2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism

M. M. Bakhtin: The Forms of Time and Chronotrope in the Novel

One would like to believe that M. M. Bakhtin had obtained a copy of transition 21 and was replying to Jolas and Gillet when he wrote critically of Dante's "vertical axis" of symbolic interpretation in 1937-38. Otherwise, Bakhtin's analysis is preternaturally to the point:

Here the influence of the medieval, other-worldly, vertical axis is extremely strong. The entire spatial and temporal world is subject to symbolic interpretation. One might even say that in such works time is utterly excluded from action. This is a "vision," after all, and visions in real time are very brief, indeed the meaning of what is seen is extra-temporal (although it does have some connection with time). In Dante, the real time of the vision--as well as the point at which it intersects with two other types of time, the specific biographical moment (the time of a human life) and historical time--has a purely symbolic character.[53]

The importance of Dante to both T. S. Eliot and James Joyce needs no comment. As an opponent rather than a partisan of "verticalism," Bakhtin places the "artist's powerful will" where Stuart Gilbert places "Nature's method":

The vertical, as it were, compresses within itself the horizontal, which powerfully thrusts itself forward. There is a contradiction, an antagonism between the form-generating principle of the whole and the historical and temporal form of its separate parts.
Therefore, the images and ideas that fill this vertical world are in their turn filled with a powerful desire to escape this world, to set out along the historically productive horizontal, to be distributed not upward, but forward. Each image is full of horizontal potential, and therefore strains with the whole of its being toward participation in historical events--toward participation in a temporal-historical chronotrope. But the artist's powerful will condemns it to an eternal and immobile place on the extratemporal vertical axis.[54]

The animism of Bakhtin's rhetoric aims to denaturalize "verticalism," while recognizing its power as an art ideology. The images, ideas, the parts of the synecdochic "rhythm of beauty" "desire to escape" the whole. Of course, one must discount this animism. Tropes do not desire. Writers and readers desire that tropes mean and connect in this and that way. The "horizontalism" of Bakhtin's "The Forms of Time and Chronotrope in the Novel" considered alongside transition's "verticalism" testifies to a struggle, a widespread modernist debate, between competing conceptions of the novel's proper form. It need come as no surprise that the debates of British-American modernism, triangulated between Paris, London and New York resonate with critical debate within Stalin's Russia. But, hegemony is settled locally, institutionally, within the "hot" discourse of those who speak the same language and share the same critical and public audience. In twentieth-century British-American aesthetics, this has meant the prevalence of Jolas' "verticalism" and New Critical symbolism.

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