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IlanaSimons
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Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

[ Edited ]

A man kissed a girl. The next day he went on a diet.

The above is an example of parataxis. Parataxis is a grammatical technique that places one naked fact next to another. The author doesn't waste words explaining the cause and effect between the two events. (Parataxis means there are no conjunctions like "because" or "therefore"; there's just a gap.) So, the reader sits with silence. She has to figure out what the author means: What logic links the first image to the second?

A reader can usually figure it out. After all, readers have psychological skills. Everyone knows a bit about how motivation works. A guy kisses a girl. (So of course he worries about how attractive he is.) And so, he goes on a diet.

Parataxis is lovely, I think, because it shows that there's trust between people speaking to each other. A speaker lays out facts without an overly directive "why." The listener searches through her life experiences--and she just gets it. One person ships out a sign; another person reads it; and they meet at the same spot without naming it.

I can't overstate my love of In Treatment, the HBO series which just started its second season last night. The show is masterful in terms of silence--of implied ideas, of explanations left out of the text. It's so logical in its silence that it can make anyone feel like an expert psychologist.

The series features a therapist, Paul. Each episode shows us one therapy session he has with a patient. From session to session, we gradually come to understand the motivations powering Paul and the people he treats.

HBO, itself, stages a meaningful dance-move of parataxis insofar as it screens two episodes back-to-back each time it airs the show. In one episode, we see Paul with one patient. Then we get a little HBO music and a short interlude (I love this network which has no commercials and makes the timing between episodes an art). The next episode presents Paul with his next patient.

It goes without saying that one therapy session influences how Paul acts in the one that follows. And there's no explicit explanation for how and why. In other words, to understand the show, we need to be Paul's thoughtful therapist. We have to guess at his motivations--or theorize about how some ego blow or compliment in one session shapes what he says to his next patient.

Last night was a great example of HBO parataxis. The first episode featured Paul in a lawyer's office (that was a break from the norm; usually each episode happens in his own therapy office). It turns out that Paul's being sued by the father of one of his former patients.

His former patient was a fighter pilot who--through a few sessions with Paul--had begun to lower his defenses and name his vulnerabilities. But the pilot, who was only successful in the Air Force because of his strength, didn't enjoy feeling vulnerable. So he cut it off with Paul and returned to flying planes. Soon after, he crashed. In last night's episode, the patient's dad insisted that Paul was responsible for the patient's emergent weaknesses. Paul shouldn't have tried to unlace this man's most useful defenses...or at least he shouldn't have let him fly again after a debilitating self-exploration. Paul, as therapist, had no sense of what he destroyed.

Then the episode ends. We hear some music and slip into the next episode. Here, Paul's settling into his chair to greet a new patient. She's in her 20s, a highly independent student at Pratt; and she tells him, in her flip, I-have-conquered-demons tone, that she has cancer. She's been considering taking the route of homeopathic care, she says. Paul listens like a dutifully open-minded shrink, but then moves forward in his seat and insists she's running away from life. You can't treat cancer with acupuncture, he says: She must seek the help of Western medicine.

So, from one episode to the next, we've essentially read a narrative about Paul. In one episode, he was blamed for being irresponsible. In the next episode, he compensates. A shrink usually doesn't give such ardent advice to a patient. But after his confidence has been dealt a blow, he needs to compensate: Don't die, he begs the twentysomething girl from Pratt.

I'm thinking that this is how all great narrative works--someone receives a blow, there's silence, and then there's parataxis. The second move reveals the secrets about how the first blow felt to the character in action.

No one needs to fully, linguistically explain human pain and rebound: We spot it when we see it.

This is the law behind Shakespearean tragedy, too: In Shakespeare's plays, someone has a grand, heroic drive. He runs with it ardently, and that character trait, or drive, propels him to success. And then, as quickly, and with as little explanation, he suffers some awful fate. Without wordy explanation from Shakespeare, we simply spot this paradox as the knot of human life. The same characteristics that drive a guy to greatness bring him down.

Good narrative is a psychologically-minded connect-the-dots--that game we played as kids. No one tells anyone which dot to connect to which, but our sense of life as we've known it so far helps us intuit where a dot directs us. At the end, after making all the connections, we've got a recognizable character in front of us.

Parataxis is the grammar of psychologists: You never get a full explanation, but you can intuit the human motivation at hand.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 04-06-2009 08:34 PM



Ilana
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TiggerBear
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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

Question

 

Is that a New York kinda thing? I'd find a conversation like that rude. And I would spend the time thinking the fellow was mental.

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

Which conversation, Tiggerbear?

 


TiggerBear wrote:

Question

 

Is that a New York kinda thing? I'd find a conversation like that rude. And I would spend the time thinking the fellow was mental.


 




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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis


IlanaSimons wrote:

Which conversation, Tiggerbear?

 


TiggerBear wrote:

Question

 

Is that a New York kinda thing? I'd find a conversation like that rude. And I would spend the time thinking the fellow was mental.


 


A man kissed a girl. The next day he went on a diet.

The above is an example of parataxis. Parataxis is a grammatical technique that places one naked fact next to another. The author doesn't waste words explaining the cause and effect between the two events. (Parataxis means there are no conjunctions like "because" or "therefore"; there's just a gap.) So, the reader sits with silence. She has to figure out what the author means: What logic links the first image to the second?

A reader can usually figure it out. After all, readers have psychological skills. Everyone knows a bit about how motivation works. A guy kisses a girl. (So of course he worries about how attractive he is.) And so, he goes on a diet.

Parataxis is lovely, I think, because it shows that there's trust between people speaking to each other. A speaker lays out facts without an overly directive "why." The listener searches through her life experiences--and she just gets it. One person ships out a sign; another person reads it; and they meet at the same spot without naming it.
This one, from the top, that type....
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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

The top line of the piece was just an example of parataxis.  I was trying to explain what parataxis is: It's just a grammatical move in which you place one sentence next to another without a coordinating conjunction.

 

 


TiggerBear wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:

Which conversation, Tiggerbear?


This one, from the top, that type....

 




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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis


TiggerBear wrote:

Question

 

Is that a New York kinda thing? I'd find a conversation like that rude. And I would spend the time thinking the fellow was mental.


TiggerBear, parataxis is a literary technique; Ilana was simply providing an example of that technique, not an example of a conversation.  But, as your post clearly demonstrates, almost all forms of communication include some paratactic elements; that is, communication almost always requires the reader or listener to fill in some blanks, where the writer or speaker has, intentionally or otherwise, failed to draw a direct line between two proximate thoughts. 

 

Irony is another literary technique.  A good example would be juxtaposing the sentences "Is that a New York kinda thing?" and "I'd find a conversation like that rude."

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis


Lurker wrote:

TiggerBear wrote:

Question

 

Is that a New York kinda thing? I'd find a conversation like that rude. And I would spend the time thinking the fellow was mental.


TiggerBear, parataxis is a literary technique; Ilana was simply providing an example of that technique, not an example of a conversation.  But, as your post clearly demonstrates, almost all forms of communication include some paratactic elements; that is, communication almost always requires the reader or listener to fill in some blanks, where the writer or speaker has, intentionally or otherwise, failed to draw a direct line between two proximate thoughts. 

 

Irony is another literary technique.  A good example would be juxtaposing the sentences "Is that a New York kinda thing?" and "I'd find a conversation like that rude."


Hmm coversation subtext varries between individuals. But gaps that large would imply and overheard conversation between twins.

 

Never run across that style of writing before. Failing to draw the lines between two proximate thoughts, smaks of bad writting to me. Afterall one of the best judgements of a writer I know is; can they convey their message to someone completely outside of their context, who knows none of their subtext. 

 

(shrug) 

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis


TiggerBear wrote:

Hmm coversation subtext varries between individuals. But gaps that large would imply and overheard conversation between twins.

 

Never run across that style of writing before. Failing to draw the lines between two proximate thoughts, smaks of bad writting to me. Afterall one of the best judgements of a writer I know is; can they convey their message to someone completely outside of their context, who knows none of their subtext. 

 

(shrug) 


Let me clarify my prior post: when I say that a writer has "failed to draw a direct line between two proximate thoughts," I mean to say that she can get away with it precisely because she provides the subtext that allows the reader to understand the intended meaning. 

 

Your post suggests that there is exactly one style of effective communication -- where all meaning is explicit on the surface.  Such a view pretty much rules out poetry as a form of "good" writing.  Shrug.

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis


Lurker wrote:

TiggerBear wrote:

Hmm coversation subtext varries between individuals. But gaps that large would imply and overheard conversation between twins.

 

Never run across that style of writing before. Failing to draw the lines between two proximate thoughts, smaks of bad writting to me. Afterall one of the best judgements of a writer I know is; can they convey their message to someone completely outside of their context, who knows none of their subtext. 

 

(shrug) 


Let me clarify my prior post: when I say that a writer has "failed to draw a direct line between two proximate thoughts," I mean to say that she can get away with it precisely because she provides the subtext that allows the reader to understand the intended meaning. 

 

Your post suggests that there is exactly one style of effective communication -- where all meaning is explicit on the surface.  Such a view pretty much rules out poetry as a form of "good" writing.  Shrug.


(shrug) Somewhere around collage I grew to find poetry irritating. So I rarely bother reading it. That might be it.

 

But no, there isn't only one form of communication in literature. Don't be silly. However for effective writing, there must either be subtext given or expression of meaning. Without one or both, it's just crap. If you want to call that poetry, go right ahead.

 

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

I think that parataxis is a very clever construct that can be used by a writer to show the depth of relationship between events without giving away the connection. Parataxis requires reasoning and reflection by the reader. Sure, subordinating thoughts would be easier than making them equal partners without explicit cause and effect explanations. Related, similar phrases allow a story to flow; the quirky side by side placement of dissimilar images shocks a reader into speculation. That is how literature adds to our lives.

 

While trying to find out more about the word “parataxis” I came across several websites that discuss books in which the device is used successfully; “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” by mark haddon is one of them. I reread a few paragraphs and realized that the young autistic Christopher strings his thoughts together without giving us insight into feelings, but I saw quickly how his mind works; nothing is modified by pretense or wishful thinking. His mother is dead; Reverend Peters talks about heaven being outside our universe, “It’s another kind of place altogether.” Christopher argues that there is no such place, except maybe if you went through a black hole. “And if heaven was on the other side of a black hole, dead people would have to be fired into space on rockets to get there, and they aren’t or people would notice.”

 

I love what it says on the back cover of the paperback: “Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.”

 

Another website cites a paragraph from De Lillo’s “Underworld” which strings seemingly unrelated items together to give us a picture of the magnitude and at the same time banality of the life of a nuclear scientist.

 

"They came to do science in New Mexico during the war, an overnight sprawl of trailers and hutments, and they ate the local grub and played poker once a week and went to the Saturday square dance and worked on the thing with no name, the bomb that would redefine the limits of human perception and dread."

 

How do I relate to the mindset of the scientist? There isn’t a “but” or a “therefore” or an “and yet,” not even an “on the other hand” in the sentence. Which means I have to sort the order of priorities. When I read this sentence I am depressed. Food and games comfort me. I question the future of the world. I feel dread. I would marry one because of his intelligence.  I would want to rip him out of this environment. And all this because the author chose to parallel different worlds without explaining to me cause and effect. Yes, I think parataxis is a splendid literary device. Thank you Ilana.

 

(And are you surprised I still exist? I’ve been very busy lately, writing, photographing, tripping, pulling weeds, starting an herb garden, afraid to engage in dialogue with you for fear of spending too many hours on the computer. Tgem must have a web crawler with big eyes, she knows, somehow, that I am reading everything. She’s right.)

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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

[ Edited ]

The sun is out!

I thank you dearly for your hello.

 

You wrote:

 


Sunltcloud wrote:

 

...Another website [helping us understand parataxis] cites..De Lillo’s Underworld [where we see] "an overnight sprawl of trailers and hutments, and [guys who] ate the local grub and played poker once a week and went to the Saturday square dance and worked on the thing with no name, the bomb that would redefine the limits of human perception and dread."


Yes.  These is a clash and non-conjunction between poker and nuclear war that forces us to think of the deep connections between poker and nuclear war.

 

Hello, woman.

I think of you often.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 04-10-2009 03:21 PM



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utopian
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Re: Week 93: HBO's "In Treatment" and the Literary Art of Parataxis

I think I may have been influenced by this blog when I replied to the next weeks blog.

The story is so sad.  I will do a crossword puzzle.  lol!