... if you look at the text – spread out like a patient etherized on a table – that’s exactly what it’s like. There are few transitions and those there are – “for,” “nor,” “as for,” “so,” “and so” – seem just stuck in, providing a pause, not a marker of logical progression.
Obama doesn’t deposit us at a location he has in mind from the beginning; he carries us from meditative bead to meditative bead, and invites us to contemplate.
Of course, as something heard rather than viewed, the speech provides no spaces for contemplation. We have barely taken in a small rhetorical flourish like “All this we can do. All this we will do” before it disappears in the rear-view mirror.
But if we regard the text as an object rather than as a performance in time, it becomes possible (and rewarding) to do what the pundits are doing: linger over each alliteration, parse each emphasis, tease out each implication.
There is a technical term for this kind of writing – parataxis, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the placing of propositions or clauses one after the other without indicating . . . the relation of co-ordination or subordination between them.”
The opposite of parataxis is hypotaxis, the marking of relations between propositions and clause by connectives that point backward or forward. One kind of prose is additive – here’s this and now here’s that; the other asks the reader or hearer to hold in suspension the components of an argument that will not fully emerge until the final word.Parataxis is what hypertext is all about: individual ideas, with no connections between them except those that the reader chooses to make. For much of my forty years as a teacher of writing, I pushed my students to make connections.