Dear Peirce Listers,
    Apropos of the recent messages regarding the Peirce 
Society meeting at SAAP earlier this month in New York, yes, I was there too 
heard Tom Short's responses after his paper (unsatisfactory, in my estimation; 
but he told me that he hadn't slept the night before) with regard to 
One shouldn't forget that Peirce himself is completely unsatisfactory when it 
comes to aesthetics (as he is on ethics).
    Whenever I teach my course on Peirce's theory of 
interpretation, I tell my students (only half in jest) that my definition of a 
philosopher is someone who only solves problems of their own devising. By 
contrast, someone who is confronted with the problem of having to explain the 
facts of language or literature or music is in a rather different position 
vis-à-vis the data. My long experience with the analysis of aesthetic objects 
(mostly poetry and prose) convinces me that ultimately one has to deal with 
axiologically, so to speak, by acknowledging the necessity of seeing them as 
repositories of values. In that light, the question as to why the Mona Lisa is 
admirable always comes under the concept of STYLE and its 
HISTORY. It is, moreover, on the grounds of style that one 
can begin to approach the problem of artistic truth in the spirit of 
    In case this line of thought is of interest, here are 
some further observations on the specific role of style. (Comments always 
    Style suffuses so much of what it means to be human, and 
has been the subject of so much analysis, that in order to move it away from 
problems of introspection and self-awareness one needs to redirect the age-old 
discussion into a more public arena where the contrast with custom allows 
insight into the ontology of human activity in general. This can be 
when style as a phenomenon that cuts across disciplinary boundaries is viewed 
TROPOLOGICALLY as a fundamentally COGNITIVE category. A global theory of style 
entails arguing more 
closely for the concept of STYLE AS A TROPE OF 
MEANING; and demonstrating how stylistic analysis can reveal itself 
not just as a compendium of traditionally taxonomized information but as the 
means whereby individual manifestations of style, their structural coherences, 
and their mirroring of signification can be identified and evaluated. 

    I. Form and content. Insofar as the 
distinction can be clear at all, it does not actually coincide with but cuts 
across the boundary between what is style and what is not. Style then comprises 
characteristic features both of what is said or performed or made and of how it 
is said/performed/made. If it is obvious that "style is the regard that what 
pays to how" the faults of this formula are equally obvious. Architecture, 
nonobjective painting, and most music have no subject, nor do they literally 
anything. So the "what" of one activity may be part of the "how" of another. No 
rule based on linguistic form alone could determine, for instance, whether or 
not a discursive meaning is ironic. In considering linguistic style at least, 
and perhaps even style generally, it soon emerges that the relation between 
and content must in part be described metaphorically.
    II. Content and expression. One famous theory of 
style, that of the French scholar Charles Bally, identifies linguistic style 
with "the affective value of the features of organized language and the 
reciprocal action of the expressive features that together form the system of 
the means of expression of a language." From this Roman Jakobson fashioned a 
definition of style as "a marked––emotive or poetic––annex to the neutral, 
purely cognitive information." Aside from the impossibility of consistently 
separating cognitive from affective information without remainder, it is 
transparent that definitions of style that trade in feelings, emotions, or 
affects go awry by overlooking not only structural features that are neither 
feelings nor expressed but also features that though not feelings ARE 
    III. Difference between stylistic and 
nonstylistic. A feature of style may be a feature of what is said, of what 
is exemplified, or of what is expressed. But not all such features are 
necessarily stylistic. Similarly, features that are clearly stylistic in one 
work may have no stylistic bearing in another locus. Nelson Goodman writes: "A 
property––whether of statement made, structure displayed, or feeling 
conveyed––counts as stylistic only when it associates a work with one rather 
than another artist, period, region, school, etc." But there is no discovery 
procedure for the isolation of stylistic features, nor is there a fixed 
catalogue of stylistic properties or traits. Not every property that points in 
the direction of a certain author/performer/maker is necessarily stylistic in 
    IV. Perception and recognition of style. The 
registering and identification of some particular property as a stylistic 
feature presupposes some collateral knowledge of the work at stake: the style 
Haydn or Hardy or Holbein does not proclaim itself to the casual listener or 
reader or museum-goer. This is true not only for high culture but for anything 
that can normally be thought of as "having style," such as clothing. Styles are 
normally accessible only to the knowing eye or ear, the tuned sensibility, the 
informed and inquisitive mind. The entire enterprise of art and music 
appreciation is built on the (often tacit but nonetheless correct) assumption 
that the stylistic distinctions and values that inform works of art and music 
cannot even be perceived, much less properly evaluated, without training.
    V. Style and history. Not only is style 
necessarily embedded in history, there is no way of discerning the presence of 
style except in terms of what preceded a (provisionally) stylistic phenomenon 
and the potential interpretation it prefigures. The categories of style are 
invariably retrospective. The very assessment of style as "novel" requires a 
historical backdrop by definition. It is only in such a context that it becomes 
possible to evaluate the stylistic development of a given author's oeuvre. The 
very term "classical" is a reminder that style cannot be understood except in 
historical perspective, retrospectively. As Berel Lang has noted, "style, it 
seems, is never pristine, never without historical reference; it never reveals 
an object without also revealing a genealogy of means. For style, 
is destiny." But the historical embeddedness of style is not just an account of 
origins; it enters into its ontology and into its structure in the same crucial 
way that comparability, selection, combination, and hierarchy do. Petrified 
stylistic features in artifacts and texts from historically remote epochs and 
cultures are often the only source for subsequent recovery of meanings and 
    VI. Norm and deviation. Numerous analysts have 
concurred in the notion of style as a deviation from the norm (of stylistic 
neutrality). Apart from the obvious difficulties attendant upon establishing a 
norm, it is clear that the "unusual" character or quotient of a style is not a 
matter of deviation (even less of deviance) but of innovation, which invariably 
originates in the behavior of particular individuals and becomes a full-fledged 
social datum only when it spreads to a significant number of the community at 
large. Stylistic innovations are just as important, if not more so, for the 
study of style and the construction of a general theory of style as features 
that are fully coded stylistically. Indeed, one of the implicit assumptions of 
this approach to style is that innovations and the context(s) of their 
appearance furnish the investigator with the most reliable testing grounds for 
any overarching conception of style.
    VII. Style and troping. Underscoring the status 
of stylistic features as units of meaning, the idea emerges of an organic link 
between style and troping, that the two chief tropes, metonymy and metaphor, 
have a structure and a dynamic that shed light on the development of style. 
Metonymies and metaphors are constituted by semantic units that have to be 
comparable potentially, then selected and combined in actual instances of 
troping or figuration, and finally ranked vis-à-vis one another. 
    Style starts out as an innovation linked to an 
individuated creative act that defines its uniqueness by establishing a 
hierarchical contrast with some relevant aspect of norm or custom. This 
connection––a  metonymization––is invariably accompanied by or results soon 
thereafter in the reevaluation of the datum's place in the overall system of 
which it is a part. In order to go beyond its inchoateness as a piece of style, 
the datum must effect a reversal of its status: it must cease to be primarily a 
fact of physical substance and become one of symbolic form. In short, it must 
    VIII. Style as figuration. The parallelism of 
structure between style and troping makes clear the understanding of style as 
figuration. Recall the connection between style and person that is emblematized 
in Buffon's famous dictum "le style est [de] l'homme même" (‘style is [of] the 
man himself'). Defining style as figuration points in the direction of and 
ultimately substantiates Buffon's insight but does so through an emphasis on 
figure (Latin figura), specifically in its meaning of the human form. Recalling 
also that Latin fingere has a whole constellation of meanings that center on 
notions of moulding (as from wax, clay, or molten metal), creating, producing, 
and arranging as applied to the most diverse matter, including works of art and 
literature, it becomes possible to assert the natural union of style, 
figuration, and personhood or humanity.  
    Anyone seeking to discover and describe the style of a 
work must attend explicitly to the matter of hierarchy, to the rank relations 
among the elements or features uncovered. As a direct corollary, the analysis 
implies that there is no such thing as "value-free" criticism, whatever the 
artistic or behavioral sphere––just as there is no value-free perception or 
conceptualization. In the sense that style has now come under the compass of 
figuration, it ceases to be merely and essentially a series of accoutrements 
assumes its rightful place as a central species of meaning through 
PERSONAL ADDENDUM: I've been a musician (clarinetist) 
since childhood. My parents were both classical musicians (piano, cello, 
composition). My late wife Marianne Shapiro––the most versatile and 
American Italianist of the twentieth century––was a medievalist and Renaissance 
scholar (and excellent pianist), from who I imbibed almost everything I know 
about literature and art. We collaborated on a number of books and articles 
ANECDOTE: I still remember, forty years later, how 
after my paper on "The Meaning of Meter" at an international conference of 
Russian verse theory, the late Norwegian scholar of Russian literature Geir 
Kjetsaa said to me (out of the blue) that I was "the only philosopher in the 
group." You can imagine how much this remark endeared him to 

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