PhD candidate William Fenton has published a piece about Professor Stuart Sherman’s aural approach to composition in his biweekly column for PCMag.com. An excerpt is below.
Teaching by Ear: How a Professor Uses an iPhone to Tune Up Composition
By William Fenton
Forget beauty. Stuart Sherman aspires to clarity. As a professor of English at Fordham University, Sherman uses literature classes like “Shakespeare’s History Plays” and “Comedies, Tragedies, Musicals, and Melodrama” to teach a different kind of writing process—one that caters to the ear rather than the eye.
Sherman argues that the ear is the “halfway house” for clarity because the ear is the more vulnerable sense. Whereas the eye can navigate time and space to disentangle complicated sentences, the ear lacks those affordances. If a sentence does not make explicitly clear how one word or phrase follows the last, the ear cannot travel back in space to straighten it out. If it returns to anything, it returns to memory, which depletes attention and creates a sort of cascading effect. “If the sentences are unclear, then the ear jettisons sentence after sentence,” Sherman explains. “All that the ear will know is that it’s bewildered.”
This is not to suggest that bewilderment does not have a place in writing. One of the most memorable lines of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno is also one of its most syntactically baroque: “Not Captain Delano, but Don Benito, the black, in leaping into the boat, had intended to stab” (238). But what works for nineteenth century fiction might not serve today’s cover letter, professional email, or PCMag column. In the genres in which we write daily, clarity is king, and Sherman argues that the best way to pursue clarity is to write for the ear. This week I take a closer look at his writing philosophy, teaching method, and the digital tools with which he promotes ear-training.
Read Fenton’s full article here.