I first thought I would call this entry "Two-timing Parataxis" so I could get
at the different relationships parataxis enjoys–simultaneously!–with
syntaxis, on the one hand (cheek?), and hypotaxis, on the other.
But as I try to get a better handle on parataxis in anticipation of Thursday’s
defense, I’m starting to think parataxis is more than two-timing. Patsy Cline: "Your
cheating heart will make you weep." Heh, weep. Only I’m the one in
a fix because of parataxis’s scandal and infidelity.
Thus far, I’m finding a couple of more or less common distinctions, one
grammatical, in which parataxis is positioned as a dance partner with
syntaxis, and one rhetorical, in which parataxis is paired with
hypotaxis. The tabloids will be all over this.
My most significant exam-writing error (more a matter of confusion or partial
understanding than of unrecoverable slip-up) was to set out from an idea of
hypotaxis and parataxis (and syntaxis) fused together in this line
from Fuller’s Media Ecologies:
"Parataxis (a sequence of this and that, ‘ands’) always involves a
virtuality that is hypotactic (concepts and things, nested, meshed, and
writhing). It puts into play a virtual syntax" (15).
From there, I keyed on a distinction between parataxis and syntaxis,
arguing, basically, that tagging practices can be considered as a distributed
aesthetics, that wrapping/inscribing new media objects in tags resonates with
database logics more than with narrative (we’re not exactly storying the new
media objects when wrapping them with word-length semantic tags; I reffed
Manovich, Lyotard), and that metadata, because it suspends (as if in crisis?) in
a state of always-available multiple pathways is effectively, though perhaps not
The etymology is relevant; it’s primarily what I used to justify the series
of arguments I worked through related to distributed aesthetics, taxonomy,
folksonomy, net art, on-sendings, tags as wrappers, the life cycle of tags, and
so on. Here:
parataxis: Gr. to place side by side. Para-beside; taxis-arrangement
syntaxis: Gr. to arrange in a sequence. Syn-with or together;
taxis-arrangement or ordering.
hypotaxis: Gr. to arrange under (hierarchically). Hupo-under
or subordinate; taxis-arrangement or ordering.
I could and probably should go much deeper with this. It wasn’t so much
a case for exclusivity (might they be complements rather than opposites?) as for
distinction. What makes authoring tags (tags as micro-writing; tags as
method) distinct from writing sentences? However we generate an answer, I think
it must take into account this cluster of concepts. While a case could be
made for database logic as hypotactic, so too must we take into account that the
unordered list be understood paratactically, as is the case for Fuller in his
emphasis on a methodology of lists, the detonation of associations ("a cascade
of parasites"), and his child-like imperative to follow multiple paths at
once (a hyper- poly- hodos).
I have more work to do if I end up revising the take-home essay I wrote for
minor exam two. I need to reconsider whether the preference for parataxis is the
best way to think about tagging practices, specifically, and metadata more
generally. This certainty isn’t shocking: there will be more reading, more
research. And it very well might come around to whether or not notions of
parataxis, syntaxis, and hypotaxis, in addition to taking root in
well-established traditions of rhetoric and grammar, must also be updated in
consideration of writing new media.
The risk here, I suppose, is that a reappraisal of parataxis could be taken
as a threat to composition’s investment in sentences, in syntax, and,
ultimately, in discourse (a term which, as some have explained it, relies on
syntaxis; without syntaxis, no discourse?). I’ve been searching for
more recent, more disciplinarily recognizable references to syntaxis,
parataxis, and hypotaxis, and although I haven’t had time to follow
up with everything on the list, I did find this in a CCC from 1991:
"The shifting, the disconnection or parataxis, the "rustle," as Barthes
calls it, of language–these are perceived by many in composition as threats
to the very control over language that writing instruction would have itself
confer" (294). James Seitz, "Composition’s Misunderstanding of Metaphor,"
CCC, 42.3, 1991.
I’m intrigued by Seitz’s suggestion that parataxis is a threat; this
folds reasonably well into conversations about technology, new media, and the
production of anxiety. I didn’t take that path in the essay I wrote back in
December, but it might be something to set aside for later and, as with all of
this, at the very least something to keep afloat in my grey matter at least
through Thursday’s goal-line stand on the matter of parataxis and tagging.