Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Functions of style

Possibly it falls to all publishers
in this medium to encounter 'style'
finally in the perspective of their
own interests. Mine are in the chan-
neling functions of style, and only
moderately in the others; it is in-
teresting to me as a boulevard of a
personality, albeit laced with some

  I have lately introduced one
  of the most notably problem-
  atical personalities ever to
  be heard from, in selections
  chosen for a humaneness that
  I find uncanny and inspiring.
  These discoveries stir genu-
  ine surprise in me, although
  this has been suggested only
  once. But he was a figure of
  renown for rhetoric of other
  qualities, that drove one of
  his early editors to wonder:

  I find it difficult to decide
  whether he is a fundamentally
  nice person in the grip of a
  prose style in which it is im-
  possible to be polite, or a
  fundamentally unpleasant per-
  son using rudeness as a dis-
  guise for nastiness.

The question could not conceivably
have been framed in these terms if
the stylist were any less exorbit-
antly attractive than he was, when
at his best. Such persons are ava-
tars of hope to anyone who senses
the power of rhetoric, not merely
to lead but to illuminate. Custom-
arily, we discard them, throw them
away; but truly, I think, this is
a surrendering of them which is a
great mistake. In the case of this
personality, entire cadres in the
ostensibly learned world stood by
in prayer that he would hurl him-
self upon a great mistake. Yet it
was his nature to hurl himself; he
rode with the hunt, religiously.

I am tending to entertain the proposition,
that if there are tragic figures, the pre-
sumptive 'failure of their light' is one
in which the bystander participates. If I
am correct to be pursuing this line of
thought, what can it mean that such a fig-
ure is the one who opened that boulevard?
If I confer prestige of tragedy upon an-
other person, have I struggled sincerely
enough to preserve its dignity as rare?

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