Posted by: HAT | May 21, 2009

Communicative Space and Chronotope

We cannot decide whether the barmaid depicted here occupies communicative space

We cannot decide whether the barmaid depicted here occupies communicative space

Finished reading Roadside Picnic. !!

    [Confession, felt obliged to check out Cryptomaoist Editions and Dave’s Homepage just to make sure I wasn’t cheating the Strugatskys out of their royalties. As an aside, one of the first books I remember reading was Ozma of Oz, though in an abridged edition especially for children with lots of pictures.]

Considering the possibility that the Zone constitutes communicative space, which for that reason is space as potentially utopian, but because of that, also lethally risky. Lethal and promising. Productive, but of monstrosities, at least potentially. Boundary issues and category issues: human/animal, human/divine, human/other, human/other/divine/animal/alien. Alive/dead. [I would have to think a lot longer than I want to right now about the role of gender. The characters are almost all male, the key women are wife/mother and daughter, but then again, Red’s speech explaining his refusal to emigrate contains some conventional gender symbols — signs? — and suggests some obvious gender-analytic possibilities which upon inspection are completely reversible and undecidable, if one takes that route.]

Is it communicative space, time-space where communication is taking place, if you can’t tell whether whatever is or was there is trying to communicate? Can you count that as communication? (Well, can we count human interactions with “nature” or what we take as the material environment as communication? Pace Irigaray, can we count men’s interactions with women as communication? Say, Freud’s publication of The Interpretation of Dreams? Women’s interactions with men?)

More to the point, can we count monologic discourse in a language that is non-cognizant of others — other speakers, other languages, either way — as communication?

    If we took the “roadside picnic” hypothesis presented in the text — metaphorizing or modeling or metaphorizing as modeling a ??-human encounter on another encounter, human-animal, experienced from the human side, in which the human side is the noncognizant party — then the visitors of the Visitation have left traces, a text, potentially revelatory, revelatory contingent on the development of the appropriate hermeneutics, appropriately undecidable. Leaving behind a text might seem like an act of communication. But a lot depends, from the standpoint of the conversations mentioned in the novel, on what attitude the visitors actually take or have taken towards the human side. They might have no knowledge of or interest in the human inhabitants of the space that became the Zone, of the inhabitants of the planet that got in the way of the transmission or emission or ejection or ejaculation or firing from some distant point in uncognized, unrepresented, unrepresentable, unencountered and unencounterable space. Or, they might. Whether that would be better or worse is equally undecidable. Cf. . . . whether it is love or hate one does not know. (Ecc. 9:1) Again, from the perspective of the folks in the novel, we can’t say this question and its decidability don’t matter; it matters, it will have consequences, and we would have preferences about those consequences, but can’t determine what consequences to expect, or how to influence them.

Well, it’s just a novel. But it could have some features in common with what we ordinarily think of as real life. Or some relationship to considerations we face there.

Now that I am thinking still more about space, in particular as the space of communication and the creation of space “between two” and its productive potential, I have stumbled upon Bakhtin and the concept of chronotope and have read an interesting article1 using chronotopic analysis on Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale and various works of Manet’s, and suggesting a blurred public-private space as an emergent, disturbing chronotope of 19th century literature and art (taking Flaubert and Manet as representative), and citing Bakhtin on “the chronotope of the threshold” as associated with the more general theme of encounter — making the Zone something like a threshold, perhaps, as also communion tables and baptismal fonts — and am working on laying my hands on The Dialogic Imagination and hoping that this will be helpful in my ongoing efforts to make sense out of The Speculum of the Other Woman.

1Janice Best, “The chronotope and the generation of meaning in novels and paintings.” Criticism. Spring, 1994, I’m inferring (36:2), pages??? — the full text is online at FindArticles, but without full citation information.


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