of Film Style in French Melodrama
  • 17 Black and White: Different Ways of (Re-)Presenting the Holocaust
  • 18 Objective: Objective, Burma!
  • 19 [Non]Style is Feeling: Direct Tenderness from Sirk, Fassbinder, and Haynes, to Berressem
  • Part III: Style in Literature
  • 20 Michaux and Mescaline: Mastering a Molecular Style
  • 21 Minding One’s Own Style: Versions of Singularity, Modes of Mediation, and the Contiguity between Marianne Moore and Susan Sontag
  • 22 “Some Girls Are Just Born With Glitter in Their Veins:” A Beginning of Pop Literary Communication from Interference (around 1700) to its Echo (around 2000)
  • 23 “Give Me the Luxuries and I Can Dispense with the Necessities,” or Style as Grace
  • 24 Thomas Pynchon’s Stylistic Transformations: From V. to Bleeding Edge
  • 25 Style in Gravity’s Rainbow: Deweyan Art as Democratic Experience
  • 26 Pynchon’s Wardrobe of Weirdness: The Style of Subversive Garments
  • List of Figures
  • Notes on Contributors

Introduction: Revisiting Style

In a letter from 1899, the American naturalist Frank Norris makes an emphatic plea to his fellow writers: “Tommyrot. Who cares for fine style! Tell your yarn and let your style go to the devil” (30–31). Condensed in this polemic, we find a number of implicit assumptions that offer an entry point into the conceptual field that has proliferated around the notion of style. Style has been levered as a measure for propriety, for fine writing and decorum. Related to this, it may be an individualized property that can be owned and shed. The unfolding of meaning—the yarn—Norris seems to suggest, does not depend on and might in fact be hampered by an attention to style. Writing, in this view, is equally conditioned by its production as by its reception, by an author with an aim and a reader who cares. Consequently, style becomes a variable of both the author’s choice and the reader’s interpretation, the aspect of a communication process that is ideally unambiguous and purposeful. Like noise, style may be a nuisance, a distraction. Or, perhaps Norris is not advocating the rejection of style tout court; perhaps his devil is a cipher for the monstrous multiplication of style, for the renunciation of the clean and proper in favor of the cacophonous, for not the decorative but the embrace of turbulence so characteristic of literary naturalism. Norris’ call is part of a sheer endless list of aphoristic comments frequently recited in debates about style. Better known will be Buffon’s “style is the man himself” (le style est l’homme même xvii), which is routinely detached from its context and invoked as a point of departure for an understanding of style as individualized essence. While definitions of style are countless, a consensus is hard to come by and hardly desirable. Far from limited to the realm of literature, interrogations of style are as variegated as their history is long. From classical rhetoric to early modern art criticism, from analyses of subculture to poststructuralist philosophy, style has been framed through the interstice between content and form, as inherent and dispensable, as a category of conventionalized aesthetic or intellectual patterns, and as the expression of singular subjectivity.

Less interested in monolithic definition than in polyphonous diversification, this volume brings together scholars who mobilize the concept of style from a multitude of disciplinary and methodological angles. Roughly categorized along the triad of theory, practice, and literature, and designed to offer a cross section of current scholarship in the humanities, the contributions in this collection ←15 | 16→are envisioned as vignettes that document how the concept of style may help to shed light on subject matters that range from psychoanalytic practice, to skateboarding, the philosophy of science, the phenomenology of Western shirts, French Melodrama, stuttering, and the novels of Thomas Pynchon, to name but a few. With no pretense of a linear trajectory, style is diversely addressed as something that is performed, materialized, presumed, contested, experienced, embodied, and theorized.

Three essay collections need to be invoked as important precedents of this project: Stil: Geschichten und Funktionen eines kulturwissenschaftlichen Diskurselements (edited by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer, 1986), The Question of Style in Philosophy and the Arts (edited by Caroline van Eyck, James McAllister, and Renée van de Vall, 1995), and Style in Theory: Between Literature and Philosophy (edited by Ivan Callus, James Corby, and Gloria Lauri-Lucente, 2013). Gumbrecht and Pfeiffer’s book convenes leading scholars in German cultural and media theory and provides an instructive framing of style as an ‘element of discourse,’ a gesture that circumvents the frequent reduction of style to an analytical category, an aesthetic qualifier, or a historiographic organizing principle. Callus, Corby, and Lucente’s collection is particularly insightful in examining style as a hinge by which traditional divisions between literature and philosophy are challenged and complexified. Van Eyck et al. locate a shift in the conception of style in the discourse of nineteenth-century art criticism that ushered in a transition “from stylistic monism to stylistic pluralism” (11), a corollary of which was the increasing mobilization of stylistic registers in the field of philosophy.

As an element of discourse, the concept of style comes with a history whose foundations in classical rhetoric continue to reverberate in various subfields of twentieth-century literary criticism (most notably, stylistics and formalism). Etymologically, style is an ambivalent medium. The stilus is an instrument of inscription that manipulates a surface; it leaves a trace or a groove; it imparts depth through a material process of imprinting that both precedes and conditions the production of meaning. Yet, its materializations are mutable. Employed in the service of a gradual refinement, presumably a purging of unnecessary ornament and imprecision, the blunt side of the stilus may flatten and erase the indentations its piercing obverse left in wax. Gumbrecht points to this act of turning as an indication of the proximity between style and rhetoric, the work on the written text that became synonymous with “the search for elegance and the concision of plainness” (731; our translation). This conception of style in the service of objective transparency and an unadorned representation of reality continues to inform contemporary mappings of style with propriety, with good ←16 | 17→form and fine diction, the most enduring reincarnation of which may be William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s primer The Elements of Style (1979). The defining heritage of this trajectory is what Mario Aquilina calls the “teleocratic function” of style (11), its conceptualization as a vehicle or instrument in the achievement of a specific aim (persuasion in the case of rhetoric). It is also from this tradition that we inherit the persistent mapping of style and form—an external medium or veil. Aristotle compares style to a well-chosen “dress” (10), Walt Whitman rejects marked style as something that “hang[s] in the way between me and the rest like curtains” (n. p.), Roland Barthes recalls constructions of style as “the garment of Content” (Rustle 91), and in his influential Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979) Dick Hebdige offers a sociological analysis of cultural “surfaces” (2).

At the same time, what binds the rhetorical aspiration of plain or proper style to the early modern conception of “personal style,” which emerged in tandem with Enlightenment ideas of subjectivity and originality, is the expression of an essence—an unambiguous message in the case of classical rhetoric and an epistemological communion with the true nature of things in the case of thinkers like Goethe (see Gumbrecht 758). It is in the context of the Enlightenment and its related artistic discourses that the concept of style acquired its connotation as the singular expression of subjectivity, as a type of signature that also entailed a value judgment. Either you have style or you don’t. The element of choice appears to be barred in this light. It might have been in reaction to this ennoblement of originality that style became a desired quality, something to be displayed for everyone to see, no longer an expression of essence but of artifice, no longer the apotheosis of truth but its alienation, a preoccupation with exteriority that can be traced from sixteenth-century Mannerism (derived from the perceived homonymy of style and the Italian maniera) to the Decadent Movement of the late nineteenth century. Likely coupled with the rise of commodity culture in the nineteenth century, style could suddenly be owned, purchased, and reproduced. Entering the discourse of art criticism at this time as a temporalized signifier of identifiable aesthetic patterns, style acquired its typological valence as the marker of a genre or a norm. It is with recourse to this development that we continue to speak of intellectual, artistic, or epochal styles and movements. In parallel to the uninterrupted framing of style as an expression of originality, it had become something that one was impelled to conform to, an attribute of belonging and exclusion.

In light of this contrary dynamic, Aquilina casts style as an “iterable singularity:” it “unifies and disperses, embodying centripetal and centrifugal forces” (3). Similarly, Barthes identifies the concept of style as caught between two binarisms: form and content, norm and deviance (see Rustle 90). In her frequently ←17 | 18→cited essay “On Style” Susan Sontag distinguishes between style and stylization and vehemently refutes the notion of a style-less, perfectly transparent work of art or literature as “one of the most tenacious fantasies of modern culture” (17). There is no degree zero of artistic or intellectual production. The impossibility of shedding one’s style can be read as a consequence of the structuralist prioritization of form over content. Indeed, all that Frank Norris can do in this light is multiply styles; even the plainest or most wildly fluctuating expression of an idea, message, intuition, observation, or impulse implies a stylistic choice, or what Barthes, rejecting the notion of intention, calls “thrust” (Degree Zero 11). Interested less in stylistic movements than in the singularities of expression, Barthes and Sontag agree on the difficulty of uncoupling the concept of style from that of form. In both of their accounts style is always multiple: “style is the principle of decision in a work of art, the signature of the artist’s will. And as the human will is capable of an indefinite, number of stances, there are an indefinite number of possible styles for works of art” (Sontag, “On Style” 32). Notorious for the semiotic capture of not only literature but culture as text, Barthes locates style “within the plurality of the text” (Rustle 99). It is less to be found in conventionalized patterns than “as an aberrant message which ‘surprises’ the code” (94). Indeed, it seems that style understood as the singularity of a cultural text is best experienced when it falters and slips, when it produces friction. Style is a differential concept that always already presumes a multiplicity of alternative styles and, at least, in the structuralist tradition is primarily accessed as an aspect of form. In Barthes, this entails, as Sontag notes in her preface to Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero (1967), that style lies “outside the pact that binds the writer to society;” it is an ahistorical element of textual expression (xvii).

By contrast, Marxist literary critics such as Georg Lukács and Fredric Jameson have put forward a cogent grounding of style in content. Dismayed at the perceived blindness of structuralist analyses to ideological superstructures and historical conditions, they maintain that style is always a function of the political. Marrying both accounts—formalist and Marxist criticism—Mikhail Bakhtin recognizes that a text, an author, an artist always speaks in a multiplicity of voices that equally draw from external ideologies and internal predispositions. As Aquilina summarizes, Bakhtin accounts for a text’s stylistic recognizability “by attributing it to distinctive combinations of a polyphony of styles rather than a monophonic chant sung by its author” (44). Implied is a decentering of the author’s textual or artistic authority that would later become centerfront in post-structuralism and condensed in Jacques Derrida’s dictum that nothing lies outside the text and that meaning, or essence, is perpetually deferred. If everything is language, an analysis of form or style will not lead to singularity but ←18 | 19→multiplicity. Rather than re-inscribe binarisms of expression and content, surface and depth, hierarchies are deflated by a double articulation that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari refer to as “reciprocal presupposition” (44). In undisguised opposition to conceptions of style as an attribute that can be controlled and consciously inhabited, Deleuze heralds style as an estrangement: “Being like a foreigner in one’s own language. Constructing a line of flight” (Deleuze and Parnet 4). Taking this impetus as programmatic for the relationship between style and content in the poetics of poststructuralist philosophers themselves, we can identify a distinguishing characteristic in its stylistic flamboyance, its multiplication and con-fusion of metaphor, neologism, and synecdoche—a quality that has attracted both derision and admiration for blurring the boundary between rigorous philosophy and poetry. Philosophy as well as the natural sciences are in this context understood not as means of capturing essences but as fundamentally engaged in cultural poiesis and differentiation. The tight couplings between literary and philosophical styles may readily be regarded as a trademark of the postmodern, where literature self-consciously metabolizes philosophy and philosophy confidently embraces the poetic as a veritable mode of cultural inquiry. Exemplary as an illustration of this reciprocal capture is Hanjo Berressem’s study Pynchon’s Poetics: Interfacing Theory and Text (1993) whose marriage of postmodern literary criticism and post-structuralist philosophy reverberates across several contributions in this volume on the works of Thomas Pynchon and Gilles Deleuze. If we were to mobilize a preliminary conclusion that informs this collection, it is that style is a productive myth, a shape-shifting chimera that has reared its head at all stages in the evolution of artistic and intellectual subjectivity. Let us proceed with the working assumption that, indeed, no cultural product is style-less and that polyphony is the rule and not the exception.

Against the backdrop of this heterogeneous historical construction of style, the contributions assembled in this volume link up with a multitude of traditions and interrogate style as form, content, singularity, process, and pattern. Rather than perpetuate semiotic binarisms, we hope to illuminate ways in which a discussion of style might help to diversify and complicate the oscillations between surface and depth already materialized by the function of the stylus. We are interested in what happens when surfaces are scratched, subjacent layers exposed, old meanings overcoded, and trajectories diverted from the straight line to complicate the distinction between essence and ornament. Following this impetus, the notion of style that emerges from this volume is far from unitary, closer to the way Barthes speaks of style as “a distance, a difference” (Rustle 94) than to Goethe’s invocation of style as “the recognition of an essence of things” (qtd. in Gumbrecht 758; our translation). If style is indeed an element of discourse, ←19 | 20→it cannot be approximated from one angle alone but must be subjected to the frictions that occur when different discursive fields are brought into polyphonous dialogues. The ensuing resonances can hardly be contained by categorical divisions. It goes without saying that the boundaries between theory, practice, and literature suggested by our chapters are permeable and somewhat arbitrary. Theory and literature are cultural practices, literary criticism and philosophy are synthesized in theory, and both theory and practice can be interrogated as textual.

Style in Theory

If we understand theory as an umbrella term for the conceptual and philosophically-informed infrastructure of literary and cultural criticism, an engagement with style in theory may readily be identified in most of the contributions of this volume. What sets the first chapter apart is the way in which theory itself becomes both the subject matter of and the medium for an exploration of style. Cogently, Corby, Callus and Lauri-Lucente locate theory at “the faultline of style” (9), where the literary meets the philosophical. Undoubtedly, there is a parallelism between the announcement made by Vincent B. Leitch and the introduction to the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, “There is no position free of theory,” and the recognition that no work is style-less (1). Whereas James Williams and Patricia MacCormack may be considered as themselves philosophical practitioners, primary producers of stylized theory, Ronald Bogue, Henning Schmidgen, Martin Roussel, and Reinhold Görling address the work of thinkers who are notorious for their singular entanglement of expression and content, and David Holdsworth and jan jagodzinski reflect upon what it means to speak about style at the interzone of philosophical, critical, and scientific theory formation.

James Williams introduces “a process philosophy of the sign” whereby style is recast as neither pure form nor meaning but as a function of “the consequences of manner.” Rather than present style as something to be possessed or inherent to the sign, he proposes a shift toward the environment and the observer. Viewed through Williams’ process philosophical lens, style thus unfolds as a pattern of dynamic effects, an “exercise on the world” that can be read not in the subject’s essence or surface but “in the faces, gestures and actions of onlookers.” Ronald Bogue traces the notion of style in the work of Gilles Deleuze. He points out that Deleuze does not do away with the concept of essence yet identifies it as “self-differentiating difference.” Style, for Deleuze then becomes a perpetual “force of differentiation” that, as Bogue demonstrates, pertains not only to the ←20 | 21→linguistic and the literary, but to the arts as a whole, producing a “unity of multiplicity.” Henning Schmidgen examines the conceptualization of style in the psychoanalytic practice of Félix Guattari. Pointing to a homology between the articulations of subjectivity in artistic production and psychoanalytic therapy, Schmidgen demonstrates how Guattari seeks to access the Unconscious through “ruptures in style” that are grounded less in the conception of singular essences than in an understanding of artistic and subjective individuation as relational and mutable processes. With recourse to Guattari’s reception of the relationships between psychiatry and surrealism, Schmidgen illustrates how Guattari’s translation of his patients’ utterances into “coded curves,” or “wave texts” can be understood as the aesthetic/analytical attempt to represent subjectivity as style. Martin Roussel presents an analysis of the conceptualization of style in the work of Jacques Derrida. Channeled through Derrida’s reading of Nietzsche, style is portrayed as an ambivalent vehicle of proximity and distance in the articulation of “a subjectivity yet to come.” Roussel shows how style in Derrida signifies a self-presence in writing that is always future-oriented, expectant of an opening toward the Other, and inherent in detours and the perforation of semiotic veils. Reinhold Görling illustrates the development of the concept of style in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and its migration and resonance in abstract expressionist art and poetry, specifically the work of Robert Motherwell. Framed by an account of the relationship between processual time and emergent events, style comes to be understood not teleocratically, but as a function of the rhythms by which the world communicates with itself—an implication of Görling’s reception of Whitehead’s casting of style as the “ultimate morality of the mind.” David Holdsworth establishes a dialogue between A. C. Crombie, Ian Hacking, and Alan Badiou to illustrate how analyses of style continue to animate debates in the philosophy and history of science. In his account, style is considered as both “the internal patterns of thought that characterize historical periods” and a subjective way of conceptualizing the relationship between philosophy and mathematics. Expanding Hacking’s notion of “styles of reasoning” with his proposal of “styles of practice,” Holdsworth shows how scientific practice and theory formation can be cast as functions of style. Patricia MacCormack approaches style as a mode of apprehension and perception singular to each organism. Drawing from Deleuze, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Kristeva, and animal studies, she develops a concept of “nonhuman style” that radically repudiates the “anthropocentric style” by which subjectivity is constructed as self-contained and homogenous, “extricated from relations within the world.” In the appeal to a nonhuman style that is indicative not of closure but of an undifferentiated relation among things, she identifies an act of queering that carries a strong ethical impetus and helps reconceptualize ←21 | 22→the opposition between nature and art. jan jagodzinski engages with style as a subtle signifier. By superimposing meditations on light by authors as diverse as Hanjo Berressem, François Laruelle, Gilles Deleuze, and Karen Barad, a vibrant oscillation emerges that transcends the surface|substance, medium|message, binaries at the heart of reflections on style. Drawing on physics and philosophy, he explores variegated explorations of the physicality of light as a material medium to “offer a sophisticated account of light’s materiality to raise questions about light itself, and perception that breaks with naïve representation.”

Style in Practice

The essays in chapter 2 approach style as enacted in practices rather than as an unalterable essence. As aesthetic, behavioral or intellectual patterns of doing, practices reveal a historically sedimented repertoire of stylistic norms and yet their individual enactments may deviate from a defined convention by infinitesimal and thus barely discernible, or conspicuous and hence subversive degrees. Examining style in practice therefore means to probe the demarcation line between convention and idiosyncrasy. While the aim of declared practice theorists is to reveal the “implicit, tacit or unconscious layer of knowledge which enables a symbolic organization of reality” (Reckwitz 246), the contributors of this chapter excavate the implicit, tacit, or unconscious layers of style in the ways activities or movements are performed. The essays concentrate on acoustic, corporeal, affective, poetic, cinematic, and ideological practices illuminating how embodied and materially mediated performances, enactments, or activities may reveal the expression of singular styles.

Bernd Herzogenrath invites his readers to think style in rhythm beyond the conventions of metric symmetries. He traces the rhythmic signature of the noises, chirps, and pulsations in the work of sound artist David Dunn. Drawing from the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, Herzogenrath’s discussion of Dunn’s “artistic research,” which includes field recordings of insect ecologies, pays close attention to both human and non-human, or as Herzogenrath calls it with reference to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ‘in|human’ forces. Norbert Finzsch traces style in the history of boxing in America. In considering the style of individual athletes as well as the evolution of different fighting styles, he confronts the tension between the singular and the conventional. On a theoretical rather than corporeal level, Finzsch argues that the practice of boxing constructs styles of hegemonic masculinity. In his account, the stylized performance of boxing does not end at the limits of the ring but is refracted through its public perception. Bryan Reynolds’ contribution pivots on the notion of freestyle in extreme sports. On the basis ←22 | 23→of his primary example of skateboarding, Reynolds elaborates on the technical, aesthetic, and affective dimensions of a distinct style of skateboard subculture referred to as ‘hesh,’ whose ‘freer’ and ‘faster’ movements embody what he calls a “transversal poetics.” Karin Harrasser’s media philosophical intervention traces style in the practice of walking. While this activity is shaped by conventionalized techniques of the body, as Harrasser explains with Marcel Mauss, singular style is revealed where walking falters and turns into falling. Mobilizing Deleuze and Guattari on her trajectory from walking and falling to speaking and stuttering, Harrasser suggests a “styleful non-style.” Philipp Schweighauser approaches the question of style in terms of the different forms and functions found in the poetic and ethnographic work of anthropologist-poet Ruth Fulton Benedict. Reading Benedict in contrast and comparison to Margaret Mead and Edward Sapir, who all played a crucial role in the development of modern cultural anthropology, Schweighauser examines the stylistic, epistemological, and ethical convergences and differences between Benedict’s poetic and her ethnographic negotiation of other cultures. Konstantin Butz presents the Western shirt as a key to American style by tracing its mythological inscriptions in pop-cultural constructions of the cowboy. Building on the work of Dick Hebdige, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean Baudrillard, his auto-ethnographic account of thrifting, trying on, and wearing Western shirts is juxtaposed with analyses of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future III and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain to illustrate how mundane objects always carry “a double meaning” that testifies to the “subversive implications of style.” Sarah Wasserman examines style in light of the conventionalized aesthetic of the American suburbs and the ‘cool’ subcultures it engenders. Presenting the suburbs of the 1980s as a site of alternative youth culture and unruly aesthetics in film and music, she develops the notion of “the post-modern suburban chic” and demonstrates how it emerges from a dialectic of subversion and conformity. Wolfram Nitsch examines the ways in which the distinctive style of cinematographic practices in the genre of melodrama relies on the motif of the glass house. Presenting the mirroring and yet transparent quality of glass containers as a central stylistic device, Nitsch attentively extends his analysis to the stylistic differences in its deployment by French and American filmmakers. Lutz Ellrich’s interrogation of the strategies employed in the (re-)presentation of the Holocaust in the two Wehrmachtsaustellungen builds on Susan Sontag’s terminology of style. By means of Sontag’s notions of force and will, Ellrich analyzes the exhibitions’ stylistic strategies in terms of their architecture, the arrangement of artifacts or captions and how their expository style triggers emotional responses. Resonating with jagodzinski’s investigation of luminous philosophies, Tom Conley presents a detailed exegesis of Raoul Walsh’s film Objective, Burma! ←23 | 24→(1946). His reading focuses on light and chiaroscuro as stylistic devices—or even styles in their own right—that bring about specific affects when war and cinema collide. Nadine Boljkovac Berressem distils from films by Douglas Sirk, Reiner Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes a “free-indirect style” that extends beyond conventional modes of speech, reason, and representation. Drawing on the work of Deleuze and introducing the concept of “auto-perception,” she explores an arepresentational affective cinematic “nonstyle” that helps envision alternative trajectories and futures particularly for the women of the films.

Style in Literature

The contributions in chapter 3 focus on style in literature—‘literary style’—which, in light of its long, turbulent history, is hardly an unequivocal analytic category. Readily invoked as a value judgment, literary style quickly diversifies into a wide variety of literary as well as linguistic phenomena, such as a text’s or author’s treatment of themes, tropes, syntax, register, tone, mood, voice, etc. Even though the question of style in literature has always been informed by more philosophical debates about style as personal or a-personal characteristic, individualized essence or accidental attribute of belonging, it is beyond these scenes of contention that the literary scholar’s engagement with style usually begins. Examining the concept of style in literary sites that range from Marianne Moore’s poetry to Henri Michaux’s graphemes, Oscar Wilde, and Thomas Pynchon, the contributions in this chapter ask us to fundamentally rethink form|content, individual|collective, essential|accidental, and material|immaterial divides.

Recognizing style as an enmeshment of sense and material expression, Paul Harris foregrounds the drawings and writings of Henri Michaux, illustrating the artist’s search for an “absolute style” in which thought and inscription coincide. Vis-à-vis Michaux’s line drawings and self-experiments with mescaline, he points to a mode of stylistic subjectivation that hinges on an aesthetic expansion of time and produces immediacy rather than ornament. Sabine Sielke establishes a dialogue between the US-American writers Marianne Moore and Susan Sontag whose work challenges common canonical takes on style. Acknowledging how style is always embodied in “stylized acts that get varied as much as reproduced,” she shows how both authors consider style as “the signature of the artist’s will,” which is at the same time enabled and constrained by its embeddedness in modernist media ecologies. It is this paradoxical position, Sielke holds, which—for Moore as much as for Sontag—makes aesthetics and ethics converge. Torsten Hahn approaches the question of style in literature from the viewpoint of literature on style. Focusing on the early modern period, Hahn takes the question ←24 | 25→of fine style back to German gallant literature and discusses the ways in which Baroque guides to the art of complimenting, letter writing, as well as novel writing and poetry taught their readers the principles of a successful (de-)codification of style. Günter Blamberger locates his reflections on the notion of “fine style” in the realm of courtly aristocratic grace, decadence, and dandyism. Against the cultural backdrop of “aristocratic idleness,” Blamberger’s panoramic overview probes the ways in which authors and fictional figures have embodied and performed certain styles characterized by luxury and splendor (or the lack thereof) as a plane on which negotiations of individual and cultural mores play themselves out. Heinz Ickstadt identifies Pynchon’s stylistic signature in the “density” of his novels’ linguistic texture. Focusing on works from the author’s late period, he highlights their “mixing of genres” and “discourses,” as well as their “dense” metaphoric webs, and “kaleidoscopic twists of patterns” which, as he argues, become “more loosely woven” and increasingly “flattened” along the syntagmatic axis of “the protagonists’ earthbound desires.” Jeff Baker reveals a connection between the literary style and political underpinnings of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. In the novel’s heteroglossic form and indeterminate narrative structure he identifies a translation of the “educative discourse” promoted by American philosopher John Dewey, illustrating its impact on visions of participatory democracy in 1960s countercultures and their representation in Pynchon’s poetics. Sascha Pöhlmann takes the metonymic relationship between style and fashion as a point of departure to examine the ways in which references to eclectic clothing in the novels of Thomas Pynchon can be read as metafictional devices that reveal the characters’ status as textual subjects. In his reading, Pynchon’s “subversive garments” do not stand in the service of heightened reality effects, but metaphorize the texts themselves as “cryptic surfaces” with a questionable anchor in underlying essences.


Aquilina, Mario. The Event of Style in Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Barthes, Roland. The Rustle of Language. University of California Press, 1989.

---. Writing Degree Zero. Translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith, Jonathan Cape, 1967.

Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc. Discours Sur le Style: A Facsimile of the 1753 Edition, Hull French Texts, 1978.

Callus, Ivan, James Corby, and Gloria Lauri-Lucente, editors. Style in Theory: Between Literature and Philosophy. Bloomsbury, 2013.

Biographical notes

Jasmin Herrmann (Volume editor) Moritz Ingwersen (Volume editor) Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank (Volume editor) Olga Ludmila Tarapata (Volume editor)

Jasmin Herrmann is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of English at the University of Cologne. She teaches North American Literature and Culture. Moritz Ingwersen teaches North American Literature and Culture in the Department of Literature, Art and Media Studies at the University of Konstanz. Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank teaches in the Department of English at the University of Cologne, specializing in American literature and film. Olga Tarapata holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Cologne. She specializes in North American literature and culture, science fiction, and disability studies.


Title: Revisiting Style in Literary and Cultural Studies