[NetBehaviour] question about a novel and "chiastic structure"

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Thu Oct 29 23:10:01 CET 2020

This is great info Alan and Edward, thank you!

I wonder if Greer's use of it in a novel is unique in some way, to warrant the prize.  I've found some articles about Nabokov and Joyce using it.  Mainly wondering if it could be a compositional element in Leonardo's works, and if yes what that would suggest.  Leonardo as labyrinthist?

GEB has a chapter about recursion (it follows the one on consistency) which I think might relate, so I will try to sift through that.  It mentions the concepts of "push," "pop," and "stack" as used in an early AI language "IPL" so maybe those relate to the layers of the onion?  I wonder if Dante used it too; if so that would have been an influence on Leonardo for sure.  It does seem like the Hollywood style of plot takes a different approach.  I wonder if chiastic structure is more associated with antiquity?  Perhaps it has an inclination toward "contemplative aesthetics" like mandala and labyrinth as opposed to -- not sure what, uncontemplative?

Definitely curious to hear if anyone has read Less.  It seems to quote Calvino a lot and the author lives in Tuscany as well as San Francisco, but every reference is buried and hidden in an enormous jumble.  Basically it seems like a solid book of chiasmus in the form of a world tour of literally everything.  The work seems very ambitious in scope, to the extent that I wouldn't be too surprised to see a "new chiasticism" or something emerge, if such things still emerge.

The good part is that it's a comedy, about life going on, which is why it was chosen for my book club I think!  🙂

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2020 4:00 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] question about a novel and "chiastic structure"

Look at Hua-Yen Buddhsim, Flower Ornament Sutra, Angkor Wat, Borobudur, etc. It's everywhere.
Same with Cathedral mazes etc.

Best, Alan -

On Thu, Oct 29, 2020 at 2:55 PM Edward Picot via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:

I'm a big fan of chaistic structure - or the 'onion structure', which is another term for the same thing. You work your way inwards through various layers of narrative to reach the central point, then you work your way outwards through the same layers again, ideally in reverse order, to complete the story. There are examples of this kind of structure in fairy stories - a princess who is exiled does kind deeds to a bird, a toad and a fox, and then has to overcome a series of apparently-impossible challenges in which she is helped by the fox, the toad and the bird in repayment for her kindness. It's a very useful alternative to the prevailing 'three act' structure of (for example) most Hollywood movies, where everything is geared towards a massive cliffhanger/climax/confrontation/resolution at the end. The onion structure, by contrast, is more balanced, less end-heavy, and the turning-point/crux of the story tends to be the bit in the middle, the heart of the narrative, after which good luck turns to bad, the protagonist starts to reap the rewards of her good deeds, etc.

I suppose things like mandalas (and possibly mazes) might be examples of this kind of structure in the visual arts.


On 29/10/2020 18:00, Max Herman via NetBehaviour wrote:
Hi all,

My book club just read Andrew Sean Greer's novel Less, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018.  It seems to use a lot of "chiastic structure," which is an A-B-B'-A' pattern used in ancient literature.  There are also some biological meanings of the term (for vision and genetics).

I'd be curious to know if anyone is aware of chiastic structure in visual arts or perhaps computer systems.

Interesting idea Ricardo about the Rethinking Humanity idea!  Will be interested to hear/see more.

All best,


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