Chain of Reasoning

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This week has been about intention: first, where it starts and are we in control; then, once established, how it can employ paltering to achieve its goals. Today, I bring up the fundamental intention most of us have when we communicate: we want to make sense.

In particular, there is one figure of speech, anadiplosis, that can lend our arguments the forcefulness and validity of truth even when applied to unconnected elements.

Start from the beginning.

Making sense amounts to cogently conveying our arguments to another person. What it means to do so cogently and what is defined as an argument will depend on the situation: explaining why we’re late, discussing whether to purchase a car, or simply telling a story. Whichever the circumstances, our aim is rarely to garble and perplex.

On sentence level, our reasoning is often a long chain of phrases bound together by conjunctions, which, like the accordions of articulated buses, bend and groan under the strain of each turning—but hold. On paragraph level, we rely on unity of subject matter (traditionally a new subject requires a new paragraph), conventions of reasoning (specific to general statements, general statement and examples, logical argument etc), or all of the above formatted in an idiosyncratic, but fairly apparent “flow of thought”, such as bullet points in agendas, dialogue blocks in a book, action sequences, stanzas. Anything.

Occasionally, what we’re saying doesn’t contain any immediate or established sense, but we would like it to appear otherwise (for whatever reason, poetic or pernicious). This is when we can apply anadiplosis, a figure of speech where we begin a sentence with the final word, or any other significant word, from the preceding sentence.

Let’s see it do the job.

The Quote comes from Pascal Quignard’s Terrace in Rome (2000). The novella is a roughly chronological account of the life of Meaume, a fictional seventeenth century engraver who was disfigured in his youth after his lover’s fiancé threw acid in his face (a poignantly relevant theme nowadays). The narrative proceeds in short chapters, sometimes factual, oftentimes philosophical. In the Quote, Meaume expounds his view of the human form, while employing anadiplosis to lend his expression strength.

It is matter that imagines heaven. Then it is heaven that imagines life. Then it is life that imagines nature. Then nature grows and shows itself in different forms which it does not conceive so much as it invents while stirring up fire in space. Our bodies are one of those images that nature has attempted to draw from life. (Translation by Douglas Penick and Charles Ré)

Matter, heaven, life, nature. I would have accepted the logicality and veracity of the Quote in most permutations of those terms. Within the story, Meaume’s argument proceeds on oiled castors; it is only upon examination that I detect dissatisfaction with his reasoning. Or at least, I detect my own disbelief, but accept his statements as his own truth (perforce, for how can I dispute the credo of a fictional artist).

When so wrenched out of context, anadiplosis appears artificial and banal, if superficially useful. However, it’s taught me two lessons:

  • If it only repeats a single word, as a binding between two sentence or clauses, it is both effective and invisible, and can be comfortably reused every once in a while.
  • It is the starting point of any sequence of linearly derived arguments. For example, whenever I struggle to understand what I wrote, or to write what I intended, I return to this basic mechanism and link my reasoning in an anadiplosis chain.

Outside of writing, Socrates was the king of anadiplosis, but since he’s dead, there are always the tiny, new masters of the craft: children. Anadiplosis forms the backbone of their sequential why questions and is the quickest route into ultracrepidarian territory, comprising existential issues, paradoxes, astrophysics, the blocked kitchen sink, and the reason why Mummy and Daddy got divorced.

As such, anadiplosis is an excellent boredom buster, especially when played as a game for one. Next time you’re waiting for the train and your phone battery has died ask yourself why—then keep asking why by using the keywords from your own answers. Somewhere along the way you may even encounter an idea for a story.

Oh, and look, here comes the train.

Questions? Comments? Reading recommendations? Let me know.

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