February 18, 2008
Response to a question about Style by Howard Nemerov
The question I am choosing to respond to was by Brent Pantaleo, Krista Mathews and Katie Caralis. They asked:
1) Why does Nemerov use the frame of poetry if he believes style inherently deforms ideas? Does he view style as effortless?
The first three lines of 'Style' read as follows:
"Flaubert wanted to write a novel
About nothing. It was to have no subject
And be sustained upon the style alone,"
From this, I do not take that Nemerov believes that style deforms ideas, but that style is one of the most important components of an idea. Most people, in my experience (or lack of) don't just write poetry with no purpose in mind. Anyone can scribble down their ideas, write a research paper (based on their abilities and knowledge base) or make a list of statements that reflects their beliefs. When poetry is written, or to investigate a parallel, when poams are made there is almost always a purpose. The writer/creator has for some reason been compelled to write/create this project, and each piece of it is geared toward expressing what they set out to address. I feel that he used to frame of poetry to utilize a way of expression that's 'style' perfectly matched a description of style. In a poem, everything that is include is for a purpose. The style of the poem contributes to what is include and what is exclude. If something does not fit into the allness of the people the meaning dictates that it should be set apart and most times is. To address the second part of the question, style is viewed as something that takes much work and is achieved through much work and a lot of effort, and that is why poetry was chosen. In my opinion, had he thought style was effortless it also would have implied that he thought that it was meaningless, to not have a respect for the difficulty of something many times shows that it is viewed as unimportant. As explained above, poetry was chosen because it WAS NOT effortless, and indeed to a lot of work to convey just the right point. The entire poem, while on the first or second read through may seem to be disjointed and disconnected from the main topic of style throughout, reinforces this point in subtle ways.
The poem draws on things that although have been well documented, are things that are not physically existing (Disney characters). Style is something that can't be physically described as one thing. The appropriate style will depend a lot on the context of an individual work. You certainly wouldn't expect to hear industrial-style rock if you went to an orchestral concert. The style that something will take on, relates mainly to the context it is presented in. Nemerov does a good job making an attempt at describing a topic that is difficult to characterize. A book that was written about style would truly be a book written about nothing - in the fact that style is so dependent on the situation in which it is encountered. This is an extremely clever way of getting across the point of how complex of a topic style is. He also mentions:
"We thank the master. They can be read,
With difficulty, in the spirit alone,
Are not so wholly lost as certain works
Burned at Alexandria, flooded at Florence,
And are never taught at universities."
Looking back to the topics addressed above, what more perfect way could Nemerov described the indescribable? To talk about something in terms of something that once existed but no longer does. This implies that someone once knew about this, someone was able to learn about it which implies that it can be described. So Nemerov is opening up the door for his description and his characterization of something he just said was indescribable; but it is still tied into the unknown by connecting it with something that was lost long ago. The final phrase of this may have held true for a while, although now I do not feel that it does.
"And are never taught at universities."
Not formally, but indirectly, without a doubt. For what are we doing in English 340? Describing our own style, and how that relates to style, framing, allness, and the illumination that took us on that journey. There may be no class that directly addresses style, but it is a topic that is indirectly addressed in many different ways. Since style is much the product of ones own imagination, it can take on many different forms, and as such, shows up as a product of any number of products that are undertaken as a student. This statement applies to a class where the format is of going to lecture and taking notes, then taking a test and reciting was what spoken, but any class that encourages or even incorporates creativity allows this to happen, and in effect teaches style. He wraps this up by saying the following:
"Moreover, they are not deformed by style,
That fire that eats what it illuminates."
The first line goes back to the idea that the style of something is one of the defining factors. We can imagine all the great works that we will never see and were lost forever, but are able to overlook the small details could possible served to take away from the great idea behind the creation. Maybe these works had horrible grammar, and probably were in a language that we can't understand, but by saying that these works are not burdened by style exactly explains the allowance they are given, they are immune from the nuances associated with writing a work or creating a piece. He is saying that by writing a book about nothing that describes style, you can avoid all of the pitfalls of any piece of writing: grammar, language, presentation, and more accurately accomplish he goal of telling what style is.
Posted by ndjames at February 18, 2008 07:20 PM
Style as format, as a frame within which something unfolds, the nature of the unfolding, how that will occur.
And poetry, as a very broad style-frame is or can be more sculpted, tends to be more sculpted than prose, as a style contains expectation of a range of sculpting styles; choreographed idea, expression.
So there are, if you will, a variety of styles for considering, for defining, for perceiving style-systems --some of it is "eaten" by the act of transport itself.
Oh yes indeed:
"He is saying that by writing a book about nothing that describes style, you can avoid all of the pitfalls of any piece of writing: grammar, language, presentation, and more accurately accomplish he goal of telling what style is"
--yes; I will leave more unwritten; I will find ways of making that include more of the intersections of writing/not writing/transport;
I like your observations that:
"The poem draws on things that although have been well documented, are things that are not physically existing (Disney characters). Style is something that can't be physically described as one thing. The appropriate style will depend a lot on the context of an individual work"
--indeed; perhaps this reveals part of the beauties of style, the swirls of it, patterns --though once they exist, these memory folds of style influence, shape (to varying degrees) perception, and is its broadest when the work remains imagined, not fixed (however little) in external iterations,
a fixing process that (as with other forms of translation or systems of transport from one location to another, from one form to another) can tend not to translate or transport all the allnesses
so when there is a projection of imagined content to external locations, external opportunities for encounter, it is likely that all of what is being forked to these (more) external locations will not arrive, may not even make it onto a tine
so that external iterations will tend to differ in some way on some scale for some duration of time
from imagined, unwritten forms.
--thanks for such thoughtful commentary.
Posted by: thyliasm at March 10, 2008 04:40 PMLogin to leave a comment. Create a new account.