Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Syntax of Style

The Wall Street Journal has a lovely review of Godine's Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric today, which Henry Hitchings describes as "a guide to the literary tropes and rhetorical forms that once made English prose so stylish and compelling."

From the review:

"'I worry incessantly that I might be too clear,' Alan Greenspan once claimed. He intended the remark to be crowd-pleasing, but it served as an acknowledgment of the necessary ambiguity of professional economics. To be clear is to leave oneself open to attack; there is safety in obscurity. In many quarters clarity is interpreted as oversimplification, and the cryptic utterance is regarded as a mark of expertise. Yet the murkiness of public discourse often results not from willful indistinctness but simply from a blithe, untutored lack of rhetorical know-how.

In Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, Ward Farnsworth sets out to remedy this. A professor at the Boston University School of Law, Mr. Farnsworth has previously published The Legal Analyst, which he described as 'a collection of tools for thinking about legal questions,' and a guide to chess tactics. This book manifests his familiar pragmatism and distaste for rarefied theory; billed as 'a lively set of lessons,' it is in fact more akin to a well- curated exhibition of rhetorical accessories."

. . .

"The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one's appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. Mr. Farnsworth includes numerous examples from Shakespeare and Dickens, Thoreau and Emerson, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. He also seems keen to rehabilitate writers and speakers whose rhetorical artistry is undervalued; besides his liking for Chesterton, he shows deep admiration for the Irish statesman Henry Grattan (1746-1820), whose studied repetition of a word ('No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer') is an instance, we are told, of conduplicatio. But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference."

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