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THE COMPAKATIST CHRONOS/CHROMA: YELLOW FIGURES IN PROUST'S LA PRISONNIÈRE AND BELY'S PETERSBURG Sabine Doran In the tradition ofBakhtin's "chronotope"1 (the Greek chronos, time, plus topos, place) I would like to propose the term "chromo-tope" (chroma = color). Whereas the chronotope functions as a time-marker, singling out time as the fourth dimension of space, the chromo-tope spaces out time by means of color. Through the consideration of a particular color, yellow , I aim to explore, in a series oftexts and visual images from the first half of the twentieth century, the convergence of time and color. I contend that yellow motifs function as time-markers during this period, and thus as chromo-topes. The choice oftime period is not an arbitrary one, since it is at this moment that yellow becomes an emblematic presence, a stigmatizing force that alternates between the Medieval and the Modern, East and West, inscribing itself under the signs of the "Yellow Star" (stigmatizing Jews) and the "Yellow Peril" (stigmatizing Asians).2 What I call a "chromo-tope" moves along the border of the historical and the aesthetic, without, however, involving questions ofintentionality . For chromo-topes imply an intrinsic displacement, a meaning recognizable only after the fact, as a reinscription, refiguration, or reconstruction . Thus it is not a matter of a yellow symbolism, because symbolism implies a certain conventionality or preexisting system of signification , an intention to activate a given semantic field. Chromo-topes function on the level ??figurai relations, that is, ofrelations that reveal how what is marked in yellow announces its own coming about. One could usefully compare what I mean by chromo-tope with Auerbachs notion offigura or "figurai realism." In his classic work Mimesis, Auerbach contrasts the "excessive abstraction" of symbol and allegory with the "realism" offigures: An event taken as a figure preserves its literal and historical meaning. It remains an event, does not become a mere sign. The Church Fathers, especially Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine, had successfully defended figurai realism, that is, the maintenance ofthe basic historical reality of figures, against all attempts at spiritually allegorical interpretation. (196)3 In the figurai interpretation, both chronology and reality are preserved. The figurai connection between events constitutes their historical meaning . Thus a "figurai realism" was seen by Christian authors such as Dante as a way to link Biblical figures to mundane events, so that those events or people, taken from the world in which he lived, became themselves figures of Christian ideas (e.g., conversion, salvation) without negating their historicity or their reality. More broadly speaking, then, "figurai realism" means that material or human events can receive an interpretation that is at once historical Vol. 28 (200V: 53 YELLOW FIQUKES IN PKOUSTANV BELY and tropological. This is in effect what I attempt to do with the color yellow in this essay: the materiality and historicity of yellow elements only come to the fore if they are viewed as figures, that is, as concrete manifestations of other equally concrete and historical events. An allegorical or symbolic interpretation ofyellow, though perhaps valid in some contexts, would annul the historical meaning that early twentiethcentury avant-garde writers intend (as well as obscure the significance of their technical procedures), in their effort to forge a new kind of realism, namely a "figurai realism" in which access to historical reality is achieved by charging seemingly random, mundane things or events with figurai force. As Auerbach writes of Proust: [He] presents individual days and hours from different periods, but the exterior events which are the determining factors in the destinies of the novel's characters during the intervening lapses of time are mentioned only incidentally, in retrospect or anticipation. The ends the narrator has in mind are not to be seen in them; often the reader has to supplement them. (547) To offer these "supplements" is the task set for this essay. We will follow a topography of yellow that is marked by historical, biographical, and political events, to explore how the materiality ofwriting (writing-paper, wall-paper, ink, pigments) is linked to the power of self-inscription. For yellow chromo-topes are not themselves visual or perceptible as such, but demonstrate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 53-75
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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