Date of Award
Dr. Justin St. Clair
In his 1937 essay “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin coins the term “chronotope” to discuss the inherently interconnected nature of time and space in narrative constructions. According to Bakhtin, there are a number of specific chronotopes (or space/time configurations) that help to define literary genres. Applying Bakhtin’s concepts to Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day (2006), this thesis examines how the idea of narrative space/time can clarify Pynchon’s use of genre to make socio-political commentary. The first chapter of this thesis focuses on Bakhtin’s “road chronotope,” which is characterized by the chance meeting of people in spaces devoted to movement and transport. In such narrative spaces, we often witness the condensation of social class, time, and history. New York City functions as such a space in Against the Day, and Bakhtin’s ideas help explain how and why Pynchon can embed the 9/11 tragedy inside a scene set nearly a hundred years earlier. The second chapter focuses on Bahktin’s “threshold chronotope.” In fiction, the threshold chronotope is a temporal space removed from the normal flow of narrative time, and often the setting for a character’s extended inaction or contemplation in a moment of crisis. One recurring group of characters in Against the Day is called The Chums of Chance, a group of boy aeronauts who crew the airship Inconvenience. The narrative intentionally separates the Chums from the other characters both physically and metaphorically. Using Bakhtin’s idea of the threshold chronotope helps clarify their position in the novel, explaining why they are often presented as more fictional than the other characters. Moreover, the Chums’ position on the threshold of the novel’s action distances them from the real historical events that are described, providing readers with space and time to contemplate the novel’s political import.
Margavio, Stephen, "Lost in Time and Lost in Space: Chronotopes in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day" (2021). Undergraduate Theses . 29.