Belles-lettres style, or the style of imaginative literature may be called the richest register of communication: besides its own language means which are not used in any other sphere of communication, belles-lettres style makes ample use of other styles too, for in numerous works of literary art we find elements of scientific, official and other functional types of speech. Besides informative and persuasive functions, also found in other functional styles, the belles-lettres style has a unique task to impress the reader aesthetically. The form becomes meaningful and carries additional information as you must have seen from previous chapters. Boundless possibilities of expressing one's thoughts and feelings make the belles-lettres style a highly attractive field of research for a linguist.
Speaking of belles-lettres style most scholars almost automatically refer to it prose works, regarding poetry the domain of a special poetic style. Viewed diachronically this opinion does not seem controversial, for poems of previous centuries, indeed, adhered to a very specific vocabulary and its ordering. But poetry of the twentieth century does not show much difference from prose vocabulary, its subjects are no more limited to several specific "poetic" fields but widely cover practically all spheres of existence of contemporary man. So it is hardly relevant to speak of a separate poetic style in reference to contemporary literature.
Finishing this brief outline of functional styles observed in modern English, it is necessary to stress, again, two points. The first one concerns the dichotomy - written:: oral, which is not synonymous to the dichotomy literary:: colloquial, the former opposition meaning the form of presentation, the latter - the choice of language means. There are colloquial messages in the written form (such as personal letters, informal notes, diaries and journals) and vice versa: we have examples of literary discourses in the oral form (as in a recital, lecture, report, paper read at a conference etc.).
The second point deals with the flexibility of style boundaries: the borders within which a style presumably functions are not rigid and allow various degrees of overlapping and melting into each other. It is not accidental that rather often we speak of intermediate cases such as the popular scientific style which combines the features of scientific and belles-lettres styles,or the style of new journalism which is a combination of publicist, newspaper and belles-lettres styles etc.
Exercise I. Analyse the peculiarities of functional styles in the following examples:
1. Nothing could be more obvious, it seems to me, than that art should be moral and that the first business of criticism, at least some of the time, should be to judge works of literature (or painting or even music) on grounds of the production's moral worth. By "moral" I do not mean some such timid evasion as "not too blatantly immoral". It is not enough to say, with the support of mountains of documentation from sociologists, psychiatrists, and the New York City Police Department, that television is a bad influence when it actively encourages pouring gasoline on people and setting fire to them. On the contrary, television - or any other more or less artistic medium - is good (as opposed to pernicious or vacuous) only when it has a clear positive moral effect, presenting valid models for imitation, eternal verities worth keeping in mind, and a benevolent vision of the possible which can inspire and incite human beings towards virtue, towards life affirmation as opposed to destruction or indifference. This obviously does not mean that art should hold up cheap or cornball models of behaviour, though even those do more good in the short run than does, say, an attractive bad model like the quick-witted cynic so endlessly celebrated in light-hearted films about voluptuous women and international intrigue. In the long run, of course, cornball morality leads to rebellion and the loss of faith. (J.G.)
2. In tagmemics we make a crucial theoretical difference between the grammatical hierarchy and the referential one. In a normal instance of reporting a single event in time, the two are potentially isomorphic with coterminous borders. But when simultaneous, must'be sequenced in the report. In some cases, a chronological or logical sequence can in English be partially or completely changed in presentational order (e.g. told backwards); when this is done, the referential structure of the tale is unaffected, but the grammatical structure of the telling is radically altered. Grammatical order is necessarily linear (since words come out of the mouth one at a time), but referential order is at least potentially simultaneous.
Describing a static situation presents problems parallel to those of presenting an event involving change or movement. Both static and dynamic events are made linear in grammatical presentation even if the items or events are, referentially speaking, simultaneous in space or time (K.Pk.)
3. Techniques of comparison form a natural part of the literary critic's analytic and evaluative process: in discussing one work, critics frequently have in mind, and almost as frequently appeal to, works in the same or another language. Comparative literature systematically extends this latter tendency, aiming to enhance awareness of the qualities of one work by using the products of another linguistic culture as an illuminating context; or studying some broad topic or theme as it is realized ("transformed") in the literatures of different languages. It is worth insisting on comparative literature's kinship with criticism in general, for there is evidently a danger that its exponents may seek to argue an unnatural distinctiveness in their activities (this urge to establish a distinct identity is the source of many unfruitfully abstract justifications of comparative literature); and on the other hand a danger that its opponents may regard the discipline as nothing more than demonstration of "affinities" and "influences" among different literatures - an activity which is not critical at all, belonging rather to the categorizing spirit of literary history. (R.F.)
4. Caging men as a means of dealing with the problem of crime is a modern refinement of man's ancient and limitless inhumanity, as well as his vast capacity for self-delusion. Murderers and felons used to be hanged, beheaded, flogged, tortured, broken on the rack, blinded, ridden out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, or arrayed in the stocks. Nobody pretended that such penalties were anything other than punishment and revenge. Before nineteenth-century American developments, dungeons were mostly for the convenient custody of political prisoners, debtors, and those awaiting trial. American progress with many another gim "advance", gave the world the penitentiary.
In 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush read to a small gathering in the Philadelphia home of Benjamin Franklin a paper in which he said that the right way to treat offenders was to cause them to repent of their crimes. Ironically taken up by gentle Quakers, Rush's notion was that offenders should be locked alone in cells, day and night, so that in such awful solitude they would have nothing to do but to ponder their acts, repent, and reform. To this day, the American liberal - progressive - idea persists that there is some way to make people repent and reform. Psychiatry, if not solitude will provide perfectability.
Three years after Rush proposed it, a single-cellular penitentiary was established in the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia. By the 1830s, Pennsylvania had constructed two more state penitentiaries, that followed the Philadelphia reform idea. Meanwhile, in New York, where such reforms as the lock-step had been devised, the "Auburn system" evolved from the Pennsylvania program. It provided for individual cells and total silence, but added congregate employment in shops, fields, or quarries during a long, hard working day. Repressive and undeviating routine, unremitting labor, harsh subsistence conditions, and frequent floggings complemented the monastic silence; so did striped uniforms and the great wall around the already secure fortress. The auburn system became the model for American penitentiaries in most of the states, and the lofty notions of the Philadelphians soon were lost in the spirit expressed by Elam Lynds, the first warden of Sing Sing (built in 1825): "Reformation of the criminal could not possibly be effected until the spirit of the criminal was broken."
The nineteenth-century penitentiary produced more mental breakdowns, suicides, and deaths than repentance. "I believe," wrote Charles Dickens, after visiting such an institution, "that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers." Yet, the idea persisted that men could be reformed (now we say "rehabilitated") in such hellholes - a grotesque derivation from the idea that man is not only perfectable but rational enough to determine his behavior through self-interest.