Conceptualizing Time in “SWALLOWS”

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by angelarovak

When Zielinski declares that “the idea of geological deep time is so foreign to us that we can understand it only as a metaphor” (5), I began to question the language we have to discuss the temporality of humanity versus geology versus media. He claims that media has a history enriched in “deep time” but this phrasing attributes a physical characteristic (“deep”) to a theoretic concept (“time”). Similarly, to map the progression of media over space on time through the notions of cartography seems to further conflate the objective ideologies of space and physical reality on to the esoteric realm of time. This deficit of language to explain the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of time attributed to media by Zielinski left me wordless. No description seemed adequate to comment upon the intersections of the human with the machine across either time or space.

Stuck in the ether of unknowability, I moved on to Paul Zelevansky’s “SWALLOWS” to try and jar my mind out of this paradox. To my surprise, the first chapter seems to help bridge the gap of the human perception and machine temporality through animated visuals and allusions to “deep time.” Fittingly, we begin with a clock.

Swallows Image1

Time is foregrounded in this image as the hands tick away. Yet the 12 hour interface of the clock proved inadequate as the mythological language was deeply reminiscent of Biblical phrasing and time. I proceeded to “The Next Day,” and then “on the second day,” conjuring images of Genesis where a “day” does not adequately map onto the 24-hour temporal system humanity has internalized. The swallows come upon “two camels considering a matter of judgment,” continuing the Old Testament references as the proverbial camels suggest a “divine intervention” available in “the camel menu.” With this phrase the story on the screen reminds me of its mediated representation, offering me both the deeply humanistic desire for wisdom growing out of deep time and the contemporary interface of modern technology. I have access to the ancient through the digital menu. And to proceed I need the technology of the keyboard, an extension of my autonomous decision, to activate the theology. Swallows Image2

I took the Camel Wisdom. Quotations from Billie Holiday, Joyce Kilmer, and Kafka appear on my screen. Unsure how to process the “wisdom” from such popular figures, I next try for a Divine Intervention. As I began the game alone, I am now told “You Are Not Alone” but all that is here is the same screen, same machine, same interface. Somewhere from the start to the Intervention the machine has decided its presence constitutes companionship. I ask for Signs of Wonder.Swallows Image3

In succession I see the development of the wheel, the rise and spread of great forests, then the invention of weapons and guns. The trees diminish and the guns proliferate. I am viewing the procession of deep history through the rise of mankind. And all “SWALLOWS” offers me is

Swallows Image4

I cannot say if this experience helped clarify the concepts of Zielinski that robbed me of words to compare the temporality of humanity to that of machines/media, but “SWALLOWS” offered me a new perspective. It interrupted the idea that the conceptions must be separate, combining themes and concepts of deep time with the digital presentation. To complicate matters further, I have to run “SWALLOWS” on an emulator, the file cannot be read by modern technology. I am reaching into the past of media and digital technology to reach even deeper into the interactions of human and machine in deep time. The only conclusion I have to draw is an agreement that “Time Passes…”


One comment on “Conceptualizing Time in “SWALLOWS”

  1. Hi Angela: Thanks for your interesting thinking about SWALLOWS time. Beyond the facts and knowledge of geological deep time–which are beyond me and filled in by woozy notions like “awe”–I think all the rest is storytelling. Mostly in a good way. We have to somehow accommodate existential limits like life span and death, so clocks, souvenirs, and memories help to ease the burden. As for space, time, and media, I very recently became a grandfather and for the last month the little kid has been living with us. At this very moment, I’m “babysitting” while she sleeps in the next room, and sitting by me is a little video and audio monitor. So I get to watch her sleep, and hope that she doesn’t get up too soon. Time-wise, the anticipation is hard to measure. After only a month, the feelings of connection already go deep as the genetic past and future sleep in one package.



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