zoetrope

We seem to experience life as a continuum, but when we remember it, it is often more like a series of moments, glances through a window, connecting to a sequence – sometimes a sequence that just repeats itself. Life flickers by in an incessant ring, turning and turning again: a zoetrope.

Life: zoe, from Greek ζωή. Turning: –trope, from Greek –τροπος. It’s not a soap opera; that’s As the World Turns. It’s not the wheel of fortune (or Wheel of Fortune); that’s rota fortunae. Zoetrope is not a term the Greeks or Latins used at all. It’s a name confected in 1867 for a simple moving-picture device: stick a sequence of pictures on the inside of a cylinder, put slits between or above them, add a base or spokes so you can spin it on a stick, and then spin it and look through the slits as they spin by. Each slit gives a view of the image across from it, and the sequence plays at whatever speed the wheel is spinning at. The many facets of this circle of a short stretch of life make a movement, and if you see several slits at once you see several sequential phases of the movement, all moving at the same speed, each one slightly ahead of and behind its neighbours.

Does it look funny? It looks facetious, perhaps. The running faucet of life becomes running facets.

What kind of picture do you use? Any repetitive beastie from a tropical zoo will do, but horses are especially popular. You could take some human locomotion recorded by Eadweard Muybridge, or perhaps a big red bus passing by the camera. Or a time you played fetch with your dog, or when you walked to the principal’s office or to the altar, or that moment when you first kissed the last person you will ever want to kiss on this earth. Turning points in life, or just life turning. And there you are, on the outside looking in, but somehow in the middle of it.

One response to “zoetrope

  1. Also of interest are “linear zoetropes,” which have been used to display ads in subways. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoetrope#Subway_zoetropes . It was surprising the first time I saw one.

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