Literary stylistics and creativity

Authored by: Geoff Hall

The Routledge Handbook of Language and Creativity

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415839730
eBook ISBN: 9781315694566
Adobe ISBN: 9781317439967


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The study of creativity is arguably central to the discipline of stylistics. An important way in which to understand stylistics is as the study of a distinctive style in a work or an author, or a genre or a period. A distinct style is taken to create distinct significance (compare Wales, 2011: ‘Style’; ‘Stylistics’). Creativity, in turn, is generally understood now as valued and unexpected innovation, making new connections (for example Jones, 2012). Stylistics thus fundamentally begins from a textual study of what is new, different, or distinctive about language use in a text. The interest, however, is not purely linguistic, but functional, in the sense that linguistic choices are taken to represent meaningful choices. In more recent times therefore, as I shall show, stylistics has moved from a purely textual search for distinctiveness and innovation to a broader understanding of language use as discourse, with the result that notions such as ‘value’ and the expected or unexpected aspects of language use must necessarily involve study of the production, reception, and dissemination of texts in specific contexts without which, it is now felt, formal features cannot be fully described and understood. Who exactly notices or values these features, and why might that be? Beyond this, though, stylistics now ranges far beyond the study of classic mainstream literature: literary stylistics remains at the centre of much stylistic writing and research, and literature is prototypically understood (even when this is problematised) as ‘valued literature’ – texts valued, especially in modern times, for their innovatory properties. Thus literary stylistics can be claimed to be centrally concerned with the study of linguistic and discursive creativity in literary texts.

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