‘Bifurcation’ and ‘chronotopia’ again

Those who have been on my journey since 30 July 1914/2014 will remember that six weeks into it (12 September) I wrote about the problem I was having of holding in my head the two activities of writing the blog every day and writing the continuous narrative of the biography. I felt I was strangely bifurcating, and before the timeline of the book had overtaken the timeline of the blog it produced a couple of months of writer’s block.

Another way of looking at the trouble was to contrast the day-at-a-time real time of the blog with the extended time past that I was writing as a biographer toiling over chapter 14 (1914-15). I simply found it difficult to keep the two apart in my brain. I suggested my brain was suffering from ‘chronotopia’ — the need to manage two different ‘chronotopes’, i.e. time/space forms, simultaneously. Some people might find this easy, but I don’t.

The problem should have been solved when on 6 February 2015 I finished chapter 14 with the events of 4 June 1915, four months ahead of the ‘real time’ of the blog. Unfortunately, I have now ‘lost’ a month on various activities, including the deep research of Kittie’s life June 1915-July 1921, which means that the gap between the blog and the book is narrowing again. I shall probably be able to start chapter 15, dealing with that terrible period of Kittie’s life, after the Easter holiday, so biography-time will never fall behind blog-time. But because my brain is currently filled with the events of Kittie’s life 1915-21 I am already beginning to experience some chronotopia again; to be blunt, interference or confusion between the two times. Also, it intrigues me whether this confusion is just the natural dementia of a 67-year-old!

Obviously, I am desperately impatient to get on with chapters 15 and 16 and finish the book (see my post of 4 March). I am also disturbed by the strange sense of having lost touch with George since he went over the top at the end of chapter 14. I have now to focus on Kittie, the survivor, but it’s a biography of George and I’m afraid of losing my feel of him for good. I can’t wait, then, not just to to finish the book, but to start revising it, because I will then be back in the swim of his life. But the temptation to hurry, and botch, must be avoided. The last two chapters have to be written with exactly the same care as all the others, even though I have a deadline breathing down my neck (a deadline that I have already missed by six months). As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray, / But bid for, Patience is!’

The unexpected bonus of all this is that running the blog means I shall have written one book of 160,000 words over three and a half years covering George and Kittie’s lives 1867-1950, and another of about  125,000 words in one year covering their lives from July 1914 to July 1915… So two entirely different ‘works’ with entirely different ‘chronotopes’. I will leave it to other people to discuss whether you can compare a 400-page book with a 12-month blog and call them both ‘works’, or even, as Stuart Kelly did in his TLS piece ‘Enter John Aubrey’, claim that a day-by-day webpage of someone’s life is a new, digital-age form of biography. My blogmaster repeatedly tells me that when it closes down on 30 July 2015 Calderonia will at least be ‘a document that’s always there’.

Next entry: ‘Phantom flies in amber’ (Concluded)

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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