Cartographic Reflections

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Attempting to demystify the construction of space

Why maps?

It has always been this way with the map-makers: from their first scratches on the cave wall to show migration patterns of the herds, they have traced lines and lived inside them.

—Sonenberg, Cartographies.

The “great man” is a little man looking at a good map.

—Bruno Latour, Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together, 1985, p.26.

London is so large, and so diverse, that a thousand different maps have been drawn up in order to describe it.

—Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography, 2003.

What is a map?

.. a representation in picture of the whole known world together with the phenomena which are contained therein.

—Ptolemy Geographia, 2nd Centrury, BC.

Maps express quantities visually by location (two-dimensional adresses of latitude and longitude) and by areal extent (surface coverage, the magnitude of an area).

—Edward Tufte Visual Explanations, 2005, p12.

[…] The first technology to deliberately facilitate location awareness.

—Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva, Net locality: What location matters in a networked world, 2011, p13.

Far from holding up a simple mirror of nature that is true of false, maps redescribe the world – like any other document – in terms of relations of power and of cultural practices, preferences, and priorities.

—J. B. Harley, in Janet Abrams and Peter Hall, Else/Where: Mapping, 2005.

We forfeit the whole value of a map if we forget that it is not the landscape itself or anything remotely like an exhaustive depiction of it. If we do forget, we grow rigid as a robot obeying a computer program; we lose the itelligent plasticity and intuitive judgement that every wayfarer must preserve. We may then know the map in fine detail, but our knowledge will be purely academic, inexperienced, shallow.

—Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Post-industrial Society, 1972, p.408.

Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory.

—Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, 1983.

Borders versus Frontiers

The frontier is the antithetical political space to that defined by the fortified lines of borders. Against the geographical symmetry of static places, and the balance across sovereign lines, the frontier is a space of flow – it is a military and political pattern of elastic and shifting geography, a boundless border zone that could never be represented by drawing static lines.

—Eyal Weizman, The Geometry of Occupation.
Lecture given at the ‘Borders’ Conference, Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona, 2004.

Augmented Reality/History

On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1

. . . In that Empire, the Cartographer’s art achieved such a degree of perfection that the Map of a single Province occupied an entire City, and the Map of the Empire, an entire Province. In time, these vast Maps were no longer sufficient. The Guild of Cartographers created a Map of the Empire, which perfectly coincided with the Empire itself.

But Succeeding Generations, with diminished interest in the Study of Cartography, believed that this immense Map was of no use, and not Impiously, they abandoned it to the Inclemency of the Sun and of numerous Winters. In the Deserts of the West ruined Fragments of the Map survive, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Country there is no other Relic of the Geographical Disciplines.

(from Viajes de Varones Prudentes, Suárez Miranda, book IV, chap. XIV, Lérida, 1658.
Quoted by Jorge Luis Borges, Historia universal de la infamia “Etcetera,” Buenos Aires, 1935).

Systems of Geography

On the geographies of inhabitants and travellers

There is a sense in which an open-field parish in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries […] could be said to have different a geography according to who was looking at it; thus, for those of its inhabitants who rarely went beyond the parish boundary, the parish itself was so to speak at the centre of the landscape … For those inhabitants accustomed to moving outside it, however, and for those travellers who passed through it, the parish was … defined not by some circular system of georaphy but by a linear one.

—John Barrell, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place 1730-1840, Cambridge, 1972, p. 95.

The Spatial Imagination

Draw a map to get lost in.

—Yoko Ono, Grapefruit, 1964, spring.

On the consolidation of political opinion
(Historically, from empire to decolonization: ‘us’ over ‘the other’)
(Contemporarily: quantitative, measurable, static, pseudo-scientific, digital-post-human over qualitative, fluctuating, human, dynamic?)

There is no doubt that imaginative geography and history help the mind to intensify its own sense of itself by dramatizing the distance and difference between what is close to it and what is far away.

—Edward Said, Orientalism.

[…] There is a particular voluptuousness in the naming of streets.

—Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, (unfinished).

On the conceptual influence of the God’s Eye perspective:

Christianity taught us to see the eye of the lord looking down upon us. Such forms of knowledge project an image of reality, at the expense of reality itself. They talk figures and icons and signs, but fail to perceive forces and flows. They bind us to other realities, and especially the reality of power as it subjugates us. Their function is to tame, and the result is the fabrication of docile and obedient subjects.

― Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Centre is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp. One’s body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; not is it possessed, shether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences, and by the nervousness of New York traffic. Must one finally fall back into the dark space where crowds move back and forth, crowds that, though visible from on high, are themselves unable to see down?

― Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984, p92.

On millennial visions of a dis-embodied, unregulated capitalist utopia (Getting it wrong with globalization):

The new networked sub-economy of the global city occupies a strategic geography that is partly deterritorialized, cuts across borders, and connects a variety of points on the globe. It occupies only a fraction of its local setting, its boundaries are not those of the city where it is partly located, nor those of the ‘neighbourhood’.

—King and Brayer, editors, in the catalogue to the exhibition Obbis Terrarum, Ways of Worldmaking, cartography and contemporary art, Ghent/Amsterdam, 2000.

At the millennium, the dream of territorial empire seems dead, buried practically and morally. But imperializing global discourses resist, recast in terms of an altered spatiality of globalization, as connection and communication, networks of infinite individual points linked across invisible channels over a frictionless surface, generating and transforming a virtual globe.

— Denis Cosgrove, Apollo’s Eye: A cartographic genealogy of the earth in the western imagination, 2001, p.236.

On the historical influence of the novel as map, travel substitute

[…] Novels use space in a “qualitatively different” way from other literary forms. They can have a dimension and depth, a thickness and interiority that epics, poems and plays do not. In addition, the novel has contributed to the formation of a spatial imagination for centuries and has consistantly brought the lore of far away places wherever they may be, to a wide variety of audiences around the globe.

—Eric Bulson, Novels, Maps, Modernity: The Spatial Imagination, 1850-2000, Routledge.

On the modern (early 20th Cen.) confusion of orientation with disorientation

Transcendental Homelessness: the urge to be at home everywhere.

—György Lukács, Theory of the Novel, 1920.

At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all looked like that) I would put my finger on it and say. When I grow up I will go there.

—Marlow (as a lad) in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

The life of the nomad is the intermezzo.

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1987, p. 380

Shifting from Realism to Modernism … (pause a 100 years) … and back to (albeit post-structuralist) Realism
(Is Google Maps and the connected, digital-info era returning us to a pre-abstract, 19th Century-esque linear, hierarchical commodification of spatial thinking?)

The fact is that around 1910 a certain space was shattered. It was the space of common sense, of knowledge, of social practice, of political power, a space thitherto enshrined in everyday discourse. Just as in abstract thought, as the environment of and channel for communications; the space, too, of classical perspective and geomettry, developed from the Renaissance onwards on the basis of the Greek tradition (Euclid, logic) and bodied forth in Western art and philosophy, as in the form and the city and the town.

—Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p.25.

On the centrality of the construction of space to the history of the modern world (from the marxist perspective)

We already know several things about abstract space. As a product of violence and war, it is political; instituted by a state, it is institutional. On first inspection, it appears homeogenous; and indeed it serves those forces which make a tabula rasa of whatever stands in their way, of whatever threatens them – in short, of differences.

—Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space.

External Time-Space compression (of global production and consumption, urbanism) and Internal Time-Space expansion (of information and interconnectivity, globalism)

…Versus the spatial nihlism of Suburbization…

What are the culturally current frameworks for perceiving time and space?

For instance, has the merger of the common wrist watch into the mobile computer fundamentally altered the public conception of time – merging it with a global non-time/all-time perhaps?

The egalitarism mantra of knowing a society by how it treats its least forunate members applied to an urban space. Knowing a city by only visiting its suburbs. Paris without the Louvre or Effiel Tower – only scenes out of La Haine
Navigating a city with a map showing only its homeless shelters and foodbanks.

Getting Lost/Losing Oneself

Getting lost is the only way one can get to know a city. (paraphrase)

—Walter Benjamin

Spatial theory as psychoanalysis

To walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper.

— Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984, p.103.

On knowing a city being predicated on forgetting topography

Not to find oneself in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance – nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite a different schooling. Then signboards and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest, like startling call of a bitten in the distance, like the sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing erect at its center.

—Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Chronicle.

Dérive (Drifting) – Debord, the Situationalists and willful disorientation

Eg. Using a street map of London to orient oneself in the Harz mountains of Germany

A renovated cartography … The production of psychogeographic maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not insubordination to randomness but complete insubordination.

—Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955.

The unconsciously organizing laws and effects of the city

Psychogeography: the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

—Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955.

On the practical applications for psychogeography

Beyond the discoveries of unities of atmosphere, of their main components and their spatial localization, one comes to perceive their principal axes of passage, their exits and their defenses … One measures the distances that effectively separate two regions of a city, distances that may have little relation with the physical distance between them. With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs, and experimental dérives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no worse than that of the first navigational charts.

—Guy Debord.

Maps of influences – highly subjective – the city is as much felt as seen.
Reconfigure relationships between elements beyond topography and ariel photography.
A reconsideration of the forces and behaviours in an urban environment

Eg. Take a popular tourist map and cut out destinations and rearrange them on a piece of paper. Connect with arrows.
Explain your arrows.

Debord’s “Naked City.” (1957)
Free a city from the restrictive conventions of cartography – scale, hierarchy, symbolization

Conceptualizing Space in the Digital Era

The web concept of space (The spatial concept of the web)

What is often difficult for people to understand about the design was that there was nothing else beyond URIs, HTTP and HTML. There was no central computer ‘controlling’ the Web, no single network on which these protocols worked, not even an organisation anywhere that ‘ran’ the Web. The Web was not a physical ‘thing’ that existed in a certain ‘place.’ It was a ‘space’ in which information could exist.

—Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999, p.39.

The Iphone as geospatial awareness paradigm shift
(Or Adam must have forgot about the hours he devoted to playing ‘Legend of Zelda.’)

Nothing […] prepared me for the frisson of holding an iPhone in my hand for the first time, launching Google Maps, pressing a single button…and being located, told where I was to within a couple of meters. It’s a real epistemic break, isn’t it? Those who come after us will have a hard time imagining that there was ever such a thing as a map that couldn’t do that.

—Adam Greenfield, New York University, 2012

Digital maps, captialism, technology… (Latour doesn’t believe in ‘design’ or ‘designers’)

Many efforts have been made to link the history of science with the history of capitalism, and many efforts have been made to describe the scientist as a capitalist. All these efforts […] were doomed from the start, since they took for granted a division between mental and material factors, an artifact of our ignorance of inscriptions. There is not a history of engineers, then a history of capitalists, then one of scientists, then one of mathematicians, then one of economists. Rather, there is a single history of these centers of calculation. It is not only because they look exclusively at maps, account books, drawings, legal texts and files, that cartographers, merchants, engineers, jurists and civil servants get the edge on all the others. It is because all these inscriptions can be superimposed, reshuffled, recombined, and summarized, and that totally new phenomena emerge, hidden from the other people from whom all these inscriptions have been exacted.

—Bruno Latour, Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together, 1985, p.29.

Literary preconceptions of the Iphone as a universal geospatial awareness device

All places are everywhere: The spatial concept of the web

Then I saw the Aleph […] And here begins my despair as a writer. All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? […] Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive. Nonetheless, I’ll try to recollect what I can.

—Borges, on seeing the Aleph – the only place on earth where all places are, a limitless space of simultaneity and paradox., The Aleph and Other Stories, (1945), 1949.

Approaching movement anthropologically

On place providing an awareness of the mutable, protean nature of life.

More than thirty years after our first encounter, both Belleville and I have changed. But Belleville is still a place, while I am afraid I look more like a flow.

—Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, p.454.

Google Maps

On pop culture precedents for the question “what has Google ever done for us?”

Reg (John Cleese): ‘But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?’
A member of People’s Front of Judaea: ‘Brought peace?’

Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979