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

Spring planting, camphor, Ashbery

Posted in Literature, Poetry, Spring by Yvette Siegert on Saturday, 2 April 2011

I haven’t posted in nearly a year. Maybe now I can.

Starting with a quote makes it easier:


Or, to take another example: last month
I vowed to write more. What is writing?
Well, in my case, it’s getting down on paper
Not thoughts, exactly, but ideas, maybe:
Ideas about thoughts. Thoughts is too grand a word.
Ideas is better, though not precisely what I mean.
Someday I’ll explain. Not today though.

–John Ashbery, second stanza of “Ode to Bill,” in Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Penguin: 1972).

N.B. A quote from Ashbery is easier than a quote from the other book on my desk, which happens to be Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment.


So, this is not writing. (No paper here.) Maybe not even a precursor to writing. (There is a cursor.) Although, then, maybe it is a convex precursor—to the impulse of going out to buy scallops and spring plants, to carrying thoughts out into the sunlight, as if thoughts were linens that had been stored for winter.