Style is everywhere, but it evades criticism—especially now, when an age of interpretation asks us to look right through it. And yet style does so much tacit work, telling time, telling us apart, telling us who we are. What place does it have among our moment’s favored categories of form, history, meaning? What do we miss if we fail to look at it, to talk about it? Please join two of our most stylish literary critics as they deliberate these questions.
An experiment in criticism, Senses of Style, which crosses four hundred years and is written in four hundred brief, aphoristic remarks, is a book of theory steeped in examples. It maps style’s significance by exploring the work and parallel lives of two men: Sir Thomas Wyatt, a poet and diplomat in the court of Henry VIII, and his admirer Frank O’Hara, the midcentury American poet, curator, and boulevardier. Starting with the question of why Wyatt’s work spoke so powerfully to O’Hara across the centuries, Jeff Dolven ultimately illuminates what we talk about when we talk about style, whether it’s in the sixteenth-century, the twentieth, or the twenty-first. Constructed not to fix but to follow its subject, to explain its movements, to explore and incite the appetites that make readers write and writers read, Senses of Style treats the interactions of lives and works, places and peers, theory and practice, past and present.
Jeff Dolven is a scholar and poet. He is Professor of English at Princeton University and the author of Scenes of Instruction and of the volume of poems Speculative Music. He is also an editor-at-large at Cabinet Mgazine. Michael Wood is a celebrated literary and cultural critic and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton. He writes regularly for the NY Review of Books and the London Book Review. His many influential books include The Magician’s Doubts: Nabokov and the Risk of Fiction; The Road to Delphi: the Life and Afterlife.