60/1030: Bakhtin’s Chronotope

So, I did manage to come back just in time for the first half-century post, and then only saved the draft and now am already into the second month of supposed writing. I’ve been off the radar for a few weeks because I was busy submitting a scholarship application that will hopefully allow me to work on nothing but my dissertation. It’s starting to get more and more apparent that I’m missing out on important opportunities to learn about my subject or engage with my peers. I could really use this scholarship!

But excuses aside, a little while ago I presented about M.M. Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope and a week later, I presented by complete project. Even though I had just put together my entire proposal for the third time, I found the prospect of presenting my project daunting and I was worried about the criticism from the professor–the same professor for whom I did the mini presentation about Bakhtin. Granted, the stakes of said mini-presentation were a lot lower and I did not prepare for that as well as I could have. Still, I do know my stuff and need to make sure not to wing it and say something like that Bakhtin was part of the group known as the Russian Formalists.

Let’t start at the beginning: “Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language” (Wikipedia, what else?). Primarily, however, Bakhtin saw himself as a philosopher. While he did not formally belong to the group of Russian literary theorists and linguists known as the Russian Formalists (who came earlier than his Bakhtinian Circle), his theories are based on some of the same principles, such as the disctinction between syuzhet and fabula. The Russian Formalists made this distinction because it allowed them to set up a categorization for what is “art” and what is not “art.” Fabula is chronology as we usually understand it- it is the sequence of events in a story. Syuzhet is oposed to this idea by being unbound by chronology. It is events that can be out of chronological order and mark the plot of the text.

Keeping this distinction of time in mind, one can begin to access Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope.

The term “chronotope” is not new. In fact, the ancient Greeks conjectured about concepts of space and temporal versus physical space and how one moves through these dimensions. Time as a fourth dimension was invented a long time ago. It’s the matter of how we talk about time that has changed- or how it is represented in language.

Now, there’s a lot more to write about the chronotope. Bakhtin wrote more than 150 pages about it. However, the main takeaway for me and thinking and writing about my topic is that the ratio of space to time representation and how this balances with character representation can be used to almost “objectively” declare a certain genre of writing.

The chronotope in literature has an intrinsic generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic. (The Dialogic Imagination 84)

However, I think what interests me more is the way that the chronotope is described.

 In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope. (The Dialogic Imagination 84)

Bakhtin studies different literary texts and describes how the time, as it is described, almost seems to earn a physical presence. It gains a bodied form through words and that prospect fascinates me, since I am interested in the language of the body and of pain anyway, especially in relation to Olga Grjasnova’s novels. The fact that this kind of language is possible when referring to an abstract raises the hope that a similar kind of language can exist with culture and emotional connections to ideas of nation and culture.

I have to flesh out those ideas more soon, but over all a good takeaway from Bakhtin is that he is very away of the significance of poetic language and does some great work examining it.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

Looking forward, I hope to resume posting regularly to this blog site, even it is is just to feel productive on my work and produce some related writing everyday. Plus,I think the categorization and labeling of my individual streams of research will make this a good cataloging tool for my ideas. I am still thinking about making it private, though.

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