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Thinking Through StyleNon-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198737827

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198737827.001.0001

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Emerson and the Impossibilities of Style

Emerson and the Impossibilities of Style

(p.135) 8 Emerson and the Impossibilities of Style
Thinking Through Style

Adam Phillips

Oxford University Press

As a writer Emerson privileges originality and idiosyncrasy over imitation and repetition. This puts him in a paradoxical position when he writes about style. Writers only write because of earlier writers; and they only learn to write, initially, through imitating those they emulate. And to develop a discernible style inevitably involves a certain amount of repetition—of vocabulary, of syntax, of rhythm, and of subject matter. If tradition makes originality possible, as Emerson can’t help but acknowledge, how does the writer sufficiently distinguish himself? And if style is only identifiable through its repetitions, how does a writer sustain his capacity to surprise? By wanting a style that can be consistently new and unprecedented Emerson exposes the impossibilities of style. It is the impossibility of style that at once inspires and encourages Emerson’s writing.

Keywords:   originality, rhythm, tradition, voice, character, repetition, mourning, surprise

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