Monday, February 12, 2007

Illusion in "The Kinetoscope of Time" and Other Works

...It looks like this did not post earlier when I tried, so I'm glad I checked at the last minute. I hope this goes through.

Since this is a blog response and not a more formal paper, I would like to note some of my thoughts upon first reading "The Kinetoscope of Time," as they raise some intriguing points about the nature of time-viewing in this short story.

The title and denouement of the story reveal much, I think, about the way its content can be interpreted. The title refers to a kinetoscope, which was a real Thomas Edison invention made over a century ago. The device was a forerunner of modern-day motion pictures - it was basically a peephole behind which a continuous loop of film passed, giving the crude illusion of motion. The end of the story mentions the mysterious "supervisor" of the circular hall as the Count Cagliostro. Cagliostro too existed in history; he was an Italian who dabbled in the occult and is today thought to have been a charlatan. The real-life versions of both the kinetoscope and Cagliostro suggest an illusory, counterfeit aspect of seeing the past and the future, which is reinforced by the climax in which the narrator turns down offers to see his personal past and future because he wants to independently control his own destiny. This is somewhat unlike Man with a Movie Camera and The Time Machine, neither of which really explores the idea of exploring time in a more personal fashion.

Barthes does so in Camera Lucida, but basically with still pictures, not movies (though he does not really view photographs as illusory, but rather just as still images whose real power lies in their effect on viewers). His conclusions are different, however, as he seems to think of death as a part of viewing almost any personal picture. The narrator of "Kinetoscope" takes a much more stoic position, denying himself even the chance to view his death because he "must find the fortitude to undergo it somehow" regardless (Matthews 14).

All this seems contradictory in some respects with the narrator seeing a succession of richly detailed animated visions earlier; the scenes are all described in sumptuous visual detail, as if Matthews is trying to make a film with text. Descriptions such as "infinitesimal sparks darted" (8), "Eastern in their glowing gorgeousness" (8), and "lines of liquid light" (10) evoke such vivid mental images that they seem almost like poetic scriptwriting. Combined with the kinetoscopes in the main hall through which the narrator peers, they made me think of movies almost immediately. But movies nowadays explore both the past and the future in extremely personal ways with their protagonists, and these productions are brought to millions of viewers at once. What would the narrator of "Kinetoscope" have thought of this, I wonder?


Blogger Felix Wong said...

The narrator would probably be blown away by how technology has changed both film and photography. More so photography in my eyes. He spoke that the photos were a sense of truth, something that could never lie to him. However, things now have changed. With the advent of digital pictures and photo editing, it is difficult to believe what is seen in the pictures now a days. I sometimes have to question whether or not this picture looks photo shopped. Quite a departure from the past I must say.

2/13/2007 12:23 PM  

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