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Revisiting Style in Literary and Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Articulations

Edited By Jasmin Herrmann, Moritz Ingwersen, Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank and Olga Ludmila Tarapata

The collected volume brings together leading scholars from a broad range of disciplines in the humanities to interrogate the productivity of style as an element of cultural expression and a parameter of cultural analysis. Despite its ubiquity in examinations of artistic singularity or postulations of epochal patterns, style remains a notoriously elusive concept. Suspicious of monolithic definitions, the contributions assembled in this volume address style from a multiplicity of methodological and conceptual angles, drawing from fields that include literary studies, film and media studies, post-structuralist philosophy, philosophy of science, and American cultural studies.

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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....

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