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Thread: The Style vs Substance Problem in Literature

  1. #106
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    Wicked, you are confusing "substance" with "content" here. They are not the same thing.

  2. #107
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Isn't literature written? Aren't written words visual images, not sounds? (I'm not sure this is relevant to the style vs. substance discussion, but it seems to call YesNo's theory into question.)
    A JCamillo mentioned, the written words aren't images of the objects they represent but a visual way to code the sound of the words. To get back to the substance or meaning one goes back through sound.

    It seemed to me relevant at the time I brought it up, because I suspected the image metaphor was de-valuing something I find to be crucial about words: they point to something else, that is, the image (and music) metaphors de-value the substance or meaning of the words emphasizing only style. An image does not need to have meaning. It need not point to anything beyond itself.

    However, that is likely a different style vs substance concern than the OP had in mind which I think was more in line with how to write better: should one emphasize style or substance in one's writing?

    When you mentioned Dickinson's poem about knowing where Heaven was as if the chart were given, I assume, since you have called yourself an atheist, that you don't believe in the content (substance) of her poem, but you are still accepting the poem for its style which is what counts for you rather than the actual content. I may have misunderstood your position, but I see a disconnect here. By contrast, as a panentheist, suppose Dickinson's content were atheistic, I would then reject the poem no matter how well I liked the style. From my point of view, style and content are different and content takes priority.
    Last edited by YesNo; 05-05-2015 at 01:15 PM.

  3. #108
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    No, no. I accept the content of the Comedy, despite not believing on it at all (I mean most of the religious medieval thing). This is a bit of how substance & style work together: Suspension of Disbielief, The better the poet or writer is with his style, more he will make your experience with the substance (you never get all of it) more true. You engage more.

  4. #109
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Again, be more specific about Turing. Isnt Turing test accused of failing to answer to aesthetical emotions? In this case wouldnt that be rather than no style or substance, but poor style and substance?

    Anyways, substance is neither meaning or understanding (or only them). In Art, understanding is not primary, in the lack of a better word, enchantment is what first matters. The substance may be ephemeral, you know the stuff Ariel is made off.
    The Turing test is supposedly a way to tell if the machine has the same consciousness or understanding that we have. If enough people are fooled and think they are talking to a human being, then the machine passes the test based on its behavior which is usually all we have to go on when we want to know if a cat or insect or anything else is in any way conscious or not.

    However, in the case of a machine, we know how it works. There is an algorithm backing up its behavior that fools us. Because of that it can't pass what could be called the Searle test: if a human being followed the algorithm the machine followed to communicate in a language the human did not know, would the human know what he actually wrote in that foreign language? Of course, the human would not know that after just following the algorithm. And so there is no need to assume the machine does either.

    With art, I agree, much of it is style. It does not point beyond itself.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    That is not lack of substance, it is false "substance". By the way, that a bunch of idiots let themselves be fooled by falacies is not about style without substance. It is style hiding substance. That is why some poeple can spot lies.
    I agree that it is about style hiding substance, or in this case, the true state of things. There is an imaginary substance behind lies. It just doesn't happen to be true.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    About the semiotics: because a written word is sign and by definitiion a sign is not the thing it represents. That simple. It is neither sound or image. Anyways, that would be irrelevant for the discussion, you do not use semiotics for what a poem means. If it suggeests imagens or music, it is like a painting suggesting movement, light, dimensions. Part of the Art that is artificial.
    I think I agree here also. The sign points to something else. It is not the thing it represents.

    However, why do we think today that a poem represents an image or even music? I find the metaphors suspicious. It seems to me a poem more likely represents a thought which need not have anything to do with an image or music. For example, take the sentences written in this post. What images come to mind? What music?

  5. #110
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    No, no. I accept the content of the Comedy, despite not believing on it at all (I mean most of the religious medieval thing). This is a bit of how substance & style work together: Suspension of Disbielief, The better the poet or writer is with his style, more he will make your experience with the substance (you never get all of it) more true. You engage more.
    I suppose I would as well. It all depends on how much the content is pushed in my face as something I must accept. Consider the movie Melancholia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melancholia_(2011_film)). This was well made. It had good style. I disagreed with the message. How should I approach the movie?

  6. #111
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    The Turing test is supposedly a way to tell if the machine has the same consciousness or understanding that we have. If enough people are fooled and think they are talking to a human being, then the machine passes the test based on its behavior which is usually all we have to go on when we want to know if a cat or insect or anything else is in any way conscious or not.
    I think you misunderstand me, I know what is a turing test. But let's analyse the specific of a test, because the turing test is in the end just a way to produce a text. Does it really have "style" beyond correct grammatical structure for example?

    Ince, or in this case, the true state of things. There is an imaginary substance behind lies. It just doesn't happen to be true.
    The substance does not need to be even related to the topic. Let me give you an imaginary example: someone debates here, long words, always claimming to have explained all. Rude attacking the person, but avoids the topic completely. Obviously, about the topic no substance, but you get a lot of substance from this harsh, over the top use of language. It does not tell you what you want, but it is telling something.

    I think I agree here also. The sign points to something else. It is not the thing it represents.

    However, why do we think today that a poem represents an image or even music? I find the metaphors suspicious. It seems to me a poem more likely represents a thought which need not have anything to do with an image or music. For example, take the sentences written in this post. What images come to mind? What music?
    That is when you get where semiotics will implode, because in france they think in a way, in united states another. Some defend a word does not even produce a meaning by itself, depending upon a verbal construction. Some will claim there is 3,5, phases of interpretation. Now, poems produce the artificial music not by the words itself, but by the use of metric, rhytim, etc. which they heritade from music itself. It is not exactly a semiotic example, but linguistic, as you are talking about phonems. Semiotics will only talk about signs. So, there is more than one process occuring when you read a poem. (or it should if you know the language of the poem).

    I suppose I would as well. It all depends on how much the content is pushed in my face as something I must accept. Consider the movie Melancholia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melancholia_(2011_film)). This was well made. It had good style. I disagreed with the message. How should I approach the movie?
    After Antichrist, you should approach it with a long poking stick. Being well made is technical, you are talking about the form. Style is more subtle and the style I found normal, cliche, not inovative. If you look beyond the cinematography (which i suspect where the "good" style is), the directing is feeble, the acting dull and the script empty. More elements of style as Cinema is a multiple art. Style will not save bad substance by the way and good substance will be ruined by bad style. They are not the same, but integrated. Most of flaws in good artworks is probally the lack of balance between both - think of flawed good books: Dracula who loses the moody of the book, once the gothic style goes to a urban setting, words because excessive, etc.

  7. #112
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    I think you misunderstand me, I know what is a turing test. But let's analyse the specific of a test, because the turing test is in the end just a way to produce a text. Does it really have "style" beyond correct grammatical structure for example?
    It may not even have correct grammatical structure, perhaps as much as a Google translated text. Perhaps what we need to do is define "style" and "substance". I would say that the text itself is at least part of its style. If the text exists at all, there is some style there.


    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    The substance does not need to be even related to the topic. Let me give you an imaginary example: someone debates here, long words, always claimming to have explained all. Rude attacking the person, but avoids the topic completely. Obviously, about the topic no substance, but you get a lot of substance from this harsh, over the top use of language. It does not tell you what you want, but it is telling something.
    Yes, there is "substance" in that style, but does that mean that style and substance are the same thing?

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    That is when you get where semiotics will implode, because in france they think in a way, in united states another. Some defend a word does not even produce a meaning by itself, depending upon a verbal construction. Some will claim there is 3,5, phases of interpretation. Now, poems produce the artificial music not by the words itself, but by the use of metric, rhytim, etc. which they heritade from music itself. It is not exactly a semiotic example, but linguistic, as you are talking about phonems. Semiotics will only talk about signs. So, there is more than one process occuring when you read a poem. (or it should if you know the language of the poem).
    I don't think the word produces the meaning by itself. Meaning would need a community of speakers who understand the word where each of them produces similar meanings. My ulterior motive here is to claim that the consciousness needed to use words is not reducible to the words themselves.

    I can see how the metrical aspect of some poetry can link this to music, but not all language is metrical. I can also see how some verbal descriptions can allow listeners to get a visual idea of something, but I don't think language is mainly used to provide a description of objects.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    After Antichrist, you should approach it with a long poking stick. Being well made is technical, you are talking about the form. Style is more subtle and the style I found normal, cliche, not inovative. If you look beyond the cinematography (which i suspect where the "good" style is), the directing is feeble, the acting dull and the script empty. More elements of style as Cinema is a multiple art. Style will not save bad substance by the way and good substance will be ruined by bad style. They are not the same, but integrated. Most of flaws in good artworks is probally the lack of balance between both - think of flawed good books: Dracula who loses the moody of the book, once the gothic style goes to a urban setting, words because excessive, etc.
    I agree that style will not save bad substance and good substance can be ruined by bad style. He did have a nice last scene with the earth being swallowed up by Melancholia.

  8. #113
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    It may not even have correct grammatical structure, perhaps as much as a Google translated text. Perhaps what we need to do is define "style" and "substance". I would say that the text itself is at least part of its style. If the text exists at all, there is some style there.
    Style is a mark of the "artist" past experiences at that moment. It is a bit like DNA. I suspect for example, google translation style is so poor that we can see they basically inherite all from the previous text.

    Yes, there is "substance" in that style, but does that mean that style and substance are the same thing?
    No, they are things that mingle, work together. But different things.

    I don't think the word produces the meaning by itself. Meaning would need a community of speakers who understand the word where each of them produces similar meanings. My ulterior motive here is to claim that the consciousness needed to use words is not reducible to the words themselves.
    That is rather complicated. Sometimes it seems that the word do carry a context, sometimes it seems it is very basic. It is something all semioticism in the world cann't reach upon an agreement.

    I can see how the metrical aspect of some poetry can link this to music, but not all language is metrical. I can also see how some verbal descriptions can allow listeners to get a visual idea of something, but I don't think language is mainly used to provide a description of objects.
    Yes, not all. Poetic language (and may be in prose) is metrical. Typical prose language try to emulate the orality too, but a casual/matter of fact orality, which rythim is not musical and often use punctuation to achive this effect. And of course, many verbal construction do not produce image, like abstract ideas.

    I agree that style will not save bad substance and good substance can be ruined by bad style. He did have a nice last scene with the earth being swallowed up by Melancholia.
    Well, yeah. There is fragments because he domains well the technique of his trade, but he found no inspiration/combination/theme that worked as well as his Dogville/Manderlay.

  9. #114
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    That is rather complicated. Sometimes it seems that the word do carry a context, sometimes it seems it is very basic. It is something all semioticism in the world cann't reach upon an agreement.
    I am only vaguely aware of some of these positions. My ulterior motive is to neither eliminate consciousness nor reduce it to something that is supposedly unconscious.

    Thoughts and words are both "about" something else. Sound is a convenient way to transmit a thought through space using words from one thinker to another. Words need to contain only enough information to allow the speakers to do the understanding with reasonable accuracy. Words fail when the speakers are not using the same language or when deception is involved.

    This does appear to be far from the style vs substance issue, but it might be linked back by thinking of style as the words or thoughts themselves and substance as what the words or thoughts are about.

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