Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
In the preceding chapter we introduced Bakhtin's chronotope. It might be helpful in this chapter, before discussing some favored Russian character types, to review the services it can provide.
Bakhtin devised the chronotope as an aid for “walking into” and coexperiencing the time-space of a fictional world. Prose fiction is a field. Usually it is populated by more than one consciousness and designed to be experienced over time. In all but the most disorienting fictional environments – the absolute absurd, for example, or literature of terror and trauma devised to frustrate all attempts at communication – readers will seek to talk, interact, or empathize with characters inhabiting this field. The character can be a talking frog if we're inside a beast fable, personified Vice or Virtue if inside a medieval mystery play, an alien from outer space if inside a science fiction, or a recognizably human being: the physical wrappings of consciousness are incidental. Both the type of creature and the rules for relating to it depend upon the conventions of the literary genre. What feels strange in one environment can be wholly unmarked in another. In all cases, however, time and space in the chronotope are fused. Some sorts of time – say, in old-fashioned comic strips and soap-opera serials – never add up. Hours, days, years pass, but people do not age; characters might not even remember from one episode to the next. Accordingly, the space that accompanies such time is abstract and non-historical.