Working away, tearing away

Working away, tearing away

In Brief

Figure of speech. As Bloom listens to the racket of the printing press ("Thumping. Thumping.... Thumping. Thump"), he muses that the human body is a kind of machine and he applies the repetitive language to Paddy Dignam: "His machineries are pegging away too. Like these, got out of hand: fermenting. Working away, tearing away. And that old grey rat tearing to get in." These sentences feature a lot of repetition: "Thumping," "away," "tearing," the "-ing" suffix. Rhetoricians called the type in "Working away, tearing away" epistrophe: ending successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or lines with the same word or words.

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Epistrophe (eh-PIS-truh-phee, from epi- = upon + strephein = to turn) is also sometimes called epiphora (eh-PIF-uh-rah) or antistrophe (an-TIS-truh-phee). It is the opposite of anaphora, which places the same word or words at the beginning of successive elements. Gideon Burton offers examples from a prose sentence by Ralph Waldo Emerson––"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us"––and poetic lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Hourly joys be still upon you!
Juno sings her blessings on you....
Scarcity and want shall shun you,
Ceres' blessing so is on you.
Seidman distinguishes between epiphora ("the impressive repetition of one word at the end of several sentences") and epistrophe ("the repetition of the same word or groups of words at the end of successive clauses"). Not only am I unaware of any classical rhetorical texts that make such a distinction, but I cannot see how he sees it working in Joyce's text. He identifies "Working away, tearing away" as an instance of epiphora, but this is one fragmentary sentence, not "several." (It does, however, involve the repetition of only "one word.") Things get really complicated––needlessly so, I think––when he sees anaphora, epiphora, and epistrophe all working together in a passage that really requires only one or two terms to name.

The term antistrophe seems to be used infrequently in rhetorical theory. It originated in ancient Greek choral poetry and drama, and is still used in discussing those works.

John Hunt 2023