I’m a nerd who reads wired.com nearly every day. I read it when I’m feeling low and tired and frustrated. I read it when I need inspiration. The other day, I read a book excerpt on Wired about dyslexia. Aside from knowing a few people over the years who suffered from this disability, I wasn’t too familiar with the brain processes that cause the condition. According to the authors of Dyslexic Advantage (the authors were interviewed in a separate article here), dyslexic individuals have brains differently wired from the average person.
This got me thinking about chiasmus and mirror ideas. I have them, you know, and I’m not alone. Did you know Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards, as if he was writing in a mirror? Some experts believe he was dyslexic. Okay, I don’t and can’t do that because I’m clearly not dyslexic. Nor am I an artist or a genius by any stretch of imagination. It wouldn’t even occur to me to write backwards, but when I began to study classic rhetoric, the device I fell in love with, that resonated with my thinking, was chiasmus. For more about chiastic expressions, see Dr. Mardy, whose newsletter I’ve been receiving via e-mail for about four years now.
I don’t need an excuse to think of chiasmus. Neither do you. If you read the Bible, an understanding of chiastic expressions is paramount to understanding ancient literary thinking patterns. With our western linear thought processes, many of us fail to understand what’s going on in certain biblical stories, such as the creation account in Genesis. As I was searching for an image for this post, I serendipitously discovered this site: Chiasmus Studies. While I’ve simply made it a hobby to find chiastic expressions and ideas in the Bible, the man who runs this site has made it an area of serious study. Check it out. It’s exciting stuff.
What is a chiasm? you ask (because you didn’t go to Dr. Mardy’s site). Simply put, a chiastic phrase is one in which the words of one phrase mirror the words in the next: By day the frolic, and the dance by night. Day mirrors night, and frolic mirrors dance. This line of poetry, by the way, is from Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes. Samuel Johnson is well-known for his chiasms. A chiastic passage would be shaped similarly, but the mirroring is of ideas and not just words: A-B-C-X-C-B-A. Each letter represents an idea, with the central or final idea occurring at X. The X is the climax, so to speak. The passage then works its way back to the beginning.
Why all of this
nonsensical rhetoric, and what does it have to do with dyslexics? I don’t have a clue. I’m guessing, though, that dyslexics have a unique ability to understand chiastic thought processes. And you know what else? I empathize with intelligent people who are trapped inside stupid people. I am was. I was the stupid kid, the one who fell apart at the sight of story problems and couldn’t process instructions and couldn’t cope with school in general. I couldn’t succeed, just like many dyslexic children. Yet as an adult, I intrinsically understand chiasmus. Go figure. This post has no other reason, except la razón de ser.
p.s. Next week, I’ll be out of town, but will cull some posts from my first blog, The Female Quixote.