Week 9 – Chronotopes as Memory Schemata

Keunen, Bart. “Bakhtin, Genre Formation, and the Cognitive Turn: Chronotopes as Memory Schemata.” http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/clcweb/vol2/iss2/2.


In the essay on chronotopes as memory schematia, Kuenen proposes to link Bakhtin’s chronotope essay with “cognitive-theoretical frames of reference” which Kuenen defines as schema theories (2).  Kuenen begins by dissecting how Bakhtin’s work with chronotopes – “cognitive invariants used by writers and readers in order to structure historically and textually divergent semantic elements” – contribute to the way in which people identify genres and motifs in literature (2).  Kuenen argues that he will explore how both “superstructural schemata” and “action schemata” can be linked to various functions of chronotopes, namely geological functions of chronotopes and motifs (3).

Bakhtin defines his mental structures as chronotopes which he then claims to be determined by historical stereotypes such as the “adventure chronotope,” “the “idyllic chronotope, “the folkloric chronototope,” and the “chronotope of the Bildungsroman” (3).  Kuenen then differentiates this approach with the influence of the Russian Formalist criticism which emphasizes the procedural approach to knowledge in literary criticism; this theory emphasizes that “the units of this knowledge are no longer linguistic units but pragmatic elements . . . called ‘genres’” (5).  This shift allows Bakhtin to “no longer put the emphasis of critical analysis on the narrative action . . . but on the chronotopic construction that the writers and readers associate with a text” (5).  According to Kuenen, Bakhtin’s work supports genological chronotopes as superstructural memory schemata through a “stereotypical sequence of special setting and invariant series of time segments” (i.e., how the aspects of the plot line up with events by means of time-markers) (6).  Additionally, Bakhtin’s work supports the notion of motivic chronotopes as action schemata by “enabling the reader to concretize and even to reproduce the genological language schemata [Bakhtin] associates with a specific motif” (i.e., how literary motifs trigger the reader’s prior knowledge of something not explicitly mentioned in a text) (9).

Kuenen closes a call for further “narratological” research (i.e., deals with the distinction between spatial and chronotopical levels in text) and “historiographical research” (i.e., how to align science fiction with world models of text) (13).

Kuenen’s incredibly dense essay presents a deeply scientific view of literary criticism.  This is interesting because of the assumption that literary criticism would normally lean toward the “arts” end of the arts-sciences spectrum; however, Kuenen focuses on cognition and various forms of schemata to emphasize how reader-interpretation of the text is inherently scientific.  In terms of relating Kuenen’s and Bakhtin’s ideas to technical communication, I initially had trouble noting the connection.  However, I have concluded that it is important for a writer to remember that readers are going to bring their memory schemata’s to the table every time they read a piece of text whether that be a page from a classic novel or a table in a procedural manual.  As writers in technical communication, we must take into consideration “the interaction between a world model and a concrete text” whenever we put pen to paper – or fingers to a keyboard.

Should constructs such as “genre” and “motif” be taken into consideration when writing for a globalized audience?  What concerns could arise if such factors are not taken into consideration?


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