Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Orwell: How NOT to Teach Style?

Nils Clausson: Clarity, George Orwell, and the Pedagogy of Prose Style; or, How Not to Teach "Shooting an Elephant" 
 ~ Click on the link above to read Nils Clausson's analysis of Orwell ~

"Orwell does not exhibit, for our students to emulate, a normative expository style that is 'clear and simple as the truth,' one that somehow melts into thin air, all the better to permit the unmediated communication of his thoughts and feelings. When we read Orwell, just as when we read any writer who takes a delight in the sheer aesthetics of language, we need to keep at least one eye firmly on the glass -- glass that is not transparent like a windowpane but opaque, brightly colored and carefully crafted, like the translucent glass in the stained glass windows of a beautiful cathedral. Who looks through a stained glass window to see clearly what's on the other side?" (Clausson 19-20)

As opposed to the several literary critics such as those presented, Nils Clausson, professor at University of Regina and scholar from the journal Pedagogy, rejects the praise of Orwell's linguistic clarity. Using the metaphorical 'windowpane glass,' Clausson describes the illusions of clear and unclear language: drawing imagery of readers looking at writing as they would a window, the writing of authors thus determining how much and how well readers can see. That being said, he labels Orwell's prose style--communicating thoughts as precisely and concisely as possible--as writing that readers cannot revel in interpreting what's outside of the window. Clausson being a college professor, he analyzes Orwell through an idiosyncratic perspective: he bases Orwell's work off its efficacy in teaching style to his students. While Clausson's essential notion of Orwell exposes him wrongly demeaning creative writing, he mainly perceives this as so because Orwell's writing epitomizes nothing short of creativity. "Shooting an Elephant" as the foundation for his argument, he marks Orwell's stylistic philosophy as contradictory: "Orwell's need for metaphors to describe Orwell's comic posture and the elephant's agonizing death testifies to the fact that as a writer he cannot simply communicate clear, independently existing ideas or objects through the transparent medium of expository prose" (322-323).

In contrast, Orwellian writing as lawful writing:
"Orwell’s essay approached language as a tool for clear communication, an aspiration that defines what lawyers and judges do throughout their careers. 'The power of clear statement,' said Daniel Webster, 'is the great power at the bar.'" - Douglas Abrams