Sunday, March 19, 2006

Nothing sure except death and taxis?

This all started with this post from 3Quarks, which I hope they don't mind me quoting more than is normal – I highlight a few things.

The basics:

Parataxis is a rhetorical and syntactic arrangement in which clauses are strung together in series, without subordination: We ran, we sang, and we told jokes.

Hypotaxis is the syntactic subordination of one clause to another: As we ran, we sang and told jokes.


a. The study of the rules whereby words or other elements of sentence structure are combined to form grammatical sentences.
b. A publication, such as a book, that presents such rules.
c. The pattern of formation of sentences or phrases in a language.
d. Such a pattern in a particular sentence or discourse.
2. Computer Science The rules governing the formation of statements in a programming language.
3.A systematic, orderly arrangement.

[French syntaxe, from Late Latin syntaxis, from Greek suntaxis, from suntassein, to put in order : sun-, syn- + tassein, tag-, to arrange.]

Sorry Syntaxis

Well, Well, Well, Well !

You learn something new every day.
Learn something new every day, you!
Something new you learn every day?
Every new day you learn something.


The story starts with a character, played by R. Kelly, who wakes up in a woman’s bedroom after a one-night stand and immediately has to hide in the closet as the husband arrives home unexpectedly. From there, the R. Kelly persona morphs into two or maybe three semi-distinct characters: the character in the story, the singer of the song, and the meta-narrator who is sometimes also to be found hanging out in other closets all around town. The story then immediately splits into several more complicated sub-plots, all of which end up being interconnected in various streams of adultery, deceit, sex, and, violence. So, the material is good (I would mention something here about the guy who comes out of the kitchen cabinet but you really need to experience that moment for yourself).
Alan Fishbone, who runs the Intensive Latin Program at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York and has often had occasion to think about how language works. He once remarked to me that there is nothing but syntax, only syntax exists. He was in an extreme mood, and the comment has the ring of exaggeration to which Fishbone occasionally succumbs ... The comment, however, stuck with me. He meant, basically, that semantics gets you nowhere. Meaning comes out of the arrangement of words, not out of the individual meanings of individual words. There’s a perfectly respectable school for this type of ‘meaning holism’ among philosophers of language, but it somehow seemed more impressive coming from someone who’d gotten there solely in long, dark nights’ labors with impenetrable sentences in Tacitus that suddenly revealed themselves as if in a magical flash. Syntax is like that, he said, like some weird kind of magic with language.
Pushing this a little bit further (indulge me for a moment), if it’s true that it all comes down to syntax, then you could also say that human thought can be divided into two basic categories, paratactic and hypotactic. They are the two most elemental ways of putting thought together. In paratactic arrangement, you just keep adding something more. The greatest ally to parataxis is the conjunction. Such and such happened and then such and such happened after that, and next was a little episode of this and that, and then it all came to a head with this particular series of events, and then after that a whole new thing started. That’s pretty much how parataxis works. Epic poetry tends to unfold in parataxis and no one did it more paratactically than Homer. It just keeps coming, line after line, thought after thought, event after event. There’s barely a subordinate clause to be found in the Iliad or the Odyssey. Parataxis works, in a sense, in real time. It unfolds as experience unfolds, in a narrative line. It’s thick with the relentless forward push of lived temporality.

And then he ate the apple...

John Mullan analyses Underworld by Don DeLillo. Week two: parataxis

3QD continues:

Hypotactic arrangement, by contrast, nestles thoughts within thoughts, steps to the side, qualifies, alters, and modifies. It has the structure of reflection and argument rather than that of lived experience. It is thus no accident that when one of the earliest Greek philosophers, Parmenides, wanted to appropriate the dactylic hexameter of epic verse for his complicated ontological argument about the necessary logical structure of all that is, he dropped the parataxis. Parmenides’ poem, despite its first-glance resemblance to epic poetry, is a mess of complicated hypotaxis. The thing is, you can’t really choose one over the other; parataxis or hypotaxis. It doesn’t make any sense. That would be like saying that Homer is better than Parmenides or vice versa. They’re both great, they’re both doing amazing things. But when you start analyzing it you realize that they’re doing completely different things. Parmenides is messing around with the very structure of language, going inside of it in order to pull out inferences about the logical structure of Being. Crazy, maybe, but somebody had to see where that would go. Homer is riding on a sea of language, completely comfortable in it, surrounded by it, happily willfully drowning inside it. Homer doesn’t even say things like “I ask the Muse to help me sing such and such” like some of the later epic poets do. He just says “Muse, sing,” as if the difference between Homer, the Muse, and language itself is swallowed up in the great gush of the telling. By the end of the first few lines of the Iliad you are so much inside the narrative that there is no time to sort anything out. You just have to keep moving forward, adding more and more layers of experience. I always thought that Matthew Arnold got it right when he advised those attempting to translate Homer that, "he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas."

Now, I'm not saying that R. Kelly is Homer. Trapped in the Closet will not be studied and revered by armies of scholars three thousand years from now (though you never know). But I am trying to say something about the power of parataxis. In that, at least, Homer and R. Kelly share something. There's an amazing feature to the Trapped in the Closet DVD where R. Kelly gives his commentary to the episodes as he's watching them. This should be the hypotactic moment where Kelly busts open the immediacy of the narrative and analyzes it, breaks it down, fills it with parenthesis and reflection, etc. But he can't do it. He doesn't think that way. So, basically, he simply ends up telling you the exact same story he is singing on the screen. He's paratactic all the way, baby. It's his only register. He has nothing to say about the story whatsoever except to reiterate it. That is goddamn amazing to me. It's like he's a traveling Rhetor from the sixth century BC to whom the very idea of 'commentary' as we generally think of it is completely foreign. When I watched that DVD commentary I was truly sold. People like R. Kelly don't get produced all that often. I'm a changed man.


Parataxis: {1} What is parataxis? {2} Wiki : parataxis {3} {4}

Two examples in the wiki, one from The Pickwick Papers, the other from Beckett.

Richard Lanham

"placing side by side," or "clauses or phrases [or lexias] arranged independently (a coordinate, rather than a subordinate, construction), sometimes without... the customary connectives"
When one subject phrase refers back to another one, without any grammatical indication that it does so. Similar to apposition. Example: "The lamb of God, the saviour, died."
In the above sentence, it is clear by their position in the sentence that "the lamb of God," and 'the saviour" refer to the same person.

Parataxis vs. Hypotaxis


The Latin terms coordination and subordination are calques on the Greek terms parataxis and hypotaxis.

Syntax {1} {2}

Juxtaposing paratactic and syntactic

Hypotaxis & parataxis: Image-based and narrative-based poetry

Ezra Pound:

She passed and left no quiver in the veins, who now
Moving among the trees, and clinging in the air she severed,
Fanning the grass she walked on then, endures:
Grey olive leaves beneath a rain-cold sky.

Poetry, parataxis, syntaxis

essay : From the Pens of “Leaping” Poets: Parataxis as a “Leap” Between Robert Bly and Wallace Stevens

Patricia Rae, in her essay “Bloody Battle-Flags and Cloudy Days: The Experience of Metaphor in Pound and Stevens,” introduces parataxis, the “method of ‘presenting’ materials, side-by-side, without commenting definitively on their relation to one another,” as a foundational element in the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Rae quotes Stevens in saying that parataxis offers an “ambiguity that is so favorable to the poetic mind.” The poet Robert Bly is likewise interested in ambiguous associations in poetry and makes this known in his book, Leaping Poetry. He develops the idea of “leaping,” a quick and imaginative form of association that “increases the excitement of the poetry” (Leaping Poetry 4, hereafter LP). The idea in this essay is that Rae’s notion of parataxis in Stevens’ poetry is similar to, if not the same as, Bly’s notion of “leaping.” The difference between the two theories is one of perspective; it is the difference between writing about poetry as a poet and writing about poetry as a critic.

Armdeep Singh blogs Notes on Parataxis


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