Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Elements of Style

"If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead. The terse, declarative sentence in all its masculine hardness routed the passive involutions of a higher, denser style."

-full text from Slate in a piece that takes on Strunk and White's iconic style manual, a relevant read given this weekend's Gordon Lish talk.

I think the piece overstates White's militancy, given the guide is so full of irony and humor. Still, it was definitely a product of a movement, and one that possibly should be revalued. A new manual from Stanley Fish called How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One takes a less violent approach to style, perhaps bearing in mind the contemporary American writers like David Foster Wallace who broke all of Strunk's rules.

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