While setting in motion a plan to expose his father’s killer by staging a play, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet lauds actors as ‘abstract and brief chronicles of the time’. It is unclear why Shakespeare used the word ‘abstract’ to describe the actor’s craft, for it has always meant ‘detached’, or “separated from material objects or practical matters”. A chronicle, on the other hand, refers to a factual written account of a sequence of events. The idea of an ‘abstract chronicle’ must have been an oxymoron, or at least contained a grain of contradictoriness in Shakespeare’s time. The paradox at the heart of the phrase has only deepened with the tying of the term ‘abstract’ to a style of art that flourished in Europe a hundred years ago, having its origins in mysticism and later turning into a formalist discourse about medium specificity.