Unreal Nature

July 30, 2016

Shrewd and Tactical

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… mapping is not the indiscriminate, blinkered accumulation and endless array of data, but rather an extremely shrewd and tactical enterprise …

Concluding the essay ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’ by James Corner found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… ‘All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention,’ wrote Rudolph Arnheim. Moreover, these activities are not without effect; they have great force in shaping the world. It is in this inter-subjective and active sense that mappings are not transparent, are instead extremely opaque, imaginative, operational instruments.

[line break added] Although drawn from measured observations in the world, mappings are neither depictions nor representations but mental constructs, ideas that enable and effect change. In describing and visualizing otherwise hidden facts, maps set the stage for future work. Mapping is always already a project in the making.

If maps are essentially subjective, interpretative and fictional constructs of facts, constructs that influence decisions, actions and cultural values generally, then why not embrace the profound efficacy of mapping in exploring and shaping new realities? Why not embrace the fact that the potentially infinite capacity of mapping to find and found new conditions might enable more socially engaging modes of exchange within larger milieu?

[line break added] The notion that mapping should be restricted to empirical data-sorting and array diminishes the profound social and orienting sway of the cartographic enterprise. And yet the power of ‘objective analysis’ in building consensus and representing collective responsibility is not something to be abandoned for a free-form ‘subjectivity’; this would be both naïve and ineffective. The power of maps resides in their facticity.

[line break added] The analytical measure of factual objectivity (and the credibility that it brings to collective discourse) is a characteristic of mapping that ought to be embraced, co-opted and used as the means by which critical projects can be realized. After all, it is the apparent rigor of objective analysis and logical argument that possesses the greatest efficacy in a pluralistic, democratic society.

[line break added] Analytical research through mapping enables the designer to construct an argument, to embed it within the dominant practices of a rational culture, and ultimately to turn those practices towards more productive and collective ends. In this sense, mapping is not the indiscriminate, blinkered accumulation and endless array of data, but rather an extremely shrewd and tactical enterprise, a practice of relational reasoning that intelligently unfolds new realities out of existing constraints, quantities, facts and conditions. The artistry lies in the use of the technique, in the way in which things are framed and set up

[ … ]

… Given the complex nature of late capitalist culture, together with the increased array of competing interest groups and forces, it is becoming ever more difficult for urban designers and planners to play a role in the development of cities and regions beyond scenographic or environmental amelioration. There is a kind of inertia and leveling of possibilities as it becomes politically impossible in a mass democracy to do anything out of the ordinary.

[line break added] While there is no shortage of theories and ideas for addressing this condition more critically, there has been very little development of new operational techniques for actualizing them. In other words, the difficulty today is less a crisis of what to do than of how to do anything at all. It is precisely at the strategic and rhetorical level of operation, then, that mappings hold great value.

My most recent previous post from Corner’s essay is here.

-Julie

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