Category Archives: rhetoric

If Life Were a Chiasm, Where Would It End?

I’m a nerd who reads 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.


Aphorisms Anonymous: It’s a One-Step Process

William Hogarth from his series Marriage a la Mode 1743-1745

It’s no secret that my husband and I have been examining ourselves deeply in order to understand our inner, core persons better. In doing so, it came to our attention that my husband is an aphorism addict. By the way, this is predicted by certain personality types–namely, the annoying ones. No, I didn’t mean that. But I do know a woman who used to rail on me for never divulging my innermost thoughts to her. So I decided to take the risk, and wouldn’t you know it–she took my ruminations, my joys, my sorrows, and answered them all with annoying platitudes.

Now, aphorisms are a little different than platitudes. Platitudes spring from a soul who’s decided she already has all the answers and, therefore, has no need for creative problem solving. Aphorisms spring from the lips of a man who loves to be clever and pithy in order to maintain the notion that everything’s all right with his world. Sometimes, the man in question creates his own aphorisms because the man I speak of is creative in his own right. For the purpose of our mutual quest for inner health, my husband decided he would eradicate all aphorisms from his conversations with others. I, of course, would be the receiving end of his prototype discussions that use no pithy expressions. Yes, I’m already aware that when two people have a conversation and one is the receiving end of the discussion, no conversation is actually occurring. But I’m a good wife (on Thursdays), and so I chose to be supportive regardless (because it happened to be Thursday).

Sample conversation:

Husband: Determine this diurnal course whom you will appreciate with your ardent servanthood.
Wife: Huh?
Husband: A homo sapien is inefficacious at obliging two authority figures.
Wife: By that you mean . . . ?
Husband: A commander is a merchant of expectation.
Wife: And you expect me to do what?
Husband: A mistress’s domain of vassalage is in her husband’s castle.
Wife: Yes, I’ve come to that conclusion, too.

As you can see, the one-step process for ridding aphorisms from daily communication is to carry a thesaurus with you wherever you go. In the last case, the husband was doubly clever at obscuring his use of two aphorisms in one statement. Nice use of your archives, Darling, as well as your thesaurus!* Well, I might have to say that these are truisms rather than aphorisms, or falsisms in regards to the last, but who am I to dispute with the sovereign of my fortress?

I think we learned a lot from this exercise. My husband and I are slowly but surely moving toward our directions of integration and health. May you also achieve inner wisdom today. And remember, a wise head makes a closed mouth. I feel a rash coming on. Are aphorisms contagious?

*Disclaimer: The use of Darling here is ambiguous because this conversation may or may not have ever occurred.