Split in Time

Beijing Fireworks

We have noted that the Beijing Olympic Games, and in particular the Opening Ceremonies, most fully realized a stereoscopic aesthetic with no distinction recognized between real and virtual spaces. But it also bears mention that the specific example of the fireworks which punctuated the lighting of the Olympic Torch suggested an opening to complement the closing or tangential touching of the two spatial layers. While the temporal length of each fireworks sequence — both the computer-generated version shown on television and the material version exploded in the physical area surrounding the Beijing National Stadium proper — was of the same duration and run in synchronized form, in fact a rupture or split in time was introduced.

As Siegfried Zielinski suggests, if we are able to speak of a metaphysics of communication perhaps it is because its basis can be located in its time-based character: media, above all, capture time and fold it within its communicative process. We cannot step out of time, but rather only objectify and structure it, as each successive phase of capitalism makes increasingly apparent.

While emerging from vastly different eras in the depths of media history, fireworks, television, and CGI graphics may each be considered a form of writing or inscribing with light against a remote perspectival backdrop. But the ways in which each of these forms of writing captures time are radically different. The material substrate of fireworks-based writing — gunpowder and other pyrotechnic fuels — possesses a chemical ignition or burn rate that is temporally distinct from the time in which a television signal is transmitted and written to screen, or in which computer processor chips may render the graphics of optically-convincing bursts of coloured fire.

Though the spectacular outcome lasted an equivalent number of seconds for each audience, the chemical and digital inscriptions each folded time in separate ways. So while on the one hand we can suggest that during the twentieth century spectacle industrialized the compression of information in a spatial sense, and on the other hand we can suggest that the multiple cuts into the time of a video reel creates a narcotic effect for the viewer, perhaps we ought to consider the two together and suggest that narcosis is equally possible with a compression of information in a temporal sense, one that is unique for each member of the viewing audience.

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