AMERICAN FORK — For all you know, chiasmus could be sitting right next to you. Or not, depending on your personal chiasmus criteria.
Chiasmus, if you haven't heard of it before, is a poetic way of organizing language. You begin with item A, followed by B, followed by C and then D. Then you flip it over and continue in the opposite order: D, then C, B and A. It is called chiasmus based on the Greek word for the letter X. (Notice how an X is just like the pattern: There is a triangle on top that then flips over for an opposite triangle on the bottom.)
About 120 people got together at the American Heritage School in American Fork on Saturday, Sept. 18 to celebrate chiasmus. The big deal about chiasmus is that it is a recognized way of organizing writings. It was particularly favored by ancient Hebrew peoples, but also is found throughout literature from the simplest sentences of Dr. Seuss — "I am Sam. Sam I am." — to the intricate story of the prophet Alma's conversion found in Alma 36 in the Book of Mormon.
Yvonne Hawkins Bent, an artist, organized the daylong conference. Bent and her friends were enjoying conversations where they expanded the search for chiasmus beyond ancient scriptural writing into things like art and science. Eventually the discussion led to bringing people together to talk about their discoveries at this event. A book, published by Cedar Fort, will also appear in about a month bearing the same title as the conference: "Discoveries in Chiasmus: The Pattern in All Things."
Strictly speaking, however, some scholars have, in the past, been less than enthusiastic over this sort of chiasmania. Chiasmus is one of several parallel-structure literary devices with well-established rules and criteria. But not all parallel-structure literary devices are chiasmus. Chiasmus embodies an elegant symmetry, but not all symmetrical things are chiasmus.
Applying a literary term to things like the atom and DNA, the human body and architecture or art and theology may be akin to trying to figure out the color of a particular sound — a strong analogy could be made, but the original term may lose some of its meaning.
But breaking some of the rules can be fun.
Denver Snuffer saw chiasmus as an expression of a pattern of progression and then regression. The regression, he said, is becoming more childlike. The pattern emphasizes "the point of contact between God and man," he said.
Scott Vanatter said chiasmus follows a set thematic pattern called "Davidic Chiasmus and Parallelisms" after King David who was a symbol of Christ. Vanatter overlaid this particular pattern on a wide range of literature from the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" to Mormon sacramental prayers, the King Follett Discourse of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church's "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."
"Chiasmus speaks to the reader," Vanatter said, " … whether they have awareness of these patterns or not."
Artist Linda Christensen tried to find Chiasmus in art — looking for symmetry and the turning point where light meets darkness in a painting.
Wallace King's discussion of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon was a bit more traditional, looking for structural patterns. Other presentations on the schedule included explorations of overall chiasmus patterns in the Bible, chiasmus and the plan of salvation, chiasmus in architecture, chiasmus in the atom and chiasmus in DNA. There was even a chiasmus concert set for the evening.