THE CHRONOTOPE || Yvette Siegert on poetry + translation

Bakhtin, because it’s spring

Posted in Bakhtin, Language, Poetry, Sheer Happiness, Spring by Yvette Siegert on Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Let’s try this again.

It’s odd how time and space can get in the way of blogging. In the spirit of spring (and thank goodness for the relief, however impermanent, from the bleak March cold), I am re-introducing The Chronotope, which I’ve missed, with the famous passage that gave it its name. The Dialogic Imagination is made up of a series of long essays in literary criticim that M.M. Bakhtin completed in the 1930s and 1940s, but it was not published in English until the 1970s. The essay from which this blog gets its name, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” was written in the late 1930s. This is how he defines the Chronotope:

We will give the name chronotope (literally, “time space”) to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature. This term [space-time] is employed in mathematics, and was introduced as part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The special meaning it has in relativity theory is not important for our purposes; we are borrowing it for literary criticism almost as a metaphor (almost, but not entirely). What counts for us is the fact that it expresses the inseparability of space and time (time as the fourth dimension of space). We understand the chronotope as a formally constitutive category of literature; we will not deal with the chronotope in other areas of culture.’ 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 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.

At first, I called this blog The Chronotope simply because I loved the very idea of timespace that Bakhtin describes. But it is from this definition that I would now like to re-conceive the project of this blog. I would like to look at how time and space operate in various works of literature. Although Bakhtin’s theory operates primarily within the scope of fiction and epic and theatre, I’m actually more curious to draw on chronotopic analysis in my readings of poetry collections, many of which, in contemporary American letters, oftentimes seem to adhere to the emergent aesthetic of a “narrative arc” in the way they are structured and organized. How does space operate in contemporary poetry? How does time move in it? This is not going to be a theory-heavy operation. But maybe all this reading will develop into a theory. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how long–or even if–I can sustain this practice. Many writers and translators I know keep a blog in order to maintain a record of their responses to literature. Saying something so altogether obvious doesn’t mean it’s an easy practice to maintain, though, nor does it in any way diminish my longing to join the whimsical fray of those who document the things they read. We’ll see.

Os profetas do Aleijadinho--Minas Gerais, Brasil

Os profetas do Aleijadinho–Minas Gerais, Brasil


Horror #69, by Efraín Huerta (trans. Yvette Siegert)

Posted in Efraín Huerta, Latin America, Nonce, Poetry, Sheer Happiness, Taxonomy by Yvette Siegert on Sunday, 21 October 2012
Horror #69
The quetzal
To the
—Efraín Huerta, Poeminimae
(Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005)

Poem, by Emilio Westphalen (trans. Yvette Siegert)

Posted in Foreign Literature, Latin America, Poetry, Sheer Happiness, Westphalen by Yvette Siegert on Friday, 19 October 2012
Here is one of my favorite short poems by the great and delightful Peruvian Surrealist Emilio Westphalen (1911–2001): 
Perhaps nothing
can ever compare
to making love
on a bed
of tomato sauce,
unless it involves
doing it while lying
on low-grade cuts
of red meat fresh
from the temple.
Tal vez nada
pueda compararse
a hacer el amor
en un lecho
de salsa de tomate,
si no es hacerlo en uno
de trozos menudos
de carne de res
recién sacrificada.
Emilio Westphalen, from “Cual es la risa”
(Poesía completa y ensayos escogidos, Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2004. Con permiso de los Herederos de Emilio Adolfo Westphalen.) 

Unreading “Ulalume”

Posted in flamenco, Limerick du jour, Music, Nonce, Sheer Happiness, Sighting of the Day by Yvette Siegert on Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Last night I was at the Joyce watching the astonishing flamenco dancer Israel Galván. I don’t know how it happened—maybe it was the speed and rhythm of his footwork—but my mind started playing and replaying “Ulalume,” Edgar Allen Poe’s hypnotic Halloween poem par excellence. I discovered it as a kid, and it scared me so much that I had to memorize it, so it’s sort of had the role of a nursery rhyme in my life. In any case, after leaving the theatre I walked up to Chelsea to buy döner for dinner, and I still couldn’t get the poem out of my head. It was driving me nuts. So I decided to chisel it out with the only fool-proof strategy I know: by writing a parody of it. Only, it came out as a doggerel limerick, instead. If you’re at a restaurant alone and need something to do before the food arrives, writing limericks happens to be one of the best ways to bide one’s time:

You LaLoom

The misty mid-region of Weir
Has suddenly found its way here.
I used to assume
that deceased Ulalume
was, not the afraid, but the fear.

Ulalume was a bitch, I decided,
In the way that she grimly presided
in rhyme after rhyme,
and rhetorical rhyme,
o’er the land where she, haunting, resided.

Now what will it do here, this region?
To stay is a ghoulish decision.
The Chelsea Hotel
Might serve it quite well,
if its real-estate woes weren’t so legion.

Is it geopolitical treason,
Or a crisis of fantastic reason,
For a make-believe place
To choose to erase
Itself from its verse, out of season?

I propose that if by Halloween
Weir find it’s best to be seen
In poems by Poe,
Or by those in the know,
It should go, with its tail in between.

Thus once, through an alley titanic,
Poe’s psyche so tripped in a panic.
is the sole consolation
for sadness so psychosomatic.

The Hows of Mirth

Posted in Limerick du jour, Nonce, Sheer Happiness by Yvette Siegert on Wednesday, 14 September 2011

There once was a girl in October

who fought very hard to be sober:

when laughing a lot,

she’d sob on the spot

and cackle when tears were all over.

Perfect Sunday Breakfast

Posted in Sheer Happiness by Yvette Siegert on Sunday, 31 July 2011

The perfect breakfast for reading the Sunday paper:

—French-pressed Ethiopian coffee

—pumpernickel toast slathered with goat cheese and fig preserves

—a thin ring of this remarkable nitrite-free salami (Fairway/Zabar’s)

—cup of blueberries dipped in soy milk