Sunday, September 16, 2007

Analyzing Prose

Do you think about how you write, or do you just do it? Wednesday night, I'll be presenting on a book called "Analyzing Prose," which has really got me thinking about how I write, and how much I have to learn. Wow! In any case, here's my summary of about half the book:

Franz S. Klein
Professor Jane Carducci
English 613
19 September 2007

Richard Lanham: Prose Analysis

Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2
Professor Richard Lanham begins his discussion on rhetoric by questioning the “three central values of Clarity, Brevity, and Sincerity, the ‘C-B-S’ theory of prose” (1). He argues that “The C-B-S theory of prose style seems not only unhelpful but a violation of our common sense” (2), and that it “seems to contradict all that we say is good in literature…” (3). Like the hard sciences did years ago, rhetoric must abandon the Newtonian “neutral exchange of information” concept of prose composition and embrace “the full tripartite range of human motive, play and competition as well as purpose…” (6).
In his first chapter, Lanham explores the difference between active, verb-based writing (Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici) and static, noun-based writing (noun + “is” + prepositional phrase), whose monotony “makes the action disappear into the nouns” (13). Both styles engender a characteristic syntax, he writes. But while the verb-based style’s isocolon (phrases/clauses of equal length and structure) and alliteration are pleasing to the ears, to read noun-based writing with its use of homoioteleuton (using words with similar endings) and general lack of stylistic polish “we must turn off our ears” (19). “Concentrate on verbs,” Lanham advises, “and the strings of prepositional phrases vanish” (17).
In his second chapter, Lanhan points out the difference between the “syntactic democracy” (29) of parataxis and hypotaxis, where inferences are made for the reader in subordinate clauses. While taxis indicates the way troops line up for battle, hypo (beneath) refers to subordinate phrases and para (beside) refers to the equality of the phrases. In addition to being verb-based, Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici was paratactal. In his analysis of Hemmingway’s writing, Lanham shows how his paratactic style encourages anaphora (similar sentence openings), and seems “emotionally charged, deliberately held in check” (32). In turn, paratactic writing encourages either asyndeton (no connectors) and polysyndeton (many connectors). Polysyndetic patterns are helpful to dramatists, and are more common in hypotactic writing, since that utilizes more complex sentences. Given its complexity, hypotactic writing brings with it a host of tools, such as the protasis (if) and apodosis (then). Often good writers can combine parataxis and hypotaxis – O.W. Holmes, for example, “sets up a hypotactic framework and then, within it, he embeds layers of parataxis” (41). While Lanham says parataxis has its place, “complex issues … demand subordination” (46).

Chapters 6, 7 (pp. 151-159) & 8
According to Lanham, “[s]ome social situations seem to carry within themselves a kind of natural persuasiveness, to suggest by their very shape a ‘logical’ or ‘just’ outcome” (119). Resembling bargaining patterns, such “shapes” appear in writing as well as in life. Lanham notes, for example, the many symmetrical patters that exist in prose: “A great deal of persuasion occurs in this way and most of it remains tacit, unacknowledged” (120). Among the tools writers utilize are polyptoton (words with the same root but different meanings) and paronomasia (homonymic puns), both of which can be strengthened by alliteration. Lanham says “[t]his powerful glue can connect elements without logical relationship” (122). They often highlight tacit persuasion patterns, which include chiasmus (“ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”), climax and isocolon. Such patterns are powerful because they “become templates for our thinking; they both frame thinking and, by their formal ‘logic’ of sight and sound, urge certain thoughts upon us” (125).
Among other pieces of prose, Lanham analyzes the “lemon squeezer” of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Chapter 7. Among the devices Lincoln uses are diacope (repeating a word with a few words in-between), polyptoton, hypozeuxis (clauses with different subjects/verbs but the same object), antistrophe (same closing word/s at the end of successive clauses/sentences) and homoioteleuton. As a chorographia (description of a nation), Lanham notes the address depends on anamnesis (recalling the past). Here Lanham is showing how rhetorical analysis is more than “an excuse for parading all the terms” and more a methodology for “expos[ing] a pattern which then allows us to use the terminology in specific and specifically useful way…” (159).
In Chapter 8, Lanham shows how high, middle and low styles of writing prove difficult to define. Ordinarily, high style is characterized by being rhetorical, emotional, persuasive, hypotactic, Latinate and literary, while a low style is logical, rational, informational, paratactic, Anglo-Saxon and conversational. With these two “extremes” chosen, middle style would be found in the middle. But Lanham says defining styles “is a game anyone can play” (164). To clarify he notes two different, opposed distinctions: public/private life and emotion/reason. While Logos pros tous akroōmenous is “aimed at the audience, logos pros ta pragmata is directed “aims at the events themselves,” and has been applauded “from Aristotle onward” (165). Paradoxically, logos pros ta pragmata became the low style, while logos pros tous akroōmenous has been the style “discussed, analyzed [and] marveled at” (Ibid.). As Lanham demonstrates with Winston Churchhill’s speech (166-169) and an article on the 427 Cobra (183), “facts feel,” and the whole range of styles is bridged. Thus, while he argues that stylistic definitions have value in “point[ing] to real and demonstrable stylistic particularities, …they change as society changes … So when we call a style ‘high,’ ‘middle,’ or ‘low’ we ought to remember what criteria we are using to do so” (175).

Works Cited

Lanham, Richard A. Analyzing Prose. 2nd edition. New York: Continuum, 2003.

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