Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Turducken Time Theory

Today's Notes from the Ivory Tower are being pulled from Literary Theory, with an emphasis on Time. These notes come from a combination of existing theories of literary time, mixed up together into my own Turducken theory.

Just like a Turducken is various deboned birds stuffed into one another, the Turducken Time Theory takes existing types of literary time and stuffs them inside each other in various incarnations to make time work in various ways in various pieces of literature. And yes, I did just overuse the word Various. Let's start by looking at the different varieties of literary time.

Chronologic Time

Chronologic time is the thing most people automatically think of when someone mentions time. It flows forward in a linear fashion, and is continuous. "Chronologic" comes from the Greek "Chronos", and it is the simplest form of literary time. It can also be used in literary discussion as "out-story" time.

Kairos (Event Time)

Kairos, or "event time" comes from the Ancient Greek word "Kairos", and it describes a section of time in which an event occurs. The ancient Greek is also associated with weather; by this association then, kairos refers to events that are beyond the control of characters in the narrative. Weather included. For example, the storm scene in King Lear is a good example of kairos, because it is an event which is clearly outside of Lear's control, and yet is a temporal shaping factor of the arc of the narrative.


Periodicity is another form of event time, but rather than being associated with weather, periodicity is associated with disease. Specifically, the time in which a disease runs its course. This article discusses periodicity in terms of geologic time and climate change in Cowper's The Task, and is certainly worth a read; it helps explain periodicity.

Mythologic Time

Mythologic time is fully and expertly explained by Umberto Eco in his article "The Myth of Superman", but I'll break it down quickly here. The two mainstays of Mythologic time are In-Story Time and Out-Story Time.

In-Story Time is basically the chronologic time within a narrative, and is 'consumed' by the characters. It has a beginning and a middle and an end, and while it can be linear and forward moving, it can also be cyclical, backwards, spiral...any narrative flow can be in-story, consumable time. Once In-Story Time has been consumed, it's finished, done, and we as the audience or reader can take the narrative as a whole.

Out-Story Time is either chronological time, or it is the time that we as readers use as a lens with which to analyze In-Story Time which has been fully consumed (or, as with Superman, exists in an omnipresent now that prevents Superman consuming his In-Story Time and thus ending the story).

Biblical Time

Biblical time is an easy one. The Bible lays out a timeline, and then attempts to impose that timeline on chronological or Out-Story Time.

Now that we've quickly gone over the existing theories of literary time, let's explore how we can stuff them inside of each other and how it affects the way we look at time and temporality in literature.

Obviously, chronological time is the Turkey, because it exists both within and without literature. So everything we stuff into chronological time exists, but whether it exists inside or outside of story time can make the turducken theory kind of meta at times. The myth of Hercules is a good place to look, and actually Superman functions in the same way (Seriously, read the linked Eco article, it is AMAZING). Because we have a concrete body of literature in the cases of Hercules and Superman, their narratives exist and evolve in chronological time outside of the narratives. They also both contain event times, and mythological times as well as fun little narrative arcs that serve to keep Superman from "ending". This is a quick look into what time can do, but it applies to literally any literature you care to examine with the Turducken Time Theory.

Hopefully you enjoyed these Notes from the Ivory Tower! We'll be back next time with something else fun.

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