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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Definition and examples of Paradox literary terms

Tags: paradox definition, definition and examples of paradox, what is paradox, paradox in literature, Types of Paradox

Definition, Types, and examples of Paradox


 A statement that, while apparently self-contradictory, is nonetheless essentially true. Paradox, a rhetorical device common in epigrammatic writing, appears often in the writing of Oscar Wilde and of G. K. Chesterton, who has been called a “paradox monger.” Here are some examples of paradox:

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me.

- John Donne

The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.

-Oscar Wilde

Success is counted sweetest By those who ne'er succeed.

-Emily Dickinson The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him.

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

-Henry David Thoreau


Paradox from Oxford dictionary:

It is a statement or an expression so surprisingly self-contradictory  as to provoke us into seeking another sense or context in which it would  be true (although some paradoxes cannot be resolved into truths,  remaining flatly self-contradictory, e.g. Everything I say is a lie).  Wordsworth's line The Child is father of the Man' and Shakespeare's  'the truest poetry is the most feigning' are notable literary examples.  Ancient theorists of RHETORIC described paradox as a FIGURE OF  SPEECH, but 20th-century critics have given it higher importance as a  mode of understanding by which poetry challenges our habits of thought. Paradox was cultivated especially by poets of the 17th century,  often in the verbally compressed form of OXYMORON. It is also found in the prose EPIGRAM; and is pervasive in the literature of Christianity, a  notoriously paradoxical religion. In a wider sense, the term may also be applied to a person or situation characterized by striking contradictions.  A person who utters paradoxes is a paradoxer. 


Paradox from Penguin dictionary:  

Paradox (Gk 'beside/beyond opinion')

Originally a paradox was  merely a view that contradicted accepted opinion. By roundabout the middle of the 16th c. the word had acquired the  commonly accepted meaning it· now has: an apparently self-contradictory ( even absurd) Statement which, on closer inspection,  is found to contain a truth reconciling the conflicting opposites. 

Basically, two kinds may be distinguished:

(a) particular or 'local'; 

(b) general or 'structural'.

Examples of the first are short, pithy  statements which verge on the epigrammatic - such as Hamlet's  line: 'I must be cruel only to be kind';

Milton's description of God: 

'Dark with excessive · bright thy skirts appear';

Sir Thomas  Browne's magnificent image:

'The sun itself is the dark simulacrum  and light is the shadow of God';

Congreve's neat turn of phrase  in Amoret: 

Careless she is with artful care, 

Affecting to seem unaffected. 

The second ·kind is more complex. For instance, there is a  paradox at the heart of the Christian faith: that the world will be saved by failure. A structural paradox is one that is integral to,  say, a poem. The works of the metaphysical (q.v.) poets, especially  Donne and Marvell, abound in them. In fact Donne has been regarded as the first major English poet to develop the possibilities of paradox as a fundamental structural device that sustains the dialectic and argument (qq.v.) of a poem. Notable examples are to  be found in The Will, Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward and the  sonnet beginning: 

Death be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so ... 

Marvell's poem The Garden depends on a central paradoxical idea.  Other good instances are to be found in Milton's Lycidas; and in  Paradise Lost Milton is concerned with that other general paradox  at the centre of Christian belief: the felix culpa, or 'happy fault',  how good grows from evil. In An Essay on Man Pope combined a  general statement about the paradoxical nature and condition of  man with a series of particular paradoxes: 

Placed on this isthmus of a middle state 

A being darkly wise, and rudely great: 

With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side, 

With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride, 

He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest, 

In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast, 

In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer, 

Born but to die, and reasoning but to err ... 

Created half to rise, and half to fall; 

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; 

Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl'd: 

The glory, jest, and riddle of the world! 

In modern times, apart from George Bernard Shaw (an incorrigible paradoxer of the more iconoclastic kind), an expert is G. K.  Chesterton. He uses paradox (to a fault) like a comedian who has discovered an almost inexhaustible source of humor, and in his hands, the device becomes a stunt in verbal and conceptual acrobatics. 

In recent verse one of the most striking series of paradoxes can be found at the beginning of T. S. Eliot's Little Gidding: 

Midwinter spring is its own season 

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown, 

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic. 

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire, 

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches, 

In windless cold that is the heart's heat, 

Reflecting in a watery mirror 

A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon. 

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier, 

Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire 

In the dark time of the year. 

Some critical theory goes so far as to suggest that the language of  poetry is the language of paradox. This idea has been elaborated  persuasively by, among others, Cleanth Brooks in his book The  Well-Wrought Urn (1947). 

A paradoxical vision of the behavior and state of humankind is  inherent in much nonsense (q.v.) poetry and also in plays belonging to the Theatre of the Absurd (q.v.). 

The ultimate logic of deconstructive criticism implies a paradoxical state of affairs, for such criticism suggests that the meaning  of any text is indefinitely in doubt and it follows, therefore, that by  using language in another text · in order to interpret the meaning  and language of the first text the meaning of the second  text is, ipso facto, indefinitely in doubt - and so on. 


Tags: paradox definition, definition and examples of paradox, what is paradox, paradox in literature, Types of Paradox

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