Tuesday, January 30, 2007

X-timing Parataxis

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 exclusively, paratactic.

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 or ordering.
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.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 30, 2007 10:50 AM to Qualifying Exams

Are there other kinds of taxis you might turn to--or make up--as well? Hypertaxis (an excess of relations)? Diataxis (a web of relations)? Ataxis (without relations)? Or my personal favorite, pachytaxis (thick relations)?

Good luck Thursday; I'm sure you'll do great.

Posted by: Lance at January 31, 2007 12:58 PM

Yes, this is helpful. I hadn't worked through the other possible taxises, but it does make sense and expand the family of concepts.

Posted by: Derek at January 31, 2007 9:51 PM