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PHC | Rhetoric | Weaver on Style

Richard M. Weaver on Style

True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance, which demand activity of the imagination and play of the spirit. Elaboration means going beyond what is useful to produce what is engaging to contemplation. Rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings. In place of a meaningless continuum, rhythm provides intelligibility and the sense that the material has been handled in a subjective interest. It is human to dislike mere lapse. When one sees things in rhythmical configuration, he feels that they have been brought into the realm of the spirit. Rhythm is thus a way of breaking up nihilistic monotony and of proclaiming that there is a world of value. Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy. Extension and proportion in space, as in architecture, and extension in time, as in manners and deportment, help to give gratifying form to these creations. All style has in it an element of ritual, which signifies steps which cannot be passed over.

(From "The Image of Culture," in Visions of Order, p. 19.)

(Note: This is not a statement about the rhetorical canon of style. Weaver here elucidates the notion that every culture has a style, and, in the process, says a great deal about the wellsprings of culture, on the one hand, and suggests implications for the canon of style, on the other. I find these lines about why the human spirit yearns for culture and refinement all the more important and prescient, given the lack of civility one experiences in American culture today.)