In response to various posts, including Alessandro’s: an interesting alternative to the timeline, or a dynamic fusion of timeline and mapping tools for literary studies, could be based on the concept of chronotope, thus defined by Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin:
“We will give the name chronotope (literally, ‘time space’) to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature. This term [space-time] is employed in mathematics, and was introduced as part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The special meaning it has in relativity theory is not important for our purposes; we are borrowing it for literary criticism almost as a metaphor (almost, but not entirely). What counts for us is the fact that it expresses the inseparability of space and time (time as the fourth dimension of space). We understand the chronotope as a formally constitutive category of literature; we will not deal with the chronotope in other areas of culture.’ In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope. The chronotope in literature has an intrinsic generic significance. It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions, for in literature the primary category in the chronotope is time. The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic.”
from: The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin, translated by Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press, 1981.
One could represent the whole history of literature in a non-linear way, as a series of overlapping and intertwining chronotopes…
Another definition by Anthropologist James Clifford: “The chronotope is a fictional setting where historically specific relations of power become visible and certain stories can ‘take place’ (the bourgeois salon in nineteenth-century social novels, the merchant ship in Conrad’s tales of adventure and empire).” Examples of contemporary chronotopes: the border, the green zone (gated community), the strip mall, the detention center.