November 29: Mapping Time

Christoph Weigel, Discus Chronologicus in quo Omnes Imperatores et Reges Orbis Europaei

Guest, 4-4:45pm: Bert Spaan, NYPL Space/Time Directory Engineer

Map Critiques: Danielle, LaTricia, Sarath



Speculative Timelines research group

Rethinking  Timelines Project @ University of Sydney

12 Replies

  • In “Waltz with Bashir” contradictory accounts and scattered personal memories are coerced through linear frameworks of time into existing narratives. After suffering traumatic experiences as a soldier during the war in Lebanon in 1982, Bashir turns to medical help as he feels the need to understand what happened during that period. Worried about the lack of structure of his memories, he seeks to reconstitute his memory through all the film. But what does that mean?

    One of the specialist he consults – a psychiatrist –, tells him that memories can be inserted, that imagination makes up a big part of what we remember. His accounts of the event, therefore, are experiences that defy linear structures, as their origin cannot be pinned to a specific time. Even his flashbacks and dreams collapse time, as the presence of the past becomes embedded in his everyday life. Things don’t stop happening as they ripple across his persona and modify his relationship to the world.

    As Bashir’s role in the Lebanese War as a teenage soldier is revealed to him in a final dream, we are left with a mixed feeling of uncertainty and injustice. Linear structures and causality might allow accountability in the world, but obscure its complexities.

    • Thanks, Claudio. This is a great illustration of the distinction between time and temporality — time *as experienced* — and the film exemplifies how we can use representational / evocative media to capture Bashir’s perceived sense of time.

  • I always find fascinating how everything that I take for granted is actually a collection of knowledge that has been accumulated over a long period of time. Reading about the history of the timeline was very interesting to me because it made me think that it is not “common knowledge” in itself that we take for granted but also the methods for communicating it. We think of history as linear, as one thing happening after the next when it is actually also simultaneous and overlapping. Many things happen at the same time at different times. This seems nonsensical and contradictory but it is as easy as thinking about time zones in different countries and whether time is measured using a watch, or a moon cycle, or the position of the sun, or anything else. Methods are accumulated knowledge in and of themselves and time is both linear and simultaneous.

    Tangentially, it also makes me think about how much art has historically informed (and still informs) our knowledge and scholarship yet is still so undervalued and underfunded and udereverythinged.

    Thinking about time being overlapping and simultaneous but also linear, and the idea of being in several places at once reminded me of a project I did last spring where I asked my friends to record whatever they were doing at exactly the same time. A video timeline of sorts (?).

  • I was really taken by the discussion of linear time in “Time in Print,” and especially the idea that ‘all temporal language is ‘contaminated’ by spatial figures” (pg 13). I was reminded of a passage from Ursula le Guin’s The Disposessed. The book spends a lot of time with ideas about time – the book’s main character spends his life developing a theory of ‘simultaneous time’ and how to work ‘with’ time rather than ‘against’ it. In a passage I find particularly interesting, two characters discuss how the moon looks beautiful from far away because you can see the whole of it, but that it becomes less beautiful up close:

    “If you can see a thing whole,” he said, “it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives…But close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.”
    “That’s all right for Urras [the moon]. Let it stay of there and be the moon – I don’t want it! But I’m not going to stand up on a gravestone and look down on life and say, ‘O lovely!’ I want to see it whole right in the middle of it, here, now. I don’t give a hoot for eternity.”
    “It’s nothing to do with eternity… All you have to do to see life as whole is to see it as mortal. I’ll die, you’ll die; how could we love each other otherwise? The sun’s going to burn out, what else keeps it shining?”

    The idea of being able to ‘step back’ from time is an interesting one, especially in how it visualizes time. It, like many of the others Rosenberg and Grafton discuss, is very spatial; it relies on the idea of being able to ‘see’ whole segments of time at once. It also works with the idea that time, like physical objects, loses detail at a distance, which I find especially interesting. In order for patterns to arise from life one has to step back from it – to blur out the small details in order to see the larger pattern.
    The passage also neatly segments time into chunks – the sun’s time ends when it goes out, and thus imagining this end allows a ‘complete’ picture of the sun’s time as a whole. But this conception is not necessarily accurate – the forces that created the sun existed long before the sun did, and its effects on space will exist long after it goes out.
    In the end, the book’s passage isn’t a detailed treatise on time, and shouldn’t be taken as such. But I find it interesting to pull apart discussions on time like this one, and to see how even depictions of time that attempt to shift the way we perceive time on a fundamental level do so spatially.

    • Thanks, Julia! Time is such a evasive, sublime concept that we do need to cultivate strategies to make in intelligible and conceivable: distancing and segmentation, as you point out, are among them.

  • In the article by Stephen Boyd Davis, he provides an overview of the communication between designers and humanists in the “context of time (time wise visualization)” when developing timelines that use specific data. I found this article interesting because visual designers are usually instructed to design information that has a visual hierarchy and then the designer is left alone to create their own interpretation as to how that information is displayed in an interesting way. In Davis’s article he emphasises the importance of collaboration between the designer and curator working together. The article describes the relationship between designer and client as “co-researchers” and they both needed to ensure the data that is being represented is clear and concise. I also found it significant how the designers and curators had to work together to show inconsistencies rather than hide the information from people observing the information. What I appreciate about timelines are that they don’t need to be represented only in a visual linear form. With collaboration the design of information can take on a different shape as long as the data is clear.

    • Thanks, LaTricia! I hope you can say more today about your own experience with designer-client relationships — particularly when negotiating complex philosophical issues, like the nature of time.

  • In the way of listing records, time is very useful. This is because the time is a big indicator for reading epic stories. Since time is constantly changing, it is usually used in conjunction with stable variables, such as space and certain events.

    The main divisions in which visualizations can be analyzed are an essential concept, a subject matter that recognizes it, and a social context that provides its modal possibilities. Recent media are also an important tool to determine the format and information of visualization. The notion of “media as a message” by H. McLuhan is representative of this, but there is a formal issue here. One format can mediate the same information differently, and the final media are delivering it can provide its semantics. Therefore, the problem of visualization may lead to the conclusion that mapping is a medium. However, whether it is media or a formal concept, the analysis of the moment when it carries one information should be preceded. If an image provides information about a different concept rather than language, it has a structural analysis element that is different from the language in essence.

    Visualization has a power that is different from the language or text. It is because it has the base point of interpretation of information. Therefore, the reader not only finds the usefulness of the information but also the problems of the error. From that point of view, the visualization of the Temporal map plays a very important role, although this is true for all mapping.
     In previous paper-based chronograph, it was difficult to detect certain information through the map because the information was very dense because it had to contain all the information on one floor. From these standards, digital maps are a good tool beyond the previous limitations in that they are free to zoom in and out, and there is no limit to the size of the ground. In particular, time information is effective when using animation.

    • Thanks, Taeyeon! I’m glad you’ve reminded us that different media formats — or formal concepts — offer particular affordances and limitations in representing time. I hope you can say more about this in class today!

  • In looking through examples of time mapping throughout these readings and links, two formal approaches seemed to present themselves most often – understanding spatial elements through comparison and through layering. Examples include John Spark’s ‘The Histomap’ comparing shifts in power at a specific moment and then across time as well as Herbert Bayer’s ‘Succession of Life and Geological Time Table.’

    Mapping of both geology and astronomy come to mind in both of these tactics and in their unique dependencies on conceptions of time. Geology understands the layers of the earth in a physical mapping of time through geological processes. Astronomy takes light as its source for creating comparisons, interpreting time through the physical properties of light. As a result of their categorization as scientific disciplines, conceptions of time in both of these cases mean that a mapping of time produces actionable conclusions to scientific theories. This stands in stark contrast to what other mappings of time might present as more fluid in conception and understanding.

    • Thanks, Andrew! I particularly appreciate your point that these disciplinary conventions of temporal representation have profound implications on disciplinary methodologies and epistemologies.

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