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Stirring a long ‘brain-wave’ behind it of perhaps quite alien associations »: The Paradoxical Afterlife of Pater’s ‘Consummate’ Words

Abstract : For to the grave reader words too are grave; and the ornamental word, the figure, the accessory form or colour or reference, is rarely content to die to thought precisely at the right moment, but will inevitably linger awhile, stirring a long "brain-wave" behind it of perhaps quite alien association. (Pater, "Style", 1910, 18) In his essay "Style" of 1887, Pater exposes the function of his poetics by insisting on a sculptural metaphor that recurs in his writings: the adjective "grave" evokes a multifariousness of associations, and among them the idea of carving, sculpting, engraving or impressing. Carving the word amounts to elaborating the language that could best express thought indissolubly linked with style, content allied with form. Pater recurrently envisages writing as a carving process and sculpture as "a metaphor for literary style" 1. In her latest monograph on Pater, Østermark-Johansen has associated the process of carving the word to the relief or rilievo as it best expresses the idea of the unity between form and content. 2 The carefully wrought-out word is indeed relieved and protrudes from the sentence. Wavering between the linear and the fragmented, his writing is often remarked for the attention he gives to the carefully wrought-out unit-be it the page, the sentence, or the word. The unit is given much attention so as to provide maximum unity: "The one word for the one thing, the one thought, amid the multitude of words, terms, that might just do: the problem of style was there!-the unique word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, essay, or song, absolutely proper to the single mental presentation or vision within." (Pater 1910, 29) In the multitude of his words and terms, a number of them seem particularly notable for their poetical resonances and their semantic potential. This perhaps explains why they came to have lives of their own and to re-emerge in contemporary texts. For there is a "life" in Pater's words, to use the terms used by Hilary Edwards in her article on "the 'life' of Pater's 1 Østermark-Johansen, 10. For the metaphor of writing as carving in Pater, see her chapter on "Style and the Language of Sculpture" in her Walter Pater and the Language of Sculpture, 277-331. 2 "Pater is concerned with unity at several levels: with the unity of the mind, of the individual word-the Flaubertian mot juste-with the unity between form and content, and with the unity of composition. Through a figurative language derived from the art of sculpting […] Pater creates an image of his scholar-writer whose ideal is 'the sentence, born with the integrity of a single word, relieving the sort of sentence in which, if you look closely, you can see much contrivance, much adjustment, to bring a highly qualified matter into compass at one view." Østermark-Johansen 104; she quotes from Pater's "Style," Pater 1910, 23.
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Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada. Stirring a long ‘brain-wave’ behind it of perhaps quite alien associations »: The Paradoxical Afterlife of Pater’s ‘Consummate’ Words. Journal of Preraphaelite Studies, University of Lethbridge, 2014. ⟨hal-02093033⟩

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