Unreal Nature

June 18, 2016

Seizing the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Mapping is a creative process of inserting our humanity into the world and seizing the world for ourselves.

Continuing through Geography and Vision: Seeing, Imagining and Representing the World by Denis Cosgrove (2008):

… The story of how the whole-earth image was obtained by the Apollo astronauts, returned to earth, circulated globally, interpreted and gained agency in the discourses of environmentalism and one-world globalization, exemplifies many of the continuities in mapping as a spatial process. In his work on the making and circulation of scientific knowledge, Bruno Latour has used the term ‘immutable mobile’ to characterize those material agents that permit scientific discourse to sustain its claims of empirical warranty and repeatable truth in the absence of eyewitness evidence.

[line break added] The map is a perfect exemplar of the immutable mobile: a container of information gathered at specific locations, returned to a “centre of calculation,’ and then placed once more into circulation as a vehicle and instrument of scientific knowledge and further hypotheses. The entire history of cartography can be told as a history of struggle to realize such a status for the map. … Securing the immutability of the mobile has been a constant obsession of cartography.

[line break added] It is fundamental to the map’s claim to be more than an imaginative picture. Indeed, cartographers have actually drawn upon the authority of cartographic procedure to grant legitimacy to what were in fact complete fabrications. Thus the sixteenth-century French cosmographer André Thevet plotted lines of latitude and longitude around maps of completely illusory islands. Such charlatanry reveals the ultimate impossibility of the cartographic conceit. The only true map is the territory itself, as Louis Borges long ago pointed out.

The search to secure immutable mobility for the map reveals another feature: cartography’s prosthetic quality. The map is one of those instruments that serves to extend the capacities of the human body. Like the telescope or microscope, it allows us to see at scales impossible for the naked eye to see and without moving the physical body over space.

[line break added] The thematic map reveals the presence of phenomena that are beyond our normal bodily senses, as for example a trend surface map of property values or of air pollution. The map also has a powerful recursive quality, at once a memory device and a foundation for projective action.

The map is at once emphatically rooted and imaginatively liberated and liberating. No spaces can be controlled, inhabited or represented completely. But the map permits the illusion of such possibilities. Mapping is a creative process of inserting our humanity into the world and seizing the world for ourselves. This is why today the boundaries between the art and science of mapping, so long and so arbitrarily surveyed, charted and policed, are increasingly smudged and faded, and why the imaginative and projective potential of mappings has become so vitally present in contemporary life.

My most recent previous post from Cosgrove’s book is here.

-Julie

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