A tesseract is a geometric shape that exists in four dimensions. We can’t visualize a tesseract as we exist in only the three dimensions. The best way to think about is is that, as a square is to a line, and a cube is to a square, so a tesseract is to a cube.
Edwin Abbot’s story Flatland, about the meeting between anthropomorphic geometric shapes in the first, second and third dimensions, is perhaps the best way to understand the concept. Another would be to read Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma‘s Image Comics series Morning Glories.
Described by Spencer as ‘Runaways meet Lost’, Morning Glories Academy is a prestigious prep school that’s very selective as to the students it admits. For one thing, all of the students were born on the same day of the same month, and that’s not even the strangest thing. The school doesn’t seem to exist in any real physical space (there’s no cell reception and one character notes they’ve never seen a plane fly overhead). The school even seems to exist in multiple points in time, being both in present day, some distant future after it’s destruction and a pre-modern time where ritual sacrifices are still the norm.
Certain characters can also shift through time, their actions creating ripples across the continuum that effect both their past and future selves. In some of these shifts through time they’re able to interact with things around them and in others they are simply observers. Then there are the members of the AV club; they only meet while dreaming in what seems to be the present day, but in areas of the school that don’t seem to exist in the main timeline. And then there’s Ian, who we see at one point existing as multiple versions of himself when he’s being raised as a lab experiment.
If this all sounds too confusing to follow, that’s probably because that’s the way it’s designed. The creators walk a very fine line. The plot and it’s timeline spiral around each other in a helix, and they must balance the complexities events as the main characters experience them with the order of the timeline(s) in which they occur. The narrative structure of Morning Glories isn’t linear, as with traditional stories. It isn’t a timeline ordered by aesthetic, like Pulp Fiction or by character perspective, like Memento. The narrative structure of Morning Glories is a tesseract. It’s not something we can visualize in it’s completion, only ever parts of it at a time. An event can occur that simultaneously has contradictory outcomes, or the same event can occur at two different points in time at once. It wraps and folds in on itself and, like a tesseract, to understand it requires a mental exercise in abstraction.
Lost, but not Lost
The TV show, Lost, is an acknowledged influence on the series, but Morning Glories reads like it’s created by people who watched the show and wanted to do another version, but with a more complex structure and without the nonsensical train wreck of an ending. As you read Morning Glories you may suffer from the chronological equivalent of vertigo or not know what is going on, but you’re always left feeling that Spencer and Eisma have the route clearly mapped.
Even if it is drawn on multiple maps. Or multiple maps all drawn on the same page. Or one map drawn on three sides of the same sheet of paper. Like I said, Morning Glories can be hard to visualize, but compelling to read.