The Territory Is Not the Map: Place, Deleuze and Guattari, and African Philosophy

By Janz, Bruce B. | Philosophy Today, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Territory Is Not the Map: Place, Deleuze and Guattari, and African Philosophy


Janz, Bruce B., Philosophy Today


At the beginning of "1227: Treatise on Nomadology-The War Machine" in A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari contrast chess with Go in terms of the relation between the pieces and the kind of space they create. "Chess," they maintain, "is a game of state ... chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive:"1 Go, on the other hand, has pieces that "are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: 'It' makes a move:' Chess has a "milieu of interiority," in other words, it takes its set of meanings from the previously defined "essence" of each piece. The space it creates is striated. Go, on the other hand, has a milieu of exteriority. The space in Go is smooth. It is a war without battle lines, without boundaries, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. Chess "codes and decodes space," while Go "proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space, consolidate that territory by construction of a second, adjacent territory...):'

Deleuze and Guattari here follow in the theme of other plateaus, tracing nomadic subjectivities and exploring the contingent, multifarious ways they come into themselves. The Treatise on Nomadology, while perhaps the most famous plateau, focuses on the contrast between the "inferiority," or essentialism of the State versus the "exteriority" or nomadic qualities of the war machine. But this is "set up" (to the extent that anything is really set up for Deleuze and Guattari) by the plateau immediately preceding, " 1837: Of the Refrain." This plateau does not concern the social-philosophical problems of the emergence of subjectivity in the face of a coercive nation-state, but rather begins by considering the roots of the experience of territory.

The concepts of the refrain and of nomadic philosophy give us a clue to a way to rethink African philosophy. The project of this essay is to consider ways in which we might think of African philosophy outside of the metaphors of maps used by both modernist and also some postmodernist writers, the first to delineate and define area and establish ownership and citizenship, the second to clear space and allow for possibilities. The first project of mapping, which has been the explicit or implicit project of the majority of African philosophy, leaves African philosophy forever at the edge of Western thought, defining its territory by that already claimed. The second project, meant to resist that sense of entitlement, ends up avoiding discussions of subjectivity even as it tries to avoid any hint of essentialism. We find out what we might choose, at the expense of knowing what we do choose. The result in the first case is a map that has little legitimacy, and in the second a map that has little use. The alternative, I would like to suggest, is to rethink both the metaphysical and the postmodern addiction to the notion of space, and instead suggest that the concept of place holds more hope.

The title to this essay is an obvious play on words. "The map is not the territory" is a common expression that indicates the limits of representation. It suggests that we can never fully nor properly represent or capture the world. Jorge Luis Borges imagines a map that is a 1:1 representation of the territory it is supposed to represent! Of course, if we broaden our conception of a map, we can imagine maps that are much larger than the territory-"maps" of subatomic reactions, the genome, and so forth. These maps define the boundaries, internal interactions, and identity of the territory in question. Maps, at least the ones common in the modern age, start with abstractions, and fit the "territory" into a numerical or conceptual grid. To suggest that the map is not the territory is to recognize that the territory is more than the abstractions of the map.

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