Chronotope

20 Oct

Mikhail Bakhtin put forth the theory of the literary chronotope as referring to the unity of time and space inherent to a narrative (1). The chronotope was initially used in genre theory in helping categorize the major chronotopes of the western novel (2). Chronotopes are also regarded as studies in narrative imagination, i.e. readers visualize for themselves the entire world of the narrative as a changing spatial situation with an accompanying change in time (3).  Thus chronotopes refer both to particular narrative genres and particular worldviews (2).

Previous to Bakhtin, space and time in narratives were frequently regarded distinct from one another. He writes that time and space are not separable; events are always correlated to a chronology (time), and each narrative thus has an “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships” in constructing a particular world (2). The chronotope is characterized by intersections of spatial and temporal indicators that make up a “concrete whole” (3).

The lack of a systematic definition of chronotope has led to a proliferation of types and categorizations. When speaking of genre, for instance, Bakhtin introduces chronotopes based on novelistic time such as the folkloric chronotope or the chronotope of the adventure novel of everyday life, with different types of space related to historical verisimilitude and on the level of relationships between the hero and spatial forms in the novel (4).  Examples include abstract space, which does not represent any real-life place, or concrete space, which intends to represent a specific location at a historical point of time. Minor chronotopes of environment may include alien, native, static, dynamic, etc (4).  Later critics have expounded on chronotopic categorizations; Keunen, who proposes, for example, the teleological chronotope, or the dialogical chronotope, types based upon where and when the conflict takes place in the narrative (2).

Ex 1: “The Colonel’s Daughter” by Robert Coover

This story takes place in a den in an unnamed country where several men are planning a coup, but wonder who will be the one to betray them, while the colonel’s daughter becomes the object upon which each character projects their particular thoughts. At the end of the story, one character “leaves the room in search of the toilet. When he returns” the coup has failed, the Colonel is dead, the funeral ceremony is in progress, and the daughter has agreed to enter a convent. The major space chronotope is abstract; both space and time become compressed as all action takes place within the room and outside world events which should have taken months have already occurred, converging back inside the space of the den.

Ex 2:  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway occupies a concrete space, which is the post-war London Woolf lived in. Details are given to provide verisimilitude, like describing particular places like St. James Park and including symbols like Big Ben. The time-space relationship is compressed, and the narrative centers around the relationships—whether implicit or explicit—of the characters in the novel who are unified by their occupation of the same space and time. This can thus be understood as a dialogical chronotope. Relationships between characters and the motion of the narrative are founded upon objects sharing a space-time position. One example is Septimus, sitting in Regent’s Park, sees images of the dead and of Evans (Woolf, 69). Peter Walsh, passing the same location at the time Septimus and Rezia are there, sees the couple and understands that Rezia looks desperate, though neither notice him (69).

References

(1)  Baldick, Chris. “chronotope.” The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. : Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference. 2008. Date Accessed 20 Oct. 2013 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199208272.001.0001/acref-9780199208272-e-202&gt;.

(2)  Bemong, Nele, Pieter Borghart, Michel De Dobbeleer, Kristoffel Demoen, Koen de ermmerman, and Bart Keunen. Bakhtin’s Theory of the Literary Chronotope: Reflections, Applications, Perspectives. New Hampshire: Academia Press, 2010.

(3)  Keunen, Bart. Time and Imagination: Chronotopes in Western Narrative Culture. United States: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

(4)  Vlasov, Eduard . “The World According to Bakhtin: On the Description of Space and Spatial Forms in Mikhail Bakhtin’s Works.” Canadian Slavonic Papers. 37.1/2 (March-June 1995): 37-58. Web.

(5)  Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. United States: Harcourt Inc., 1925. Print.

(6)  Coover, Robert. “The Colonel’s Daughter .” New Yorker. 2 Sep 2013: n. page. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2013/09/02/130902fi_fiction_coover?currentPage=all&gt;.

-AQ

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  1. Mapping Adventure Part Two: Minecraft and the Story Map – The Stray - January 6, 2019

    […] of static and 3D maps. It takes its name from the unity of time and space in a novel – called a chronotope – and aims to solve a major conceptual problem with mapping fictional worlds that have no […]

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