Out of style: A retrospective and prospective look at style in composition theory and practice

Paul Gregory Butler, Syracuse University


The exigency of this project is the disappearance of the study of style from composition scholarship and practice. I argue that it is important for the field to reclaim that study on grounds that are pedagogical, political, and practical. Chapter 1 lays the groundwork for the study, establishing style's importance during the process era (from the 1960s to the mid-1980s) and the overlapping "golden age of style," which featured many stylistic theories, traditions, and pedagogies. Chapter 2 challenges the tendency today to characterize style retrospectively as (1) a static part of "current-traditional" rhetoric and (2) antithetical to invention, the favored canon of the "new rhetoric." It establishes through historical analysis that, contrary to the "retrojection" of this canon of rhetoric, style was actually seen as an innovative source of language creation during the process movement. Chapter 3 examines some of the ways that popular myths about style have filtered into the field, often through a group of public intellectuals who sometimes present style reductively. The analysis reveals that composition often resists style studies, in part because outside views construct both style and the field as remedial. As experts trained to study stylistic issues, however, compositionists are expected to address them; therefore, I argue that it crucial for the field to reclaim the study of style in its theory and practice. Chapter 4 makes the claim that even though style appears to be invisible in composition studies, it is ubiquitous, and the chapter examines areas where the study of style has diffused--such as genre theory, rhetorical analysis, personal writing, and theories of race, class, gender, and cultural difference. The chapter both adopts and complicates Lauer's notion of the "diaspora" as the site of style's migration. Chapter 5 examines the field's interest in disciplines currently addressing issues of style and re-frames long-held stylistic debates. In proposing a model for rereading the history of the period, focused through scholars and textbooks, it claims that the study of style is in crisis and renews the call to reshape the field's approach to the subject in the public sphere.