Is the declined use of the of King James version of the Bible in the United States somehow hooked up with the downward swing in the quality of writing style? That is what Robert Alter suggests in his deft and detailed examination of prose in "Pen of Iron." He claims that the abandonment of the classic version of the Bible "has taken place more or less simultaneously with a general erosion of a sense of literary language..."
"Americans read less," he writes "and read with less comprehension; hours once devoted to books from childhood on are more likely to be spent in front of a television set or a computer screen; epistolary English, once a proving ground for style, has been widely displaced by the high-speed short-cut language of e-mail and text -messaging."
Mr. Alter locates the dribble off of style especially in the 1970's because "in departments of literary studies, the very term and concept of style--even of language itself--have been frequently displaced by what is usually referred to as discourse, a notion that chiefly derives from Michel Foucault." What's the problem? Discourse "flows through the circuits of society, manipulating individuals and groups in the interests of the powers that be, manifesting itself equally, or at least in related ways, in fiction and in poetry, in political speeches, government directives, manuals of mental and physical hygiene, advertising and much else."
You may agree or not, but Mr. Alter's book is clearly written and breathes new life into a long-neglected topic.
"Pen of Iron," American Prose and the King Jame Bible, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2010