Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Official Style Gets Aesthetic

In today’s world, there is still a place for the Official Style, and “Cubism, Futurism, Anarchism: The 'Aestheticism' of the "Action d'art" Group, 1906-1920,” published in the Oxford Journal by the Oxford University Press in 1998, written by a Dr. Mark Antliff, is exactly that place. 

“Cubism, Futurism, Anarchism: The 'Aestheticism' of the "Action d'art" Group, 1906-1920” is 19 pages long, with 96 sidenotes supporting Antliff’s thesis.  Thick with jargon, references, citations, and obtuse prose, Antliff’s article is written in the Official Style.  Antliff separates himself into a more elite realm of writing and distances himself from the casual reader in carefully selecting his words and referencing names within the art community that hold little resonance for someone arbitrarily pulling up this article on JSTOR. 

A quick google search revealed that Antliff is now a professor at Duke University, having received his Ph.D. from Yale.  The Duke University website says that Antliff’s “research and teaching interests focus on art in Europe before 1945, with special attention to cultural politics in all its permutations, as well as the interrelation of art and philosophy.”  I’m betting that the article I dug up from the archives was part of a senior thesis, a grad project, or something of the sort.  Sifting through the google results on Antliff, I arrived at his ratemyprofessor page.

One of the reviews of Dr. Antliff on reads, “I had Antliff for modern art. His lectures are terribly boring and his tests cover ungodly amounts of information.”  In terms of prose style, Antliff’s 1998 article aligns fairly well with that student’s comment.  While sitting through an Antliff lecture sounds like it could put you to sleep, using a dense, slow prose style within his scholarly writing is permissible. 

A determinant of the use of Official Style within this article is the fact that Mark Antliff’s career teaching at Duke and his standing within the academic world is at stake with this article (or, more likely, his future career as a professor would stand on the shoulders of this article and others like it).  He can’t pour out whatever he feels on the subject, regardless of how much research he has to support what he’s saying.  There is a specific way to comport oneself within the academic world, and Antliff has followed those guidelines in crafting this article.   

His academic career aside, Dr. Antliff is writing for a very specific audience, and there is no need to broaden that audience; only people seriously interested in “Cubism, Futurism, Anarchism: The 'Aestheticism' of the "Action d'art” Group, 1906-1920” are going to show up to this party, so there’s no need to cater to other factions.  The Oxford Journal chose to publish his piece for that fact: Antliff’s article fills a niche within an academic activity system.  Antliff is writing for the art community (students, professors, freelance learners and the like), the political community, as well as anyone researching the specifics of  cubism, futurism, anarchism, and the "Action d'art" Group.  This piece of writing is not to instruct a layman; it is to inform a learned man.  There is a place for plain language, for raw noun-action sentences, but for Antliff, there is thick, gnarled prose, elevated language, the removal of the personal “I,” and references that will make or break the reader’s understanding of the 19 pages of dense, highly cited fact that Antliff is discoursing.    

Looking at the opening paragraph of Antliff’s article:
The question of how art and politics interrelate is a vexing one: this is particularly true when one considers various attempts in pre-World War I France to forge a rapprochement between the aesthetic and the political. Perhaps the most understudied group to develop such a synthesis were the anarcho-individualist artists and writers associated with the doctrine of 'Artistocracy', first propounded in 1906 by the anarcho-individualist Gerard de Lacaze-Duthier in his book L'Ideal Humain de I'Art. Joined by artists and critics, Lacaze-Duthier succeeded in founding a number of literary venues promoting the Artistocratic creed, the most significant of which was the journal L'Action d'art, founded in 1913. Although L'Action d'art appeared intermittently, ceasing publication after 1913 and only reappearing in 1919, the journal forged a link between anarchists and some of the most significant literary and artistic figures of the day, including Neo-Symbolists associated with Vers et prose (1905-14) such as Paul Fort and Guillaume Apollinaire; the Futurists Ugo Giannattasio and Gino Severini; the Cubist Albert Gleizes, and Atl (Gerardo Murillo), later the leader of the Mexican Muralist movement. The Artistocrats' adaptation of the theories of the philosopher Henri Bergson to their anarchist doctrine won them the support of Bergsonians within the Neo-Symbolist and Futurist milieux. Thus avant-garde aesthetics and aestheticized politics were conjoined under the banner of Artistocratie; this paper will examine the complex history behind that synthesis.
Word Count 238
Words per Sentence 34.0
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 14.1
Average Grade Level 18.6

Antliff opens his article, “The question of how art and politics interrelate is a vexing one...”  He could have entered the discussion immediately, showing his audience how it is “vexing,” but does not, instead opening with a dragging clarification of something that he has yet to explore.  Bypassing more common words and foregoing the definition of abstract terms, Antliff throws everything into the mix within the first 250 words of his article.  Every who’s-it of the art world is mentioned, terminology explodes into a Jargon Festival, and the reader is launched into a maelstrom of Official Style. 

Elevated Language: 

Gerard de Lacaze-Duthier
Paul Fort
Guillaume Apollinaire
Ugo Giannattasio
Gino Severini
Albert Gleizes
Atl (Gerardo Murillo)
Henri Bergson

In the way of the Official Style, Antliff removes the personal “I” from his piece to elevate it to an academic level--though does use “I” within the first sidenote of the piece.

Despite this being a personal thanks to those persons who helped him complete his thesis, and despite using “I,” this sidenote is no less formal than the content of his essay.  He did not “look into facts.”  No, “research was undertaken.”  He wouldn’t like to say thanks to the people at those libraries; he is “grateful to the staff of those institutions.”  Antliff loosens for the last sentence of this sidenote, writing “thanks” to Matt, Allan, and Patty--but doesn’t address them casually; he uses their first and last name, and if Allan Antliff shares any family ties with the author, Dr. Antliff makes no mention of it.  As well, they didn’t “chat” or “nitpick;” those persons listed gave “comments and suggestions.”  By washing his personal mark from this article, Antliff presents a sterile, academic piece of prose. 

This is necessary, though, as was discussed before.  The Official Style is present because the recipe for this article doesn’t call for a dash of Mark Antliff.  The activity systems that Antliff is working for are best served by the Official Style.  Artists looking for information on Cubism and politics aren’t looking for an opinion on “The 'Aestheticism' of the "Action d'art" Group,” and they aren’t looking for something stripped down to the who-kicked-whom of everything.  They are looking for an intelligent, objective, researched presentation on this topic.  Dr. Mark Antliff, with his Official Style and 96 sidenotes, accomplishes just that.  The world outside of his activity system can’t quite understand what he’s talking about, but that’s okay.  We don’t need to.

~Kali Brokaw

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