Archive for January, 2010

Aesthetics of time travel

January 6, 2010

After a long time doing nothing but writing essays I celebrated – in the most minor way – by watching the first Terminator movie last night. I hadn’t seen it for years and a couple of things struck me about it. Firstly, you can see Schwarzenegger’s penis when he initially appears from the future. Secondly, that the film is loving immersed in 80s music culture until Sarah Connor disappears off to Mexico at the end, at which point the perm goes and the bandanna / jeep / aviator combo of the future revolutionary leader appears. And, thirdly, it borrows a huge amount from La Jetée.

Following La Jetée’s aesthetic of a time travelling minimalism in which the apparatus needed to hurl someone through time looks like the following picture, Terminator’s resolution of the end point of time travel – the arrival – consists in some lightning and lack of clothing. It’s easy to imagine that the time travelling apparatus in Terminator shares an aesthetic similarity with La Jetee because they’re both created out of necessity. In that the conditions of the emergence of time travelling technology is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the end goal is not so much the changing of history to change the future-present, but a preservation of it on its own terms.

If this minimal aesthetic is derived of necessity – of the sparse conditions of emergence – it evolves because of the eventual primacy of a military-industrial complex that induces catastrophe. Compare this to the representation of time travel as developed, not out of necessity, but curiosity, and the opposite aesthetic emerges. Not a stripped back minimalism of a lone time travelling man. But one of cluttered, accidental emergence, where pieces of trash, clapped out bits of machinery and odd cogs and gizmos are stuck on to a basic container for transportation. See the DeLorean of Back to the Future and H G Wells’ time machine.

There’s surely more instances of representation but I can’t currently think of any that sit between these two poles. This leaves us between the forced minimalism of aesthetic representation beyond the catastrophic triumph of the military-industrial complex, and the cluttered junk-machines of the accidental inventor. The wider implications of this I’m not so sure about. But the lack of space between the two poles, of a time machine available in the supermarket that looks something like a dirt devil, seems like a missed narrative opportunity.