What is figure, what is ground?

David Sipress in the latest (May 8th) New Yorker:


“I can’t remember—do I work at home or do I live at work?”

Which is the ground — home (living place) or workplace — and which is the figure — working or living?

A question framed in the caption as a chiasmus, abstractly of the form X … Y / Y … X?

Talking about things in terms of figure and ground refers the situation in the cartoon to visual figure-ground ambiguities like the famous Edgar Rubin vase/faces drawing: a white vase against a black background, or black faces (in profile) against a white background?


So we can see things as a reversal of situations, or as a reversal of words, like other chiastic oppositions: some people [famously, Americans] live to work, while others [the French, in particular] work to live.

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