Masters Student in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
For my Master’s thesis research in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I created an interactive webcomic on the philosophy of time (specifically Block Universe Theory, also known as four-dimensionalism or “worm theory”) through the lens of comics formalism. Through 4dtime.space, I explore various issues within four-dimensionalism, and expand upon them by creating new concepts such as the "spacetime sausage" and "corkscrew block universe.” I also connect the comics medium to string theory and multiple universe theory, as well as explore the ramifications of the comics medium as a "multiples medium" on issues of personal identity through time. The form of the website is in itself a block universe, where each section exists simultaneously and can be read in any order, and is currently live online. In the next section, I’ll walk you through the website with some excerpts for your reading pleasure...
The form of the website is meant to re-create a 4D hyperobject in the form of a webcomic, where you can click on each section (like diving into a wormhole) where its long-scroll format mimics a world line that traces across the Block Universe of the site as a whole. You can read the sections in any order, because time is relative, and all occur simultaneously just as in real life.
In the section in the upper right, entitled “The Fourth Dimension,” I discuss the history of four-dimensionalism, going back to antiquity, with a special focus on four-dimensionalism in surrealism, cubism, and abstract expressionism in the 1900s
I create new concepts within four-dimensionalism, including the idea of a "spacetime sausage,” which better illustrates how time can be sliced into arbitrary chunks (like salami slices), but are still part of a single whole (the sausage itself) and relate it to the shape of our universe. I look at four-dimensionalism in geometry (especially the works of Hermann Minkowski and Rudy Rucker) and connect it to film theory, arguing that a reel of film can be seen as a block of 4D spacetime, where individual frames are slices of the greater whole.
4dtime.space culminates with my argument that comics as a medium express four-dimensionalist thought, in that panels can be considered slices of space-time that when stacked together in the form of a book of multiple pages create a four-dimensional block of spacetime (see fig. 4 & 5).
The work concludes by taking a look at ancient agrarian notions of cycles of time, where I define a new understanding of Block Universe Theory by delineating a "corkscrew block universe" where time flows forwards in a corkscrew motion, so as to bring together Block Universe Theory and the more classical Cyclic view of time. I also address fears of fatalism in Block Universe Theory by calling upon Friedrich Nietzsche's Eternal Return (fig. 7), and the notion of Amor Fati, or love of fate, which I explore through a reading of The Death of Superman (1992, fig. 8).
In this work, I wanted to expand upon Scott McCloud’s chapter on time in Understanding Comics and Thierry Groensteen’s notion of the hyperframe from The System of Comics, as well as provide a more academically rigorous and less mystical response to Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening. Tying in my personal interest in existentialism, geometry, and my research in the Philosophy of Time, I have created new and unique solutions to traditional problems within Block Universe Theory (such as the feeling of time passing, grappling hard determinism/fatalism, as well as the conflict between subjective versus objective views of time) using comics formalism. While I could add infinite content to 4dtime.space, particularly in exploring examples of how comics use of panel and page layout can (and do) subvert standard conceptions of time (which I touch on briefly in the section “Book As Block Universe” where I discuss braiding in Watchmen as well as the vast, infinite time found in single-panel comics such as Family Circus), in the future I aim to further my study of what I call a “Trans Metaphysics”, of which 4dtime.space is a first installment.
Aristotle. Physics. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.6.vi.html. Classic Department, MIT. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
Dali, Salvador. Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus). 1954, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/488880. The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 913.
Galison, Peter Louis. “Minkowski’s Space-Time: From Visual Thinking to the Absolute World.” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, vol. 10, Jan. 1979, pp. 85–121. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.2307/27757388.
Groensteen, Thierry, et al. System of Comics, The. English. 1st edition, Univ Pr Of Mississippi, 2009.
Gubser, Steven S. The Little Book of String Theory. 2011. Open WorldCat, http://www.vlebooks.com/vleweb/product/openreader?id=none&isbn=9781400834433.
Jurgens, Dan. The Death of Superman. New York, NY: DC Comics, 1993.
Keane, Bil. Family Circus. King Features, 1960-ongoing.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Reprint, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.
Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: Warner Books, 1987.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Viking, 1954.
Paauw, Elk. “4dtime.Space.” 4dtime.Space: Comics in the Fourth Dimension, May 2020, https://4dtime.space.
Rucker, Rudy. The Fourth Dimension: A Guided Tour of the Higher Universe. Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Harvard University Press, 2015.
Elk Paauw is a self-published Seattle comics artist and queer transdude (he/him/his pronouns), currently working on a sailing travelogue called Foss Follies set in the South Sound. He performs regularly as half of the cartoon band Spooky Action, and hosts a monthly international animated children's film series called Saturday Morning Cartoons at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Originally from Seattle, Paauw is currently in Chicago getting a master's in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Due to the ongoing pandemic crisis, ICAF was forced to cancel its events at the 2020 Small Press Expo. Over the next 16 weeks (give or take), we will be publishing