Stylistics Come into Existence
Though the term stylistics is new and unfamiliar to many, it has been in existence in some form or another for centuries.
Stylistics can be traced back to Johann Gottfried Herder’s analysis of Homer’s Odyssey. In his 1778 publication “The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry,” he developed a systematic methodology for interpreting texts by identifying their style, themes, structures, and rhetorical devices. In addition to hermeneutics, this field draws from other disciplines such as literary theory and philosophy.
In the 20th century, linguist Roman Jakobson famously claimed that “poetics is the study of poetry as a linguistic phenomenon” because poetry has a distinctive set of linguistic characteristics not found in prose. In a 1967 essay, “Stylistics: a catalogue of the natural school,” the German literary scholar Heinrich Böll traces stylistics to a return to nature.
He proposes that stylistics emerges from an impulse toward the study of language that is part of the 19th-century Romantic movement. This impulse is also tied to an increasing interest in archetypal psychology and early modern science, including the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
The Greek conception of style as “way, manner” (λόγος) has survived into the modern era as meta-logos . Stylistics also draws on Plato’s concept meta phantasia . All of these approaches grant the primacy of the word, which is said to be the primary source of meaning.
The very act of writing or speaking appears to invite or even require that one play with the words, rather than simply using them to express oneself. For example, a person might say “I have a headache” in order to communicate a deeper meaning about being sick and being in pain. However, this statement itself can then become a basis for further discussion and even something for someone else’s personal interpretation. The intent behind the statement may be viewed as secondary at best and not important at all.
The deep and complex relationship between language and meaning is also what makes stylistics such a field of study: the study of style seeks to examine the ways in which these deep, complex relationships take shape.
Stylistics can be divided into two overlapping areas: those which emphasize form over function, and those which emphasize function over form. The first focuses on how texts are constructed as units rather than as collections of units.
This includes such elements as the arrangement of words on the page, the use of punctuation, and other visual elements that affect what we read. The second area focuses on how texts communicate or establish an effect on their readers; it is essentially a rhetorical approach.