Speech and Chronotype in Peer Hultberg's Novel "Byen Og Verden"

By Liet, Henk van der | Scandinavian Studies, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Speech and Chronotype in Peer Hultberg's Novel "Byen Og Verden"


Liet, Henk van der, Scandinavian Studies


Speech and Chronotope in Peer Hultberg's Novel Byen og Verden

IN THIS ARTICLE, I will take a look at the novel Byen og Verden (1992) [The City and the World], by Peer Hultberg (b. 1935) using it as the springboard for a discussion of the Bakhtinian concept of the chronotope with special attention to its importance vis-a-vis modernist prose or, more precisely, as a kind of text which seems to resist some of the principal traditional generic features of novelistic discourse. And, because Hultberg's oeuvre is scarcely known in the English-speaking world, I shall say a few words about it here as well.(1)

Chronotope is without doubt one of Bakhtin's most difficult neologisms, but, at the same time, the chronotope--rightly or wrongly--seems to be one of Bakhtin's most obvious and easy-to-handle concepts in practical terms. How fundamental the chronotope is to Bakhtin is evident from the fact that, at the beginning of his essay, "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope," he refers to Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft (85) and, thus, reminds us of the fact that time and space are fundamental categories--a priori circumstances--that precede all forms of cognition. Or as Kant puts it, "Der Raum ist eine notwendige Vorstellung apriori, die allen au[Beta]eren Anschauungen zum Grunde liegt" (B38); and a similar formulation is used for time: "Die Ziet ist kein empirischer Begriff, der irgend von einer Erfahrung abgezogen worden.... Die Ziet ist also apriori gegeben" (846).

Without actually mentioning the word chronotope, Bakhtin circles closely around related issues in Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Here he notes that narrative in Dostoevsky is often concentrated around certain points in the temporal development of the story which are also linked to clearly discernible spatial signs (169-70). These so-called points where space and time are intertwined--where time and space touch each other, so to speak, and permeate each other--have a particularly strong structural function in the texts with which Bakhtin deals. Essential to his concept of the chronotope is the fact that these temporal and spatial intersections not only have topographic significance--in the sense that they are needed to enhance the mimetic linking of narrative to a three-dimensional universe--but they function as modes of structuring the temporal progression of the narrative as well.

This way of analyzing spatial and temporal aspects in Dostoevsky's novels may, as a matter of fact, be called a semiotic approach, which Bakhtin later elaborates in the essay, "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel." Here he defines a chronotope as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature" (84). Thus, the chronotope appears to be a tool to detect topological patterns in a literary work which operate as associative as well as cognitive points of reference. In other words, a chronotope is a textual phenomena that crystallizes action and the meaning of action.

When a certain chronotope is used intensely and over a long period of time--as in metaphor--it becomes easily recognizable and tends to turn into a static, topos-like pattern with more or less fixed meanings and appearance.(2) Examples Bakhtin mentions are the "castle" and the "road," but this series is easily expandable. Imagine as chronotopes the "hospital," the "railroad car," or the "ship," locations that have all become possessed of connoted, generic attributes--relatively fixed chronotopic literary icons--that steer certain motifs, genres, or literary stereotypes and supply the text with an unusually concentrated aesthetic and narrative economy. Fixed chronotopes serve the reader with a set of more or less stable tools for understanding the text, if the recipient is actually able to understand the concentrated code. Bakhtin formulates this view as follows:

   Thus the chronotope, functioning as a primary means for materializing time
   in space, emerges as a center for concretizing representation, as a force
   giving body to the entire novel. … 

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