Parataxis (from Greek for 'act of placing side by side'; fr. para, beside + tassein, to arrange; contrasted to syntaxis) is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, often without the use of conjunctions. It is a style much favoured by historians and writers of crime fiction.
It is also used to describe a technique in poetry in which two images or fragments, usually starkly dissimilar images or fragments, are juxtaposed without a clear connection. Readers are then left to make their own connections implied by the paratactic syntax. Ezra Pound, in his adaptation of Chinese and Japanese poetry, made the stark juxtaposition of images an important part of English language poetry.
Perhaps the most well known use of parataxis is Julius Caesar's famous quote, "Veni, vidi, vici," or, "I came, I saw, I conquered".
'Come along, then,' said he of the green coat, lugging Mr. Pickwick after him by main force, and talking the whole way. 'Here, No. 924, take your fare, and take yourself off—respectable gentleman—know him well—none of your nonsense—this way, sir—where's your friends?—all a mistake, I see—never mind—accidents will happen—best regulated families—never say die—down upon your luck—Pull him UP—Put that in his pipe—like the flavour—damned rascals.' And with a lengthened string of similar broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary volubility, the stranger led the way to the traveller's waiting-room, whither he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and his disciples.
Perhaps an even more extreme proponent of the form was Samuel Beckett. The opening to his monologue "Not I" is a classic example:
" . out . . . into this world . . . this world . . . tiny little thing . . . before its time . . . in a godfor– . . . what? . . girl? . . yes . . . tiny little girl . . . into this . . . out into this . . . before her time . . . godforsaken hole called . . . called . . . no matter . . . parents unknown . . . unheard of . . . he having vanished . . . thin air . . . no sooner buttoned up his breeches . . . she similarly . . . eight months later . . . almost to the tick . . . so no love . . . spared that . . . no love such as normally vented on the . . . speechless infant . . . in the home . . . no . . . nor indeed for that matter any of any kind . . . no love of any kind . . . at any subsequent stage" and so on.
Although the use of ellipses here arguably prevents it from being seen as a classic example of parataxis, as a spoken text it operates in precisely that way. Other examples by Beckett would include large chunks of Lucky's famous speech in Waiting for Godot.
The term parataxis has also been appropriated by some cultural theorists to describe certain works of art or "cultural texts" in which a series of scenes or elements are presented side by side in no particular order or hierarchy. Examples might range from the collages of the dadaists and Robert Rauschenberg to many contemporary music videos.