[OPE] Dating Guide for the Left-Wing Writer

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 17:36:12 EDT

I could see what you meant there. Form and content are mutually dependent on
each other, yes.

It's just that, to put it boringly simply, style can be highly political,
since often the powerful seek to impose their own style on the ruled,
neutralize styles which are offensive to them, promote exemplars, and co-opt
styles that seem useful in remaking the world after their own image. For
their part, the powerless also improvise develop their own styles, and in
fact somebody told me once that fashion designers would go to poor Paris
neighbourhoods to pick up new fashion ideas from women there, who, lacking
much money, inventively made or modified their own clothing.

So anyway a question of power is, who is in control of the styles, or the
authority adjudicating their validity. For example, there was a US general,
I forget which one, I think it was Eisenhower, and he said basically that he
refused to read any written message unless they could fit it on one page. If
it was more than one page, he refused to read it; it seems that it was a way
to encourage succinct expression.

But these are just very elementary observations, it goes much further than
this because these days the very design of the form and content of
communicational style is utilised to acquire and exercise power and make
money. Remember that song by Pink Floyd, "we don't need no education"?

As an extreme semiotic example, to illustrate:

"Musicians from bands including Blur and Pink Floyd have launched a campaign
demanding that the British National party stop selling their music to raise
campaign funds. The BNP is selling folk albums on its website featuring
artists who claim they have no control over the fact that the far-right
party is using their songs. The BNP's commercial partner Excalibur sells
compilation CDs with titles including Proud Heritage, Rule Britannia and The
White Cliffs of Dover. An album called West Wind, written by the party
leader, Nick Griffin, and featuring songs including Nothing Bloody Works and
Colour, is among those being sold. It claims "to incorporate folk and more
upbeat tempos to deliver a powerful message of how British people have been
dispossessed". Billy Bragg, along with Dave Rowntree from Blur and Nick
Mason from Pink Floyd, have joined with the Musicians' Union and Featured
Artists' Coalition in objecting to the BNP's "politics and morals". "

Anyway, if I go telling people like a schoolmaster that they ought to go and
improve their style, and read some books about it, they might feel, that I
reject the style they actually have, and that I don't even actually
understand what explains those styles, why they are as they are. And if
they're loutish Dutch, they are also likely to say immediately "who are you
to say this?". In other words, I am trying to prescribe a style model to
others, but in so doing I am actually implying there is something wrong with
their style of expression. When I studied pedagogy we had books by Paul
Willis and Paulo Freire who delved into these kinds of problems. Marx
himself of course said famously "the educators have to be educated
themselves", referring to the link between social change and self-change,
which cannot exist unless you take things personally to heart and are in
dialogue with your peers about them.

Personally I am rather reluctant to prescribe style though, unless in highly
specific contexts where it is my duty to set a standard, and only if I have
a reasonably good proof that there is indeed something wrong with someone's
style. For the rest, all I can say is: if you want to achieve such-and-such,
these are currently the baseline stylistic requirements, and I can also
explain what they are, and why this is so.

But actually I do not regard myself as any authority on style much and so I
don't do that sort of thing much except in highly specialized contexts. For
example, as a university tutor years ago, out of desperation I wrote a short
101 handout on essay writing which, I remember, was highly successful in
raising the standard of assignment writing, because it explained the hows
and whys of stuff in operational terms (do's and don'ts). Or, if I edit a
book in English, I explain to the author why certain expressions are
preferable. My philosophy is, that if you give good instruction, you will
get the results you expect. But that's an old fashioned idea, almost nobody
believes that anymore, it's nowadays more like: "you make it up as you go
along, and if it goes wrong it is not my fault or I get another job, for the
rest they can all sort it out for themselves".

I would regard myself a master of style, I would be perhaps only if I was a
"man of the people" and could dialogue fluently in any style, without losing
my own style. But I am hardly that, since in reality there are things in
contemporary culture that disgust me and I often prefer not to engage with
those - what others revel in, is not necessarily good for me, and there are
some things you just don't want to try, however broadminded you might be.


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Received on Thu May 28 17:39:38 2009

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