Literary Form Essay

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If modernism ushered in access to a grasp of human psychology that prior prose authors lacked—yet many nevertheless figured out how to represent the human mind and its complexities to readers—postmodernism and its heirs have opened a window onto the complex ontologies in which we live and move today.

* “You can’t think the same way after you read a certain voice.” –Toni Morrison, “Interview with Angela Davis” * When I was younger, some years before I published my first book, , I struggled against unwritten stylistic expectations I had internalized over the years.

The immediate answer is that we should study the many writers who, over decades, have taken steps and shown us many ways to do this.

* My style is—or should I say styles are—shaped in part by modernism and its capacity not just to depict, but capture the flow of and embody consciousness, and yet I can say about all my writing that, like our contemporary society, it is also the product of postmodernism, with its emphasis on portraying overlapping and at times seemingly incommensurate realities.

This history is encoded in the DNA of literary styles in every Western society, as well as of many others across the globe, because of this history and genealogy, and the uneven circulation of literature and culture, though we may not be aware of it.

No style is free of politics, just as no aesthetics is.What role or roles do the larger social, political, economic, and cultural contexts hold in this line of questioning?* “In order to find his voice he must first have mastered style” –A.All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudoscientific classifying and analyzing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon.” –D. The effect beyond sinuous sentences, is to knit a narrative net, to create a capacious space in which all sorts of things, voices, shifts in tone, actions, are visible and can emerge. But eventually, rereading the story, I grasped why he might have reacted the way he did, and worked to ensure that the style did not precede or occlude the content. * “To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content.” –Susan Sontag, in which we place the body of the text, but the body itself fitted, as well or poorly as we imagine and sew them, to that body.In the hands of a pro, as he was then and still is, the style can be evocative and effective. When I submitted the story to an anthology, the editor, assuming my commas errors, or perhaps attuned less to what I was attempting and more to his own training and aesthetics as a writer, changed a number of them to periods. * At a reception after the American Book Awards two years ago, Ishmael Reed, my former professor and a writer whose poetry has inspired me since I was very young, noted to me in passing that the generation of Black writers who emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s had given up the influence of William Faulkner and similar modernists, in favor of a more direct style. Now, he continued, in part under the influence of James Baldwin, younger Black fiction writers were returning to more florid styles. —though I know I heard Baldwin, another touchstone for me, invoked.Alvarez, * Prose (fiction) should not be musical; this is the province of poetry.(“Poetry is music set to words” –Dennis O’Driscoll.) This is another dictum I have always worked under, and to some degree, because of my inner sensibility, against. How does one think of these concepts in relation to literary style?What does it mean to be aware of this history, and to write both in the wake of it, and, depending upon the writer, against or through it?How do minoritarian and oppressed writers decolonize their style?I had mentioned to him how I found his most recent novel anticipates a blogging sensibility by many decades).At some point, perhaps on Facebook, I do hope to take up the questions of Faulkner, Baldwin and stylistic changes over the decades with him. An idea suggested is more weighty: simplicity of statement excites contempt.” –Demetrius, “On Style” * The history of literary styles in Western literature is the history of the West, with all that this entails: not just a succession of historical, aesthetic and cultural movements, from the Dark Ages through today, but the long history of Western colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and the exploitation and domination of vast swathes of the globe.


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