Sync Holes

Curator's Note

The GIF and the sinkhole have certain formal features in common. In an essay for JCMS’s dossier on the Anthropocene, I describe the affinities shared between the GIF and the sinkhole. The GIF is a sync hole, I argue. It is an accumulation — even a stockpile — of artificial synchronizations. At the same time, the GIF is also a sync hole, as in a pit that absorbs the meaningful passage of time and/or space, and thus it banishes the engines of conventional narrative: happenstance, coincidence, and chance meeting. The GIF’s looping is where the telos of momentous time goes to die. It is, in other words, “a swallow hole,” where the event’s exceptionality is devoured and then regurgitated in a manner that frustrates progress, evolution, and even causation.

Meanwhile, the GIF provides a primary venue for sinkholes to occupy space on-line. GIF aggregating sites supply their users with hundreds and hundreds of sinkhole GIFs. Moreover, representations of sinkholes seem infected by a GIF-iness even when not appearing on GIF platforms. For example, sinkholes featured in conventional genres of non-fiction television appear to carry the qualities of the GIF with them; they are prone to repetition and looping in ways that make the beginning and end of an incident difficult to establish. Sinkholes often defy ordered recollections of events or infect the idea of the event with alternate trajectories of time and space, as if irreversibility always prevents any attempt to reset or to reverse a phenomenon’s direction.

The seeming limitlessness of the sinkhole is key not only to its infectious nature as visual spectacle but also to revising our sense of how to approach ecological collapse and how to react to its inevitability. We stare into a GIF of a sinkhole to witness the parameters of time and space as we know them dissolving before our eyes in the sinkhole’s sudden ingestion of people and things. Origin, occurrence, consequence, and aftermath become impossible to disentangle. The holes left by the earth giving way and the ground’s caving under an accumulated anthroposcenic weight challenge standard ecological discourses and the capacity of those discourses to manage the scale of humanity’s environmental footprint. The sinkhole’s vanishing vanishing-points demand that we rethink how to represent endgames.

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