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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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13 Of Syncretisms, Foils, and Cautionary Examples: Ruth Fulton Benedict’s Poetic and Ethnographic Styles


Abstract: Starting from the Comte de Buffon’s loose 1753 definition of ‘style’ as “nothing but the order and movement one gives to one’s thoughts” while insisting on the potentially violent act of inscription that the etymological origin of ‘style’ in Latin stilus points to, this essay explores major Boasian anthropologist Ruth Fulton Benedict’s ethnographic and poetic styles. Focusing on her bestselling Patterns of Culture and her remarkable poem “Myth,” I probe Benedict’s politics of representation of ethnic others, which takes divergent forms depending on the author’s choice of genre: while her ethnographic prose styles ethnic others as foils to Western civilization or cautionary examples in the service of cultural critique, her poetry expresses a profound desire for redemption through the syncretistic fusion of cultures that is primitivist in nature even as it qualifies the doctrine of the incommensurability of cultures that her brand of cultural relativism announces.

Keywords: Style, primitivism, syncretism, foil, cautionary example, culture, modernism, Apollonian, Dionysian, inscription, Boasian anthropology, Ruth Fulton Benedict

As the author of the bestselling Patterns of Culture (1934), Ruth Fulton Benedict was instrumental in popularizing cultural anthropology and in promoting the cultural relativist paradigm of her academic teacher Franz Boas.1 But Benedict was more than a cultural anthropologist; she was also an accomplished poet who published her poems in literary magazines including Palms, The Nation, and The Measure. Her preferred venue of publication was Poetry, one of the major vehicles of the modernist movement. Benedict, who published much...

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