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?
Senses of Style essays an answer, stylishly. An experiment in criticism, crossing four hundred years and written in four hundred brief, aphoristic remarks, it 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. It is a book that will invigorate poets, critics, and inquisitive readers alike.