November 28, 1893 [Optical Devices]

The gadgets and experiments—Muybridge’s parlor Zoopraxiscope, the Phenakistoscope, Praxinoscope, Zoetrope, Electrotachyscope, Kineograph—all of them amusements dedicated to the cause of seeing as believing, are crossing the divide between toy and tool; in fact, the more toys we demand, the more tools we will receive. And while I'm not positive we need these tools (the toys, certainly; they have encouraged me to extend my childhood indefinitely), I understand they are not simply marvels or mysteries, but promises.

But what is this promise? Surely more than continued entertainment—although I will not refuse the opportunity. Still, is all this effort to be expended merely so that I can watch a simple drawing of a dragon spout tiny fire or so illuminate my evening with a herky-jerky animated waltz of two seconds' duration? Or are we seeing moments at which the child's desires and the inventor's questions come together to change not just how we see and believe but why?

One does not need to be particularly clever to recognize that we are on the verge of new things—and a new way that they will begin: as gimcracks and gewgaws, forcing our eyes to follow them closely so that we can see, jittering and uncertain, the world that is perhaps more easily apprehended without them, but somehow not as compellingly. This is disturbing, if the horse galloping in the Zoetrope attracts us more than the horse itself. But we may have no choice in the matter—once we look closely enough. For myself, I know I have already succumbed to the gravitational pull of the projected, manipulated images—each of them still, but together in motion, spirit-hands beckoning in tabletop light.


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