Unreal Nature

June 25, 2016

The Loss of Paradise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… A strange continuity is marked by a border which is at once a barrier and a portal.

This is from the essay ‘Mapping Eden: Cartographies of the Earthly Paradise’ by Alessandro Scafi found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… While generations of theologians spilt rivers of ink in their attempts to penetrate the mystery of a Paradise on earth, the map-makers translated theological monochrome into the spectrum of their own visual language. As an exercise of translation, however — from abstract to concrete, from ears to eyes — a map could clarify what was difficult to grasp from the text alone. Visual imagery offered perhaps direct experience of a place and a condition which had always been described as indescribable.

… The critical point in mapping the spatial and temporal border between Eden and geographical space was the paradox of the relationship between God and nature. Any barrier separating earth from Paradise had to be understood as both division and connection.

… we must recognize that the Garden of Eden was a place for Creator and creature together, a place fit for humans in communion with God, and that the entire world this side of the Edenic border is also God’s property. A strange continuity is marked by a border which is at once a barrier and a portal.

Ebstorfer-stich2
The Ebstorf Map

… The mappamundi, designed to accommodate space and time within a sort of ‘relativistic’ framework, offered the perfect answer to the cartographic paradox of showing Paradise on a map of the world. On a mappamundi, all measurements involving space and time lose their absolute significance, and the world of everyday life is transcended in a vision of a multi-dimensional reality.

… The [subsequent] development of a systematic system of coordinates [in the Renaissance] legitimized the inclusion of maps on cosynchronous features only. Space itself became homogeneous, ordered by a geometrical grid; no one point in the map was more important than any other. Cartography would henceforth be concerned only with quantity, based exclusively on measurement.

With quantification, and by asserting the concept of an absolute space, mapping from 1500 certainly gained increasing precision over the whole span of time as well as the whole of earthly space. The price, however, was the loss of the timeless vision offered by the medieval mappamundi; mapping’s horizon was reduced to three-dimensional Euclidean space and limited to our ordinary experience of the physical world.

[line break added] On such maps there was no room for illustrating religious mysteries which would increasingly be seen as mere decoration. On a map ruled by measurable coordinates and which treated the universe as transfixed at a certain moment, there was no room for the ahistorical reality of an Earthly Paradise, lacking a precise, ‘scientific’ location.

The loss of Paradise from world maps was no insignificant cartographic omission. It represents a major shift in thought as well as in mapping. The space-time vision of medieval times was broken. And change in the way Paradise was represented by cartographers coincided also with a crucial turning point in theological history. While a few scholastic theologians maintained the view that Paradise still existed on earth, the majority of exegetes came to agree that Paradise had disappeared from the face of the world at the time of the Flood.

… Thus, the mysterious region was distanced to the beginning of time. This change, from Paradise present to Paradise past, is itself mirrored in maps. Once the notion of a geography inextricably linked to the whole space-time structure was lost, together with the multi-dimensional mapping of the Christian Middle Ages, the Earthly Paradise was retained only on explicitly historical regional maps.

-Julie

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