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Chronotopes: They Sound Complicated, but They’re Cool

December 15, 2012 by asteffann

…and make sense.

What is a chronotope?

There’s an old saying that “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that events often seem clearer with the benefit of distance and objectivity. Consider whether or not you have ever looked back upon an event from your past and had a new perspective on what happened than you did at the time. Do you think you would tell the story of that event differently now than you would have then?

According to the influential literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, any story, told by any person, is firmly entrenched in the time and place in which it happened. Not only that, but the story is also influenced by the biases and experiences of the narrator or the writer…and even by your own biases as a reader! It sounds very complicated but it is, in fact, a pretty basic concept. In short, stories are always told from someone’s unique point of view and they are received by readers through yet another lens of experience.  He calls the unique worlds created by these stories “chronotopes.”

In his essay “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel,” Mikhail Bakhtin explains it this way:  he states that readers “must never confuse…the represented world with the world outside the text” (253) (the “real” world, if there is such a thing). He explains that the phenomenon of chronotope in literature is a function of “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships,” (84) but that “out of the actual chronotopes of our world…emerge the reflected and created chronotopes of the world represented in the work” (252). To put it more simply, the teller of the tale will show you a story that is one version of what happened in that place, in that time, from his or her point of view. This is a unique chronotope would have changed if the story had been moved elsewhere or happened years later. Each story is inseparable from its setting and its writer.

Are events clearer in retrospect? Or not?

Are events clearer in retrospect? Or not?

photo: lowjumpingfrog

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M. M., and Michael Holquist. “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas, 1981. Print.


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