#018: In response to Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott


Upon tidying the attic, I re-encountered a print of my favourite book of all-time, ‘Flatland’ by Edwin A. Abbott. I’m just so happy to find the book again. I remember it was reading an article about the story in Frieze art magazine in 1999 that made me curious to buy the book. Feeling nostalgic, I googled, and how wonderful is internet? I managed to find the exact article that I read almost 20 years ago!

I don’t want to spoil it for you and reveal the story too much, but the gist of the story is that a square (literally a ‘square’ shape) who lives as a 2-D shape in ‘Flatland’, travels to other dimensions such as the fourth after a chance encounter with a 3-D sphere.
Yes, I know, pretty bonkers. It really is the oddest story!

The world of Flatland is very classist; the shapes with more sides have superiority. For example, a square is middle class and a circle is of priest class that other shapes aspire to. Workmen are isosceles triangles, then, there are those that are unworthy of a ‘side’, the lowest life form, these are the women…; they are represented as just a line. I know, its sexist. And whilst the view such as:
“A male of the lowest type of isosceles may look forward to some improvement of his angle, and to the ultimate elevation of the whole of his degraded caste, but no woman can entertain such hope for her sex. ‘Once a woman, always a woman’…”
We must note that it was written over 134 years ago in the Victorian age (in 1884). And that it is a satire, portraying the classist Victorian society. We all know that men’s perception of women were different back then. Women’s role at the time was to bare children and ensure that the home was a place of comfort for her husband and family. But, it’s also insightful to note that the women’s suffrage in UK began around the same time (1866 – 1928). The story gives us a glimpse of what kind of perception these women were subjected to.


When I was a graphic design student (20 years ago…!) in central London, this geometric story’s originality was so inspirational that it profoundly influenced a project I was doing at the time.

It was a film title sequence based on the idea of the book.

In my animation, a 2-D line develop more ‘sides’; turning into a triangle then a square, then a pentagon and so on, eventually resulting in a polygon that resembles a circle with infinite sides. Yet, when the shape no longer has any resemblance to a polygon, the ‘circle’ collapses to become an oval, then to become once more flat as a line. And the film credits appeared and disappeared like how Saul Bass would do it. (As any graphic design student would attest, Saul Bass and his 2-D title sequences for films such as North by Northwest (1959) and Vertigo (1958) are God’s work, so I guess I was very much influenced by his 2-D sequence too.)

I wish I could show you the animation I made at that time, But alas I don’t know where I’ve put the saved disc. Even if I un-earthed it I doubt wether the file is compatible. So here’s a very short and simplified animation that I put together in photoshop in one night. (It’s the animation above this article!) Hope you like it! 🙂

Tamami x

3 Replies to “#018: In response to Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott”

  1. Helloo, I like your post. I recently wrote an article on preserving gammon. I like to make my own food for Christmas!. We will be creating a basic dessert to go with it. The teeny boppers will be at home with me and I am sure they are going to love it.

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