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Bakhtin's Chronotope: Time and Space in A Touch a/the Poet and More Stately Mansions LAURIN PORTER In "Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel," the third essay of The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhail Bakhtin defmes chronotope as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships ... in literature." The term, whlch literally means time-space, is used in physics and was introduced in conjunction with Einstein's theory of relativity. Bakhtin adapts it to his own purposes, using it almost (but not entirely, he insists) as a metaphor to express the inseparability oftime and space (time as the fourth dimension of space). "In the literary artistic chronotope." Bakhtin writes, "time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh,becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements oftime, plot, and history. This intersection ofaxes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope.'" He then goes on to trace the history ofthe novel from the second century A.D. up through the nineteenth by examining the evolution of the chronotope. Although Bakhtin is concerned exclusively with the novel, his insistence on the centrality of the chronotope to the artistic work invites us to apply this concept to drama as well. Indeed, the all-encompassing function he ascribes to the chronotope in his summation makes it virtually impossible notto.In what seems an echo of the apostle lohn's account of the Incamation ("The Word became flesh and dwelt among us"), Bakhtin writes, "All the novel 's abstract elements - philosophical and social generalizations, ideas, analyses of cause and effect - gravitate toward the chronotope and through it take on flesh and blood, permitting the imaging power of art to do its work."'.He goes on to say, "Any and every literary image is chronotopic. Language, as a treasure-house of images, is fundamentally chronotopic.' " Thls concept is an especially fruitful one to apply to the drama of Eugene O'Neill because, as hls plays demonstrate, he is so acutely sensitive to the issue of time as a controlling force in human experience. Though this is true in all of his work to some extent, it is especially obvious in his unfinished historical (1991) 34 MODERN DRAMA 369 370 LAURIN PORTER cycle,A Tale ofPossessorsSelf-Dispossessed. His stated intention in Possessors is to trace various characteristics and values as they recur throughout six generations of the Melody-Harford family, at the same time tracking major developments in American history from 1755 to what was then essentially the present, 1932, thus encompassing both cyclic (i.e., repetitive) and chronological or linear time (a never-ending succession ofunique moments). In a recent study, The Banished Prince: Time, Memory, and Ritual in the Late Plays ofEugene 0'Neill, I examine the interaction (Bakhtin would call it the "dialogue") between linear time; memory, a variant of cyclic time; and ritual or ' 'mythic" time in the historical cycle as well as the autobiographical dramas. What the concept of the chronotope adds to this interaction of temporalities is the vector of space as it intersects with the dimension of time. ATouch of the Poet, the only play of the cycle which O'Neill completed to his own satisfaction, encapsulates the themes that the historical cycle was to treat: the clash of cultures, the power of the past, the destructiveness of ambition. Set in 1828, Poet, the fifth of the projected eleven-play series, dramatizes the union of the Irish Catholic Melody clan with the aristocratic Yankee Harfords through the marriage ofSara Melody, the daughter ofCon and Nora, and Simon, the son of Deborah and Henry Harford. This chapter of the saga focuses on Con Melody, Sara's romantic, arrogant father, afirst-generation Irish immigrant living in New England who has fallen on hard times. He presides over a ramshackle, out-of-the-way inn, his fortune long gone and his dreams come to nought. This is a severe tribulation for Con, who was born on an estate in the Old Country and still thinks of himself as an aristocrat. To maintain some shred of dignity, he reinvents himself, returning via memory to a climactic moment in his past when, as an officer in the British army, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 369-382
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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