Friday, August 2, 2013

Style, genre and human expression


The web and its weavers
Camera records everyday classifications of humans into ethnic, gendered or racialised types with varied degrees of accuracy, fairness or appropriateness. Whether we like it or not, scholars from various disciplines have turned this into their ‘expertise’, constructing and de-constructing such technological records. The belle artes contingent does not always agree with academic verdict, but one thing is sure: we are all rocking the same boat of ‘style’, ‘type’ or ‘genre’ in our audio-visual and written musings (though for different intends and purposes). 

We may question this alleged commonality anew: are we on the same page, lens, or computer screen and canvas? I would contend that even when we traverse different ‘surfaces’, our calibration of stylistic fundamentals always becomes implicated into some form of quest(ioning) regarding human nature.

Style, type, and genre: what sort of quest do they graft? What kind of ‘significance network’ are we all caught in – and are we its spiders or mere consumable victims? Significantly, ύφος (ýfos=style) (Georgopapadakos 1964: 240) communicates a distinctive habitus complex, whereby facial expression (ýfos’ first connotation), mentality (ýfos as emotionally communicated attitude) and artistic style (ýfos’ third connotation) are weaved (ýfos from υφαίνω=to weave, create but also articulate) into tactile communication with the world (yfí is literally the somatosensory faculty). Nevertheless, such weavings are also cognitive, sensory and emotional phenomena, not mere material manifestations of our place in the world.

An Aristotelian and Kantian twist lurks therefore in the tangible and intangible traces of our vision du monde (=vision of the world) that consolidates the creative dimensions (poesis) of work at its phronetic (=practical) basis (Trey 1992; Ricoeur 2005:  157, 260-2). All spiders weave because they must do so – their whole existence is based on the act of weaving. But humans weave also because they connect basic needs to desires – to tell stories to others, for others, about others and for themselves.

Expression and (post)modern imperatives
Style sells artwork and academic work alike, but the pen slides across the paper and the fingers punch the keyboard in idiosyncratic ways. Here stylistic έκφραση (ékfrasis=expression) is simultaneously emotional, embodied and cognitive expression, and what we choose to erase matters as much as what we emphasise. A practicality arises for scholars, which is ultimately shared with (commercialised) artists, to both preserve individual style and to subject it to sets of rules. The annoying request of journal editors to eliminate your ‘Is’ from the text ceases to be revelatory of individual preference and turns into a plead to join the rules of professionalised mass production that is acceptable or even ‘felicitous’ - in Ardener’s parlance – of cosmological styles.

Once more the politics of gender, racialised/ethnic honour and shame articulate a whole writing community’s normative parameters. What is excluded, edited beyond recognition or modified is the basis of all human technology, after all. We are all too familiar with concept(tion)s of kitsch, libel or excessiveness as nominated linguistic tropes and normative topics. All of them comprise phenomena ‘out of place’ in a decent (artistic and scholarly) community: we either find ways to compromise with some rules or we break boundaries to our own peril.

Personal styles differ and the ways these are mastered in public also differ. Intimacy, propriety, aggressiveness or reservation, tell gendered, racialised, ethnicised or class stories in context. There are numerous variations of public style:

-         ‘My amorphous sensory palette acquired colour, taste, odour and sound thanks to the inexhaustible support of this great master’ (appreciative and expressive)
-         ‘I trace the memory of your stories in my creative journeys’ (rhythmical and poetic)
-         ‘The discursive rules of this text need adjusting to the journal’s stylistic format and reference guidelines’ (authoritative in more than one ways)

On the verge of a war?
To play the game of convention still leaves some space of innovation, but perhaps not as much as one might have wished to have. In any case, on such occasions the web is often taken away from its weavers under so many excuses and for so many ‘legitimate’ reasons that the final stylistic outcome we get is never original. From then on, a different debate commences over what is lost, how it can be retrieved and by whom. These are the moments in which the plight of originality and authenticity returns to haunt us.

References
Georgopapadakos, A. (1964) Dictionary of Irregular Verbs (in Greek) (Thessaloniki: Molcho).
Trey, G. (1992) ‘Communicative Ethics in the Face of Alterity: Habermas, Levinas and the Problem of Post-Conventional Universalism’, Praxis International, 11(4), pp.412-27.
Ricoeur, P. (2005) The Course of Recognition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).