The “content” of some particular piece of writing is roughly equally important to the “how” of that piece. “Content” is sometimes much more effectual than “how”–for example, on a menu. Sometimes “how” is considerably more effectual–for example, with ad copy.
“Content” and “how” are here and, I think, everywhere used provisionally, the proviso being that “content” and “how” are never completely separable.
The extent to which “content” and “how” are inextricable, or imply each other irresistibly, can usefully be thought of as the extent to which a piece of writing is artful.
NB I take “how writer writes” to mean the ‘style’ of a piece of writing, and not the way physically or psychologically or culturally the writer writes that piece.
I think that, like anything one wishes to appreciate, the appeal of a piece of writing comes from an interplay of “content” and “technique/style” that is balanced differently not only in every piece of literature, but also in the opinions of the reader. Every time we read a book, our interpretation and appreciation of it is affected by this balance. Matthew Arnold’s criteria for reveiwing books is useful here: 1) What is the writer trying to do? 2) How well does he succeed in doing it? 3) Is it worth doing?
Personally, I have a deeper love of intentions/ideas/meaning than I do of language, but only right now at the moment I am writing this. In a few minutes, my mind will likely change, and change back, and change again, and change back on this “issue.” Mostly it will depend on what I am reading and how I am reading it and why.
I am still not sure whether it is useful for anyone but a book reviewer or a writer to try to seperate these two things from each other, but the dissection can be pretty fun anyway. I tend to think the reading is best (for me) when I get too swept up to think about the balance of mechanics versus ideas or whatever. With a reading experience for me, it is the whole that comprises the art when it is recieved under optimum circumstances, not the value or balance of its components. Even the odor of the guy next to you on the airplane as you are reading is an ingredient that goes into the reader”s reception of the art.
The writer is the content. The content is the writing. The writing is the writer. Circular? Not really. More of a Zen knot; and — as we all know — a knot is nothing more than a line in conflict with itself, an example of artificial friction induced by intelligent design. Alexander’s greatest folly: to sever the knot is to sever the eternal line from beginning without end to the end without beginning.