Dullthudding barrels

Dullthudding barrels

In Brief

Figure of speech. In one of the early paragraphs of Aeolus, a sentence is followed by another one that reverses the order of its elements: "Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding out of Prince's stores and bumped them up on the brewery float. On the brewery float bumped dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen out of Prince's stores." In rhetorical theory this kind of ABBA structure is called chiasmus, or sometimes antimetabole. It shows up again, somewhat disguised, later in the chapter.

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Chiasmus (kee-AZ-mus) comes from the Greek letter chi, written X. Hence it means "crossing" or "diagonal arrangement." Antimetabole (AN-tee-meh-TAB-uh-lee) is compounded of anti- = in the opposite direction + metabole = turning about. The device has proved highly effective in oratory, as in the supposed Winson Churchill sentences diagrammed here, or in the famous lines from John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech: "Ask not what your country can do for you––ask what you can do for your country." Richard Nordquist (thoughtco.com) cites a less formal example of real brilliance: "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Chiasmus excels at achieving such short, punchy effects by balancing individual words against one another, but it also can be deployed over much more complex syntactic structures. Joyce performs the trick of turning a moderately long sentence back on itself by changing "rolled" from an active to a passive verb and "bumped" from a transitive to an intransitive verb. As a result, the order of time is reversed, somewhat as in Stephen's fantasy of a film rolling backwards. The first sentence shows empty beer barrels rolling out of a pub and bumping up onto a cart. The second shows them bumping up onto a cart after having rolled out of a pub.

Chiasmus, or antimetabole, is one form of the general rhetorical principle of antithesis, as Quintilian points out.

JH 2023
A phrase attributed to Winston Churchill, diagrammed to reveal its chiasmic structure. Source: www.ifioque.com.
Source: www.thoughtco.com.