Chronotope and Metaphoric Binding in The Brothers Karamazov

Harold D. Baker, Independent Scholar

Baxtin's comments on chronotope in Dostoevskij are sketchy, though suggestive; chronotope itself is used by Baxtin primarily as a category of "historical poetics" rather than a tool for the analysis of individual texts. The utility of chronotope in analysis is much enhanced if we extend it in the light of Peter Brooks's theory of metaphoric binding in narrative ("Freud's Masterplot," 1977). In Brooks's concept the tension, inherent in all narrative, between the drive to conclusion and closure, on the one hand, and complication and delay (what we may call "narrative indirection"), on the other, is mediated by a texture of metaphorical relations binding the divagations of story into a rhythmic whole. The power of Brooks's concept is that it defines a single topology of language and event, sidestepping the reductively action-centered and hierarchizing strategies of structuralist narratology. At the same time, it gives us access to the metonymical interplay of time and space in narrative (as counterpoint to the texture of metaphor), much in the spirit of Baxtinian chronotope. Dostoevskij's Brothers Karamazov, whatever its distinctiveness may be in other regards, is an outstanding example of how spatial relationships articulated by action may be taken up into a metaphorical web through which action is able to work through indirection, indeterminacy, and inconclusiveness. The spatial milieu of The Brothers Karamazov is marked by complexity, obscurity, and indirection (e.g., the Karamazov house with its many secret passages), and the movements of characters are correspondingly circuitous, unpredictable, often devious. The analysis of key episodes shows that this system of oblique spatio-temporal junctures continually constructs a series of parallel oppositions between larger, more general and authoritative settings and specific, marginal, subordinate settings charged with subversive power (the town and the monastery; Zosima's cell and the rest of the monastery; the Karamazov manor house and the outlying servants' quarters, where the children are raised; Russia and its Siberian fringe; similarly, Europe and its European fringe). An overview of spatial relations in The Brothers Karamazov supports the view that it is a polemic against rationalistic European enlightenment in favor of deeply-rooted Russian spirituality; moreover, it highlights a "principle of small magnitudes" (princip malyx velichin) by which a fragment or remnant is able to keep a much larger whole in a state of ferment and potentiality (the spiritual as force against historical closure). It is a commonplace that this novel's conclusion plays out rhetorically certain ideological positions (that suffering is recuperated in a rebirth of moral goodness, that all bear responsibility for the sins of any) at the same time that the events of that conclusion are emphatically indeterminate (it is not known if the boys will remain good and kind or if Dmitrij will accept his--paradoxically--just punishment). The metaphorical binding of the novel's spaces serves less to cancel this indeterminacy than to bring out its full meaning, to give full play and resonance to the novel's pervasive indirection. Without the texture of metaphorical connectedness among places, the novel's final scene on the rock (laden with Biblical associations) would not have its remarkable power, connecting Ilusha's suffering, passion, and death with the foundation of a new, marginal and subversive society.