Chronotopes and Architectonics

The book Zach had for Thursday's class, Peter Hitchcock's Imaginary States: studies in cultural transnationalism (HM621 .H58 2003) turned out to be fascinating, such that I spent quite a few weekend hours on and around it. I logged what I was finding and thinking in the now-familiar way, and the consequences are still reverberating. In short, I'm wishing that it was early January again, and that I'd already read this book (...which I might have done --it arrived in the library at the end of May, but I didn't find it until a week ago...). I'd start and structure the course differently if I had it to do over again.

The trope I'd begin with is the notion of chronotope, a lexical coinage (out of the Greek /chronos/ and /topos/: time and space) of Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), a Russian (obviously...) literary critic. The basic notion is that a novel takes place in an envelope of time-and-space, but I want to extend the notion to defining the ambit of any socio-cultural product or process. Thus, coffee has a chronotope that stretches back 1000 or more years, and that has grown from its origins in Ethiopia and Yemen to its current status as a truly global commodity. How that chronotope grew and stretched and traveled is a marvelous story, right at the heart of the Saga(s) of Globalization(s).

One can construct a similar 'envelope' for any of the many examples we've taken up in the last 10 weeks. That's the easy part. The next leap is one I'm still wrestling with, and hope to find some support for in some literature out there. The internal complications of a chronotope (such as that for coffee) might be described by an architectonic of connections, some of which reach outside the 'envelope' and link into other chronotopes. How can we represent this? The image I'm wrestling with at the moment is that of a tesseract --a mathematical model of 4-space, a hypercube:

foldout visualization and step through
...and the idea is that the dimensions of the chronotope are, well, many (that is, it's not just the Cartesian xyz plus a fourth t dimension). Another way to put it is that there may be (often are...) folds in a chronotope, such that an observer's line-of-sight may miss significant details because of the point from with the observer views the chronotope.

This is all getting a bit fanciful, so it needs a concrete example:

It's easy enough to think about the example of a city, and we'll take Los Angeles as an instance, and think of it as having an 'envelope' that encloses its geography and history; but it is seen differently if one is an Anglo from West LA than if one is a Chicano in the barrio of East L.A.. Likewise, as a friend of mine once observed, distance in LA is not (or not only) Cartesian: if you've been someplace before, it's "closer" than if you've never been there, even if it's further in conventional time and space. One can represent such perceptions with warpings of "mental maps", as in the example of the New Yorker's view of the world (an early version, and Steinberg's New Yorker cover (see also STEINBERG v. COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC., 663 F. Supp. 706 [S.D.N.Y. 1987]). For more context, see also "Generalized Fisheye Views" (George Furnas), and compare The metaphor of the city from an MIT course on The Virtual Society.

Or take a musical example, presaging something I hope to attempt next week: there are musics of Borderlands, which we might think of as occupying hinges or folds in chronotopias. Sometimes the Borders are realspace coordinates, like the arbitrary line that separates the US from Mexico, but there's much more to it than one musical form on each side of that border, and of course much more to the Border than the fence that decorates the arbitrary line. The Border is a force field, a warper of all sorts of things. Maquiladoras and coyotes are only two of the more dramatic decorations...

Still another example: Hitchcock's "Chronotope of the Shoe (2)" (handout of the first two pages), which is what really got me thinking about the trope... and reminded me of another of the greatest Tales in the Globalization debate, having to do with Nike (see the handout of Jeffrey Ballenger's 1992 Harper's 'Annotation').

some trenchant bits:

I want to examine in more detail the contemporary chronotope that links culture and capital in the aura of the shoe. In the manner of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, one could state that the aura of the shoe spreads, rhizomelike, across the globe as an (almost) metaphysical index of desire in capital (indeed, to be "over the shoes" is an expression of desire). But while this allows an understanding of the theological and theoretical inside/outside of the shoe it does not coordinate the affective points of responsibility that historically have left the trace of a Jakarta woman shoe worker in a rubber sole and, as we will see, a working-class African American male dead in the streets of Chicago with his shoes removed. (119)

The shoe is magical, both within the history of the commodity and the psychological compulsions of modern "man." The shoe is the emblem of the fetishism that links the commodity to desire. And the most magical shoe of all is currently the athletic shoe because it is simultaneously a symbol of cultural capital, physical prowess, self-esteem, economic and psychic overinvestment, and crass economic exploitation; in fact, it epitomises late capitalist flexible accumulation and continbuing masculinist regimes of desire and disavowal. (121)

Nike is not really in the business of making shoes: What it does is market shoes. The shoes themselves are made through contracting and subcontracting in 12- to 18-month production cycles outside its major market, the United States. Currently, Nike uses more than 700 factories worldwide that employ more than 500,000 people (110,000 in Indonesia). (122)

Most of Nike's shoe lines play to and reinforce conventional definitions of masculinity. Just as the Greeks used Nike to symbolize victory in war (at one point they clipped her wings to keep "victory" in Athens), so Nike laces the sports profile with the language of aggression. Featured shoe models have included Air Assault, Air Barrage, Air Force, Air Magnum Force, Air Raid, and even Air Stab... (144-45)

For more on Nike, see Reclaiming America: Nike, Clean Air, and the New National Activism (Randy Shaw)

AUTHOR       Katz, Donald R.
TITLE        Just do it : the Nike spirit in the corporate world / Donald
IMPRINT      New York, N.Y. : Random House, c1994.
CALL NO.     HD9992.U54 N555 1994.

--and Strategic Public Relations, Sweatshops, and the Making of a Global Movement (B.J. Bullert), and ACADEMICS STUDYING NIKE, REEBOK, and ADIDAS- INDONESIA SUBCONTRACT FACTORIES... and Spotlight on Nike

A pair of shoes selling in the USA for US$150 has a direct labour cost of only US$4.90. With such a margin Nike profits in 1995-96 alone were US$553.2 million. In contrast to the poverty wages paid to Asian workers, Nike pays the Olympic champion runner [sic!] Michael Jordan US$20 million a year to promote its products.

Nike Chief Philip Knight is one of the world’s richest men. In a letter to Nike shareholders in 1996 he said that the reason for Nike moving into such a repressive country as Indonesia was because the US State Department asked them to. He quoted a US State Department official as saying, "Nike’s presence in that part of the world is American foreign policy in action".

--and see The Sports Spectacle, Michael Jordan, and Nike: Unholy Alliance? (Douglas Kellner), and The Nike Issue… How It All Began

Later, it occurred to me to look into chronotopia, and I found Simon Norfolk's Afghanistan Chronotopia ...and "Kingdoms rising, kingdoms falling, Bowing nations, plumèd wars...

Afghanistan keeps similar artefacts in what seems to be a Museum of the Archaeology of War. Abandoned tanks and troop carriers from the Soviet invasion of the 80s litter the countryside like agricultural scrap or they have been used as footings for embankments and bridges, poking from the earth like malevolent fossils. The land has a different appearance where there was fighting in the early 90s. In this instance the tidy, picked–clean skeletons of buildings are separated by smooth, hard earth where de-mining teams have ‘swept’ the area. In places destroyed in the recent US and British aerial bombardment, the buildings are twisted metal and charred roof timbers (the presence of unexploded bombs deters all but the most destitute scavengers,) giving the place a raw, chewed-up appearance.

Mikhail Bakhtin called this kind of landscape a ‘chronotope’: a place that allows movement through space and time simultaneously, a place that displays the ‘layeredness’ of time. The chronotopia of Afghanistan is like a mirror, shattered and thrown into the mud of the past; the shards are glittering fragments, echoing previous civilizations and lost greatness. Here there is a modern concrete teahouse resembling Stonehenge; an FM radio mast like an English maypole; the Pyramids at Giza; the astronomical observatory at Jaipur; the Treasury at Petra; even the votive rock paintings in the caves at Lascaux.

late-breaking news: here's what my friend Ron Nigh says (today, just minutes ago, from Chiapas) in response to the above:

Ah yes. It's worth going back and rereading Bakhtin's original chapter on chronotopes in the novel in 'The Dialogical Imagination'. An exceedingly rich concept that is still being fruitfully explored, as your log shows.

My own use of the idea has been in my anthropology classes, discussing methodology. One can compare approaches to ethnography in terms of their chronotopes. An easily understandable example is the 'ethnographic present' of mid-twentieth century anthros writing about American Indians and wishing to avoid the reality of genocide and discrimination they were (and are) actually living. Students who get it are brought to think about something they haven't thought about before, ie that in our narrative we adopt as 'chronotope' a structure of time (and space) that is usually implied in the narrative but often not consciously addressed. All writing (or other media expression) involves a chronotope and the choice of spacetime reference has implications beyond the explicit content of the narrative. So this notion gets student thinking about a level of a narrative that the usually just take for granted.

There are lots of interesting examples in journalism everyday. The first paragraph or two of an article often sets up the chronotope from which the rest of the article almost inevitably evolves.

This via Ron, 19/ix: Learning Across Multiple Places and their Chronotopes Jay L. Lemke, at AERA 2004 – San Diego Symposium: Spaces and Boundaries of Learning (M. Cole, Organizer)