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The article considers the nature of series as a narrative, focusing especially on its chronotope, i.e. its spatiotemporal coordinates. The concept of chronotope can be applied at at least two different levels of the interpretation of a narrative: the real world of reception and the expressive form of narration. The impact of series entails both aspects. It is for this reason that series, once on television then on the internet, represented a revolutionary turn in the modern experience of storytelling. Series are therefore bound to the progressive spread of a new form of sociality known as a digital “total mobilisation”. Since the era of TV series up to the emergence of web series, seriality has been able to regulate the increase of interaction in the use of visual devices. Series play the role of a dietetical regulator, which designs the spectators’ attention. An artistic, i.e. experimental, exploitation of this new form of storytelling is possible when one considers the emergence of a new narrative genre, which we propose to call the “short form”.

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1. What a chronotope is

  • 1 Stiegler 1998-2010; Montani 2022.
  • 2 Maiello 2020.
  • 3 Bakhtin 1981.
  • 4 Ivi: 85n.

1Film industry has undergone significant changes in the last decades, due to the development of digital technologies. Stiegler and Montani think that these technologies have modified the production and reception of pictures because they reconfigured the modality of how pictures refer to reality.1 This reconfiguration of reference entails not only the nature of pictures, but also the possibility of visual storytelling: from the latter point of view, the last years are indeed marked by the triumph of the series. The consequences of the digital technologies in the filmic industry cannot be understood without considering the spread of a new form of media communication, the internet. This new form of communication is much more pervasive than its forerunners: it is able to invade every space and every time of our lives, thanks to its adaptability to every sort of device. Arguably, series play a pivotal role in adapting the users’ experience to the functioning of this new medium. Angela Maiello2 remarks that series, to be more precise Web series, have developed a new “chronotope”. The concept of chronotope was coined by Mikhail Bakhtin3 to analyse the different literary forms of narrative according to the spatiotemporal coordinates disclosed through them. By dealing with a fiction, one is brought to feel to be a part of a world affected by a particular feeling of space and above all of time. Bakhtin suggests that the chronotope can be compared to the “transcendental aesthetic” of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: the latter provides the subject with the a priori forms of perception, space and time. The chronotope, in turn, describes the spatiotemporal coordinates bound to a given fictional world. Since the world described in a story is not real but fictional, the latter’s chronotope supplies not “transcendental” forms of perception, which deal with the possibility of experiencing reality in general (and in real life), but “forms of the most immediate reality”4 made available by partaking to a fictional world. Consequently, the chronotope provides not general spatiotemporal coordinates, but an exemplary configuration of the world perceived according to given objective situations and subjective moods presented by a narrator.

  • 5 Iser 1978.

2Noteworthily, a chronotope usually applies to the whole spatiotemporal dimension of a story. Bakhtin develops the concept through an extensive analysis of the Hellenistic narrative model of the idyllic romance. Most of the stories in this literary genre are based on the series of contrasts undergone by a couple of young lovers, often of noble or princely origin, in the accomplishment of their love. The two lovers pass through all sorts of wonderful and incredible events and situations, during a lapse of time that can last several years. However, when they eventually meet again, being free of realizing their dream of love, they still appear young, as if they were separated only for a short time. Readers are not puzzled by the impossibility of this occurrence, because they are aware that this idyllic romance reproduces the same atmosphere as a fairy tale – and its chronotope is shaped accordingly. A narrative can be also considered as a way of supplying readers, as well as any sort of audience of the storytelling, with original ways of experiencing the spatial and above all temporal conditions of experience. A similar process is at work in epics, though with different effects: the time of the deeds represented in epic poems is always what has already happened in the past, because it is the age of the origins. Arguably, Bakhtin’s idea becomes fully intelligible if we assume, via Iser,5 that reading a literary text entails an implicit “compact” between author and reader, concerning the rules to follow, in order to make sense of the text. One of them would especially be concerned with the kind of imaginary perception readers display while reading a novel or a story. For this very reason, the chronotope is relevant not only to the internal structure of the story’s plot, but also to the way a narrator narrates it. Narrators can be either sympathetic with or detached from characters. Their description of a fictional world can be more subjective or objective. They accordingly develop a style, which is a way of conveying, among other things, the chronotope of the story, together with the feeling that this chronotope rather belongs to the narrator’s experience or to the objective structure of the world described. A Hellenistic writer of idyllic romances is not ironic when describing the incredibly unaltered age of his protagonists. On the contrary, Oscar Wilde, when dealing with the wonderful eternal youth of Dorian Gray, evidently assumes a metaphorical stance.

  • 6 Kant 2000: 76.
  • 7 Ivi: 152.
  • 8 But see Desideri 2011; Garroni 2005.
  • 9 Ricoeur 1990.
  • 10 Iser 2013: 228.
  • 11 Jauss 1972.
  • 12 Casetti 2015.

3The dialectic of objectivity and subjectivity in the creation and experience of a chronotope can help us clarify the philosophical background of this concept. My opinion is that Bakhtin is trying to describe how an aesthetic experience, in particular a work of art, regenerates and expands the horizons of common experience, having no immediate cognitive finality, and yet keeping a reference to the possibility of improving knowledge. A work of art is first of all an experience: this statement would be shared by different thinkers (Kant, Dewey) and philosophical schools (critical philosophy, pragmatism). For this reason, all aspects of this experience, including perception either real or mediated by the imagination, are relevant to its understanding. The very word “aesthetic” has, by the way, an etymological reference to sensation and perception (aisthesis). Noteworthily, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant speaks of a “reflected perception”6 and a “transcendental aesthetic of the power of judgment”,7 although he does not develop a theory of the spatiotemporal perception with regard to the aesthetic experience.8 We could also consider Paul Ricœur’s philosophy of narration as a further development of this line, partly in dialogue with Kant, among other philosophical references, although minor with regard to Aristotle and Augustine, and partly in dialogue with the theory of reception and literary response, above all Iser and Jauss. Instead of chronotope, Ricœur9 would use the word “refiguration” to describe the power stories have to change the public’s experience of time and, more generally, their understanding of the world as the space of “action and passion”. In a post-Aristotelian vein, he considers refiguration as the third level of mimesis, that is, the representation or narration of an action. This third level of mimesis comes after, firstly, the prefiguration, that is, the knowledge of existence as a series of actions and events; and, secondly, the configuration of a specific plot. In accordance with the hypothesis that philosophical theories failed to explain the nature of time, and that only stories are able to make sense of time according to the human experience, Ricœur underestimates the importance of space in the definition of a narrative chronotope; at any rate, we saw that Bakhtin himself was more interested in time than in space. However, as far as fictions are concerned, space also plays an important role in shaping a narrative, at least because reading, which is the actualization of a chronotope, implies the encounter between the reader’s real world and the story’s fictional world. Where does this encounter happen? I would be tempted to answer that it depends on the narration: some stories keep a clear distance between the reader’s and their own world. Other stories claim continuity between the two worlds. At any rate, we must imagine a space where the encounter happens. Iser10 considers this space as an “artificial habitat” where storytelling and other creative agencies let us reconfigure our cultural frameworks. Jauss11 believes instead that every experience of an artwork happens inside a “space of play” (Spielraum), an expression that in German also designates the margin of action. The last remark is very crucial: this space is a space of the imagination: we can only have an experience of it with and through our imaginations. The reference to this imagined space stays for the consensus given to authors, which lets us explore their fictional world, and for the possibility of enriching experience by means of the imagination. For this reason, as far as narrative works of art are concerned, we should distinguish at least two interrelated chronotopes: that of readers, which deals with their real lives; and that of the story, which deals with its spatiotemporal structure. As said above, the latter also entails the way authors display a narrative style that fulfils the need of conveying a certain spatiotemporal frame of the story. I would therefore speak of “real” and “expressive” chronotope. When Stanley Kubrick, in Barry Lyndon, used a trio of Schubert as the musical accompaniment of the scene when Barry meets Lady Lyndon for the first time, he creates an anachronism which makes sense of his interpretation of the two characters’ love story: he in fact transforms their rococo milieu into something romantic. His artistic choice alters the spatiotemporal coordinates of the very world of dames and cavaliers (and rogues) originally imaged by the writer Thackeray. Second example: the chronotope of the real world. The example is given by our ordinary experience in this case. Movies were originally available only on large screens in theatres. They then became available on the much smaller screens of the home televisions. Now they are available on every sort of screen, large or small, fixed or mobile. A story is available at every moment and place: one only needs a wi-fi and a device with a battery charged. It is the “relocation of the filmic experience”,12 which I understand as the reconfiguration of (one of) its chronotope(s).

2. The chronotope of seriality

  • 13 Maiello 2020.
  • 14 Ferraris 2016.
  • 15 Crary 2014.
  • 16 Flusser 2011.

4My argument is that all narratives, not only the literary ones, display at least the two aforementioned chronotopes. Series make no exception.13 Arguably, they represent a turn in the history of storytelling, because of the very peculiarity of their two chronotopes. Seriality unfolds both a lifestyle and an aesthetic interpretation of life. This is even more true after the birth of new digital and interactive technologies, which engage us without interruptions during the whole day, in a sort of a new “total mobilisation”.14 It is a social condition in which the digital connectivity is mandatory “24/7”,15 24 hours for 7 days a week, because a constantly increasing part of our lives actually happens online. With regard to television, Vilém Flusser16 has already suggested a similar fate for the modern hyper-technological society. Needless to say, the lockdown during the pandemic has emphasised this condition. A specific feature of the digital mobilisation is the need for continuously overlapping work time with leisure. Series fulfil this need exemplarily.

  • 17 Benjamin 1969: 19.
  • 18 Nanay 2016.
  • 19 Ibidem.
  • 20 Noë 2015.

5The aesthetic meaning of series, however, is not limited to that. In a certain sense, they mirror the perceptual and affective mood of the age. Instead of being characterised by distraction, the vision of series seems to be characterised by a high level of concentration and condensation. Walter Benjamin speaks of a “reception in a state of distraction”17 (Wahrnehmung in der Zerstreuung: more literally, “perception in distraction”) which would be operating in the filmic experience. It is not necessarily a negative condition of perception. The word “distraction” has two senses: it may mean both the opposite of attention or the act of deviating something from its original collocation. Benjamin intentionally superimposes the two senses: the effect of a movie might therefore be similar to that of a Dada montage, in which heterogeneous elements are put together, in order to make sense, or more frequently nonsense, of each other. Although Benjamin underlines that cinema, unlike these avantgarde experimentations, exhibits a reconstructive attitude beside the destructive attitude, the perceptual mood required is the same for both: one has to be receptive to the contingencies of reality and to the appearance of unexpected constellations which combine together different and distant things. In this case, distraction is not a claim for mere thoughtlessness but the perceptual attitude due to this aesthetic experience. Generally speaking, we can consider distraction as a variation of the reflected perception already theorised by Kant with regard to the aesthetic judgement: the variation is due to the shift from a form of art which emphasises contemplation to a form of art which promotes fragmentation. Generally speaking, we could consider aesthetics as a philosophy of perception: this idea is shared by Bence Nanay,18 who develops it according to a cognitive paradigm,19 and Alva Noë, who develops it in accordance with his enactivist theory of perception.20

  • 21 Citton 2017.

6Series shape a different chronotope than movies: their expressive chronotope is often, but not necessarily, suitable to the narration of long sagas, whilst movies, even when they foresee a large number of sequels, must condensate the sense of a story in an experience canonically fixed by Hollywood in 90 minutes. Seriality has always been available to cinema. However, as far as the real chronotope is concerned, series also offer different conditions of spectatorship. Watching a series can be a highly concentrated experience. When the medium of seriality was almost only television, this experience was at the same time concentrated and diffused: concentrated in a short moment of the day, and diffused throughout a long lapse of time, sometimes years. The introduction of digital technologies, and the passage of series from the traditional medium of television to the web, is likely to emphasise above all the first feature. Concentration, and even sometimes intoxication, of series is now possible because the whole yearly season of a series, together with the past seasons, is available on a platform. Spectators can organise marathons that may last until late at night, in order to watch the whole season in one day. Digital technologies afford concentrated vision also in another way. Being mobile, these technologies let users watch videos practically everywhere at every time. Users can therefore fill daily voids, such as travelling to or from their workplace, watching a video. This experience is of course not limited to series. However, these ones afford a segmentation of the narrative, which is usually suitable to the aforementioned situation. The fragmentation of the filmic experience for the same reason, which is nonetheless more and more common, results in the partial distortion of this experience, which is based on the continuity of vision. In a nutshell, the convergence of seriality and digital technologies corresponds to the new “ecology of attention”,21 where attention is at the same time fragmentary, but can be suddenly concentrated in short and limited lapses of time. To be more precise, I think series regulate the spectators’ interaction with their digital niche. Seriality fulfils, in other words, a dietetical function inside our experience of digital technologies. A comparison with TV series might be useful to understand this point.

  • 22 Benjamin 1969.
  • 23 Derrida, Stiegler 2002.

7TV series – I mean of course a series watched on a broadcast medium based on a fixed program – follow a completely different chronotope in comparison with series always available on a web platform. No matter whether daily or weekly, the broadcasting of episodes, usually one or two episodes for each broadcasting, happens at regular intervals: every week the same day at the same time; or every day at the same time, except the weekends. In the 1980s, the opinion that this medium was making the public increasingly idiotic was very common among intellectuals: instead of joining collective events in theatres and arenas, we were entertained at home, individually or in small groups – usually, the family group. Instead of reading newspapers to be informed, we listened to the news on television: this would have produced a general regression to the dimension of an archaic orality, in which authorities were no longer the object of criticism because they were progressively stopping producing texts. Television was very often seen as a departmentalized form of “aestheticization of politics”:22 instead of gathering the mass in the city’s square to hear the voice of the leader, the leader reaches each one of them through the screen of their television. Furthermore, the live events, including reportage from war scenes, gave the spectators the illusion of being the witness of reality in its being.23 Assuming the validity of these critical remarks, we should also add that TV series had a positive function with regard to the diffusion of the television.

8Let us analyse the narrative structure of both the TV and the streaming TV series, especially their respective chronotope, with regard to the general functioning of their media, respectively television and the internet, and with a special focus on the circulation of the information. TV series allow only a regular dosage of entertainment, inside a medium, television, which claims to be able to supply live reality at every moment. Many of us surely remember the trauma of the interruption of all other programmes on 11th September 2001, in order to let the audience be the direct witness of the attack against the Twin Towers. In regular cases, TV series interrupted this show of reality. On the contrary, web series allow every sort of consumerist reception. Furthermore, the internet is much more than a window constantly open to the globalised reality already existing for television. The internet is an archive in which past and present are simultaneously available to the user. Since the 1990s, Rai Tre, the third channel of the Italian State Television, has been hosting a programme which has become incredibly popular. It is called Blob, like the mysterious killing fluid of an old horror movie. The blob is here the televisual memory stored in the archives, which is usually accessible only to professionals. The task of the programme is to display this memory, and share it with the spectators, by means of a montage, which Walter Benjamin would have probably called “dialectical image”: in fact, their montages usually compare past and present, and make spectators reflect upon the historical meaning of the daily actualities, often using an ironic and desacralizing style. In its best creations, Blob is the uncanny emergence of the Italian television’s unconscious. This mode of dealing with pictures and stories available on a given medium is actually the rule on the internet, and loses much of its artistic fascination. Everybody is now able to create montages which find unexpected connections between different stories: what was the countermark of a rediscovered critical thinking in Blob now becomes the symptom of an obsession for conspiracy.

  • 24 Stiegler 1998-2010.

9In the case of Blob, the condensation of images, which emphasises the pathos of the everyday storytelling of reality, is a way of enhancing the spectators’ attention; in the case of the internet, on the contrary, it is a way of exasperating the already “mobilised” sensibility of the mass. The internet is an echo-chamber of shocks, whilst television has often played the role of a post-traumatic therapeutical setting. Their respective productions of serial storytelling should be considered accordingly. When compared to a programme like Blob, TV series seem to bring the spectator’s sensibility to a direction which is the opposite of an echo-chamber: they deflate the spectator’s pathetic peaks, diluting them in a constant but regular and measured poisoning. If media are pharmaka,24 either healthy or dangerous according to dosage and circumstances, one ought to recognize that the dosage of TV series was often extremely wise: a regular and weighed dosage of TV series instils a bearable quantity of poison into the spectator’s soul, the poison being a mixture of actuality and fiction, engagement and entertainment. The spectator’s soul undergoes instead a sort intoxication by the marathons of web series, which entail a massive injection of storytelling. And this intoxication, instead of caring for the increase of confusion between reality and fake, indirectly fosters the trend of “post-truth” spreading from the political global storytelling.

10Of course, this regularity can also undermine the maturity of an aesthetic experience. A product like the soap operas, which are probably the extreme form of TV series as sagas, create only an illusionary image of the world, on which the spectator projects her own desires and aspirations, without being really exposed to the discovery of new aspects of reality. Furthermore, a soap opera tendentially confirms the spectators’ feeling of easiness with their own habits and routines: they feel a sense of perfect correspondence between their lives and the world. This feeling is felt despite the inconsistencies that often occur in a soap opera: incredible resurrections, exhausting revivals and crises in love stories and other sort of wonders, to an extent which is hardly tenable, even according to the narrative criteria of sagas. But the plot of a soap opera fulfils other criteria, which respond to the spectator’s expectation of being entertained for an incredibly long lapse of time, sometimes whole decades, no matter how unsustainable the logic of the storytelling might become. The last worldwide famous example of this trend is the Spanish soap opera Acacias 38. In short, the spectator’s real chronotope, which unfolds here a need for regular entertainment, prevails over the expressive chronotope of the narrative.

  • 25 Montani 2020.

11TV movies supply of course not just entertainment. Let me just remind that Kieslowky’s Ten Commandments were originally meant to be TV movies made for the Polish State channel. Even without going to the extreme case of an “author” who realised this kind of narrative, we can say that the TV movie occupies a position amid the different kinds of televisual storytelling which let it unfold the potentialities of a narrative form which has been recently baptised as “short form”.25 In the next section, I will analyse this form with regard to seriality. As far as television is concerned, however, let me only mention one case in which a TV movie did what TV series often do not, ironically reflecting upon the nature of television itself as a medium. Joe Dante, in the TV movie The Second Civil War, exemplarily imagines a US President who deals with the act of secession of a State Governor. The latter contests indeed the excessively liberal migratory policy of the federal government. The movie aims at showing how far the White House might be subject to the power of media, to the extent that, when an ultimatum is sent to the rebellious Governor, the deadline is chosen according to the broadcasting of the last episode of a soap opera which is very popular among housewives. The White House avoids of course running the risk of frustrating the audience’s expectations, because this frustration would immediately turn into a loss of consensus for the President himself.

3. The short form as artistic seriality

  • 26 Barra 2020.
  • 27 Kant 2000: 135 (§ 26).

12The TV movie is only an example of short form. Another type of short form could be the sitcom, a subgenre of series.26 However, a genealogy of the short form goes beyond the boundaries of this paper, despite its extreme interest. The lack of an aesthetic definition of the short form is at stake here. I will turn to Kant’s analysis of the sublime, in order to sketch a possible definition. Reconstructing the idea of “mathematically sublime”, Kant states first of all that the evaluation of something’s size implies the reference to a touchstone. However, if any specific touchstone is missing, he adds, the “mathematical estimation of magnitude” is replaced by two operations of the mind, by which the subject can “take up a quantum in the imagination intuitively”: these operations are the “apprehension (apprehensio) [of the object through the senses] and the comprehension (comprehension aesthetica)”27 of the object into a mental image. Take note that “apprehension” (Auffassung) and “comprehension” (Zusammenfassung) are operations of the imagination associated with perception: the latter captures data received from the different sense organs, while the former configures them for the sake of making sense of experience. The two operations can be isolated and described by the philosophical (transcendental) analysis, but are intertwined in the actual experience. Here is the reason why one cannot but evaluate the size, or “magnitude” of objects, even if one lacks any objective touchstone. In this case, this evaluation refers only to the subject’s feeling, and the evaluation is aesthetic in the etymological sense of the word.

  • 28 Ivi: 139.
  • 29 See Lyotard 1994.

13When this evaluation of size through feeling encounters an object that appears to be great beyond any empirical esteem, the sentimental attitude of this aesthetic evaluation of size becomes overwhelming, and the imagination fails to supply any measurable configuration of the object. However, this particular aspect of the sublime, when considered in its proper transcendental collocation, actually points out to the impossibility for the imagination to grasp the idea of infinity by means of intuition. Intuition (Anschauung) is indeed the immediate representation of the object as the latter is perceived through the senses. The empirical unattainability of the idea of infinity by the imagination is therefore evoked in the sublime by the “magnitude of a natural object on which the imagination fruitlessly expends its entire capacity for comprehension”: consequently, the experience of the aforementioned object “must lead the concept of nature to a supersensible substratum […] which is great beyond any standard of sense”.28 The mathematically sublime describes, in other words, the collapse of the imagination in front of an object which is great enough to exceed any approximate measurement, to the extent of epitomising, though only negatively, an idea which inherently exceeds the sensibility.29

  • 30 Kant 2000: 192 (§ 49).

14The mathematically sublime negatively evokes, by the means of an empirical excess of sensations, the transcendental disproportion of the imagination with an idea of reason, the idea of infinity. This disproportion pervades the indeterminacy of perception, which is a general feature of all aesthetic experiences, not only the sublime ones, with the reference to some higher principle. In the case of the beautiful, on the contrary, the proportion of the imagination with the understanding would be felt as pleasing, despite the indeterminacy of perception. And, in the case of the so-called “fine arts”, the indeterminacy is consistent with an “animating principle” which is the “faculty for the presentation of aesthetic ideas”. And an aesthetic idea is the “representation of the imagination that occasions much thinking though without it being possible for any determinate thought, i.e., concept, to be adequate to it”30. Lyotard however defends the idea that, especially after the birth of the avantgarde, a “sublime art” is possible, and actually exists, insofar modern experience deals with an excess of stimulation, associated with the collapse of interpretive models.

  • 31 Cecchi 2019.
  • 32 Lyotard 1989.

15The way a narrative displays a perceptual function is of course mainly imaginative31: the way a story creates its own chronotope can be considered as one of the principal tasks of this very function. However, despite the transposal of perception with imagination, narratives span throughout all kinds of aesthetic feelings, from the beautiful to the sublime. A narrative would be in that sense beautiful as far as the presentation it gives of a fictional world according to specific spatiotemporal coordinates makes sense if compared to ordinary reality, whilst it would be sublime when this presentation intentionally enhances a feeling of distortion or disproportion with regard to reality. I don’t have here the space to develop a theory that distinguishes different audiovisual serial narratives, and above all the aforementioned “short forms”, according to the opposition of the beautiful and the sublime. I can formulate the hypothesis that different short forms probably perform different tasks with regard to the aesthetic experience of the audience, and can be either beautiful or sublime accordingly. As I said above, as far as a series is released on television, it seems to play a dietetical function, which is likely to be more suitable with a beautiful presentation of the world, rather than with a sublime one. TV movies could undergo the same fate. These statements are however only hypothetical. What I really would like to argue is that some series, especially those meant for web platforms, whose narrative is organised around few episodes for each season, and possibly destined to have only one season, can present traits of creative experimentalism, which make them good candidates for sublime narratives. The relationship of experimentalism to the sublime generally speaking finds a strong supporter in Lyotard32. The reason for the very recovery of this relationship is however specific and circumscribed: it seems to me that narrative short forms often work on distorting a specific aspect of perception, for instance a way of speaking that is out of the ordinary, in order to capture the spectators, bringing them to pay attention to other aspects of the narration, such as the way a specific world is depicted, instead of focusing only on the plot. I will briefly consider two cases: Unorthodox (Maria Schrader 2020: four episodes no longer than 55 minutes); Pretend It’s a City (Martin Scorsese 2021: seven episodes no longer than 31 minutes); other cases could also be considered, such as Strappare lungo i bordi (Zerocalcare 2021: six episodes no longer than 22 minutes).

  • 33 Surliuga 2022.

16The voice is the pivot of all the aforementioned three cases, though in different ways. In Unorthodox, it is the discovery of an ancient but still spoken language that survives inside the heart of modernity (New York), and that has an unexpected relationship to a currently spoken language (German). In Pretend It’s a City, it is the peculiar mimic traits of Fran Lebowitz, a dandy intellectual, writer and stand-up comedian (or rather “public orator”), whose invectives against the decline of New York become the very image of the city.33 And it is the character of ventriloquist displayed by Zero’s voice, which filters the voices and characters of all of his friends, in Strappare lungo i bordi. In all of the three cases, voice is the sensible medium by which it is possible to configure the spatial or temporal coordinates of the narration. By paying attention to the creative function of voice, we discover: that the protagonist’s abode in New York is actually the revival of a past and lost space, the shtetl, the old Jewish village in Central Europe; that ‘new’ New York is haunted by the ghost, and the glamour, of old New York; and that Zero actually failed to really know his friends because, until a traumatic event, he lived friendship as an event happening inside his problematic soul, which literally swallows the world outside. Voice has therefore a chronotopical function in these cases. However, I will be able to consider only the first two cases here. Let us begin with Unorthodox. This series tells the story of Etsi, a young woman who belongs to a Jewish orthodox community in Brooklyn. All the members of the community speak Yiddish, not English. Etsi, who got married one year earlier, is unable to get pregnant. Her sense of unease, together with the unhappiness due to the relationship to her husband lead her to come to the decision of escaping from the community, in order to reach Berlin and her mother, who had already quit the community many years ago. The use of Yiddish might be an effect of hyperrealism in the director Maria Schrader’s mind. However, this choice also becomes relevant to the grasp of the meaning of the story. As a matter of fact, Etsi’s liberation from the orthodox community can be identified with her detachment from her mother-tongue. As a form of liberation from one’s origins, it is however a strange one because, in Etsi’s life, the weird mixture of Hebrew and old German which is Yiddish is replaced by the modern German spoken by a multiracial, multinational and intellectual small community of music students living in Berlin, where she also finds a young man with whom she falls in love. Furthermore, in Berlin, she eventually finds her mother, only to discover that the latter lives with another woman. Etsi’s passage from orthodoxy to unorthodoxy is therefore full of paradoxes: she exchanges an old form of German for a new one; she leaves her abode to discover an unexpected truth about her mother. The structure of the story is paradoxical to the extent that the spectator wonders whether Etsi’s community was really so authentic. These orthodox Jews live in Brooklyn in the early 21st century, but still behave and speak as if they were living in Hungary in the 19th century. However, their Yiddish is full of English words. More interestingly, the English words increase when their speeches are concerned with thorny issues like the sexual desire or the woman’s pleasure. The use of the English language, the language of modernity in their minds, is therefore reduced to the representation of a topic, sex, which is not removed but embodied by a consumerist logic: Etsi’s mother-in-law sent a sex counsellor to visit her daughter-in-law as she realises that the girl is not getting pregnant. Etsi’s emancipation is a journey which does not take place exclusively in space or in time. Its characteristic is that of overlapping space and time, taking the linguistic conglomerate of Yiddish-German as the place in which Etsi’s contradictions find a place; let us keep in mind, by the way, that German is also the language of the Third Reich, and that Etsi’s orthodox community was founded by survivors of the Shoah.

17As we can see, voice can be used for configuring the meaning of the story, and embody it in the plot. Voice is able to embody a certain way of dwelling in a place, travelling through different places and experimenting different historical temporalities – an experience which could bring to recognize the copresence of different cultural worlds, not only on Earth but already in one person. Here we come to Martin Scorsese’s original attempt of adapting the style of a live stand-up comedy to a series. It is the case of Pretend It’s a City, in which the writer and film critic Fran Lebowitz describes the changes that occurred during the last years in New York, the city she loves and where she has been living for the last fifty years. Lebowitz has been working on her new book since the publication of Social Studies in 1981, but she is affected by writer’s block. Meanwhile, she practises the noble art of speaker and storyteller, which she adapted to the modern form of a popular stand-up comedy that takes place weekly in New York City. However, she does much more than entertaining the audience with her humour: her spectacle is a form of provocation, during which she is able to polemize with her spectators. During this spectacle, she goes into her tirade against New York’s aesthetic and morale decadence. These forms of decadence are indeed but one: she is a strong supporter of the aestheticism in the highest sense of the word. Her voice, with its nuances of sound of a longstanding smoker, enriched by the speaker’s intellectual subtlety and polished language, thus becomes the medium through which the city of New York, once the centre of the artistic and cultural avant-garde, a city of splendour and misery, mirrors itself in its present decline under the combined guidance of gentrification and mass tourism. As a consumed storyteller, Lebowitz knows how to connect her voice with the rest of the body: in a hilarious sequence, she criticises the young bikers who, careless of pedestrians, text on their phones and eat a sandwich while riding with their elbows. Her body mirrors New York today, while her voice is an echo of old New York. Her whole person is literally haunted by the different ‘ghosts’ of the city, and this makes her sharp humour gloomy: her tirades conceal the secret desire of dominating the city – Scorsese often shows her as she walks on a scale model of New York. This is the imaginary counterpart of her storytelling of her real wanderings throughout the city. Scorsese aims at making New York an artificial space, produced by Fran’s mind, but also making Fran’s imagination the only place where New York could survive.

18In conclusion, the short form is able to unfold a chronotope of seriality, which is often unrecognised when one deals with web series. Seriality is mainly concerned with experiences of hyper-concentration of the attention, within a world characterised by the total mobilisation of the mass. Short forms are instead able to transfigure this hyper-concentration into a new kind of contemplation. It is not contemplation in the traditional sense of the word, its perceptual mood being rather a form of resistance and an exercise of critical thinking in front of the uncontrollable elaboration of our own experience by the new digital technologies. Against this trend, the short form pleads for the rediscovery of those sensible elements which make the others and their bodies the effective media of a meaningful experience of a really intersubjective communication often promised but rarely supplied by the internet.

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1 Stiegler 1998-2010; Montani 2022.

2 Maiello 2020.

3 Bakhtin 1981.

4 Ivi: 85n.

5 Iser 1978.

6 Kant 2000: 76.

7 Ivi: 152.

8 But see Desideri 2011; Garroni 2005.

9 Ricoeur 1990.

10 Iser 2013: 228.

11 Jauss 1972.

12 Casetti 2015.

13 Maiello 2020.

14 Ferraris 2016.

15 Crary 2014.

16 Flusser 2011.

17 Benjamin 1969: 19.

18 Nanay 2016.

19 Ibidem.

20 Noë 2015.

21 Citton 2017.

22 Benjamin 1969.

23 Derrida, Stiegler 2002.

24 Stiegler 1998-2010.

25 Montani 2020.

26 Barra 2020.

27 Kant 2000: 135 (§ 26).

28 Ivi: 139.

29 See Lyotard 1994.

30 Kant 2000: 192 (§ 49).

31 Cecchi 2019.

32 Lyotard 1989.

33 Surliuga 2022.

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Dario Cecchi, «Seriality as a Chronotope»Rivista di estetica, 83 | 2023, 89-104.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Dario Cecchi, «Seriality as a Chronotope»Rivista di estetica [Online], 83 | 2023, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 25 mai 2024. URL:; DOI:

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