Oratorical Style, Prophetic Style, and Romantic Style
In this video I’m going to develop the model of a writing style that I introduced in the previous video, by looking at three examples.
I’ll start with an overview of the sorts of issues that define a conceptual stance, and then illustrate the model by looking at oratorical styles, prophetic styles, and romantic styles.
In the next video I’ll look at three other writing styles that are much more relevant to modern academic writing, but I think it’s important to see a range of styles to properly appreciate why there’s no such thing as a single, correct writing style.
Our first example is “oratorical style”.
This is a style of writing associated with speeches given to an assembly, intended to persuade the group to accept a course of action on a particular problem.
Greek democracy relied heavily on this mode of public governance, and the rhetorical forms associated with successful oratory were well-studied by the Greeks and the Romans.
Political speeches throughout history have relied on oratorical methods.
An interesting feature of speech in this mode is that, because the speaker is trying to mold the audience into one body with one voice and one governing view, the style of speech often has features you associate with music. The speaker will use rhythm and repetition in a way that invites participation and agreement from the audience.
This isn’t a form that is well suited to complex arguments; the style is more successful when it appeals to common truths and public virtues.
This is a simple example, not terribly relevant to academic writing, but you can see how the context of discourse is what dictates the criteria for success or failure.
If a senator in the Greek assembly were to deliver a speech written like an academic term paper it would fail as a piece of oratorical writing, no matter how good it might be as a piece of academic writing.
Let’s look at another older form, writing in the “prophetic” tradition, or what is sometimes called the “oracular” tradition.
Here the model scene conceives the writer as a prophet or oracle who comes to deliver a message to the community. The prophet sees him or herself as a medium, a conduit, conveying a message whose authority comes from some other source.
The writer and the audience are not equals; the writer has special access to a source of wisdom and truth that the audience does not.
Old Testament speeches are the classic source for this form, but it’s also reflected in almost any kind of writing where the author claims have have special access to an authority.
Appeals to tradition or custom or common sense, or the wisdom of our forefathers, can have this character — the authority doesn’t have to have a divine source.
Fashion writers can borrow from this mode, for example, when they claim to know what color or styles will be popular next fall.
Here’s another writing style is sometimes called “romantic”.
In this tradition the focus is on communicating subjective experience. There isn’t a firm distinction between thoughts and feelings and sensations, or between the subject and their experiences.
Writing is viewed as an act of creation that both comes from the self and reveals the self.
On the question of knowledge and truth, on this view, the only things that can be known are first-person experiences.
In this tradition, truth cannot be conceived analytically or put into language without a loss of definition, because truth is fundamentally something that can only be known through experience.
Romantic writing is obviously very far from the conceptual stance we would associate with academic writing, where truth is viewed as objective and accessible to anyone, in principle.
Each of these styles of writing is defined by a model scene where the writer situates him or herself in relation to the text and the audience.
hen you specify the communication goals defined by the context, the characteristics of the writer, the characteristics of the audience, their relationships to each other and their relationship to the text, then you’ve defined the ground rules that determine what would count as successful communication.
Oratorical style, prophetic style and romantic style are very different from one another, but you can still distinguish good and bad writing within each tradition.
The same goes for the writing styles we’ll be looking at the in the next video, which are, as we’ll see, much more relevant to academic writing.