Get involved in style – Books and Ideas

Review: Marielle Macé, styles. Criticism of our ways of lifeParis, Gallimard, “ NRF essay », 2016, 358 p., 22€.

Word style continues its irresistible conquest of speeches dedicated to the different fields of communication. Omnipresent in the mainstream media, from the fashion pages of magazines to sports reports, through the analysis of a politician’s image choices, he entered the French intellectual world of the essay, thanks to Marielle Macé, a few years later style as experience by Pierre Bergounioux (Paris, L’Olivier, 2013).

The advent of a stylistics of existence

Like any test, styles. Criticism of our ways of life opens with a first chapter that establishes the thesis, the strong idea to be defended, which the following four chapters will support with examples and demonstrations: Style issues are offered as tools to qualify life » and, by a very convenient adjective derivation, it is said that we would be living « a stylistic moment in culture (page 25). On page 12, Marielle Macé had already explained that what she intended was to apply Michel Foucault’s program of the 1970s and 1980s, which foresaw a real “ stylistics of existence an approach that, according to her, should allow us to judge ” no “ Life forms considered as engagement experiences. We soon understand: more than a thesis, what is a proposition of language chooses to rely on one of these words of uncertain referent and reluctant to any theorization to characterize and describe (this is what it is about: naming, identifying) practical life. . The idea drives the entire essay, clearly assumed in the conclusion as an objective to be achieved: increase our collective mastery of qualifying life forms (page 316). Style is the name given to those who want to talk about life, unfolding of a “type of existence” (Marielle Macé quoting Jean-Christophe Bailly, p. 102).

Marielle Macé, therefore, does not propose, and in no way intends to propose, The definition of style: she uses this label to describe life experiences, taking up G. Agamben’s hypothesis of a “ style ontology (p. 216). We measure the extent to which the word, reinforced by its Foucauldian derivative, is suggestive for it. This “ style this is the name given to the essentializing properties: modality, distinction and individuation – and Marielle Macé dedicates a chapter to each of these properties: such is the plan of her book that concludes with a chapter that summarizes some examples (style and anger, the documentary as style, etc.). The references are as numerous as they are syncretic and the analyzes are driven by an explicit and self-assured empathy. As for the modalities of life, we retain the pages dedicated to Barthes’ grief (p. 97-99) and to his illness, which he would have experienced as a real “ way of life “. The analysis of distinction as a social activity is entirely supported by the authority of Bourdieu, whose concept ofhabitus It’s perfect for the author’s purpose ; but we are also grateful to Marielle Macé in this chapter for honoring the brilliant insights of Balzac du Treatise on the Elegant Lifewho was in fact the first to observe the new stylistic regime what constitutes the distinctive conception of social life » (page 124) [1]. And among other practices of individuation, we find the example of dandies. It is about these practices of individuation as forms of life that Marielle Macé presents one of her most seductive ideas, but which also marks the limit of her approach to abstraction with the rhythm that, “ configurable and responsive ” It’s “ an exemplary dimension of what individuation is: not a given. but a task, a demanding practice of singularities, totally demanding and out of phase » (p. 258).

The style out of language

For Marielle Macé, style is everywhere in life, except in language, or at least that aspect does not stop her. It’s surprising, but that’s how it is. Marielle Macé does not have a word in her entire essay for the linguistic and linguistic or discursive dimension of style. Even the recurrent analyzes of Michaux or Ponge are not analyzes of language, but of mental representations and conceptualizations. Marielle Macé’s approach resolutely and absolutely excludes the linguistic tradition of analysis and description of style in language and as discourse theorized by Bally – this discipline that the University calls “ stylistics – to make style and its adjectival derivative a term for aesthetic or sociological analysis. This surprises and will not please everyone, but it must be admitted that “ stylistics “, agreeing to do without a style that was never defined to be content with a vague and multifaceted” speech analysis », or to affirm by tautology the nature « literary » of great authors, searched for it well.

Because, precisely, what the affirmation of style as a way of life to be evaluated, to be judged, allows Marielle Macé to do, is to place at the forefront of any analytical approach the question of value, this taboo of stylists, and we must be grateful to he. Indeed, “ the style vocabulary is a value vocabulary » (page 34) : « style is not limited to appearance ; presupposes the identification of dominant, adjectivable schemes that attract attention, bring details and open up a life of differences » ; briefly “ he creates a form-forcebumps in appearance, spacing dynamics, scores, “values” (p. 21, emphasis added). To the form-sense of Meschonnic that was misinterpreted, misunderstood and caricatured in the hermeneutics of an amateur detective (the sign as a clue to understanding), Marielle Macé opposes the form-force of what can only be understood as efficiency, failure, performance. , performance – thus remaining in a communicational regime, of course.

Marielle Macé says she doesn’t want to ensuring the triumph of the word “style” over other terms ” – She adds : “ I don’t believe that truths reside in words, but in sentences ». « This word, she writes, however, constitutes my entry point into a question that, from the outset, goes beyond and overflows it, the concern with ways of living, which today is essential on a large scale but which supports values ​​and struggles. (page 36). Marielle Macé is in perfect harmony with herself and we approve of her: with her thoughtlessness in the (linguistic) notion of expression, she did not write a book about style, which was not her intention, but a beautiful book of testimonies about the contemporary practices of experience, considered as ways of living.

To cite this article:

Éric Bordas, “Get involved with style”,

the life of ideas

, March 10, 2017. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:


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