Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Mapping Movement: Reimagining Cartography in the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Mapping Movement: Reimagining Cartography in the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

New explanatory paradigms change our perspective on things and open possibilities for analysis and assessment. After a while, however, there is the danger that a familiar rhetoric may become ossified, and cultural criticism predictable and blunt. In this paper I am interested in concepts of mapping as spatial practices and mental processes. After briefly reviewing the usage of mapping in theoretical discourses, I will use a case study to assess some of the advantages and disadvantages of the current ubiquitous metaphoricity of mapping and to ask what the profit and loss of this rhetoric might be. I will analyse the literary example of Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (2009a), which can be regarded paradigmatic for the present discursive conceptualisation. The novel has achieved a remarkable degree of popularity for a text dealing with the time-honored practice of cartography. By incorporating archaic forms of graphic representation and providing readers with an intermedial, multi-modal surface, the novel reflects at one and the same time older modes of visual representation and very recent visual experiences. It achieves this doubling visuality by fictionally attributing it to the mind and skills of an adolescent growing up today. The intermedial strategies of the book belong in the context of a recent shift towards 'modal aesthetics' in fictional literature and other narrative arts, i.e. a shift from a sequential organisation to a spatial conceptualisation, for which mapping is a felicitous metaphor. At the same time, the novel participates in recent reconceptualisations of the map by applying it to entities with blurred boundaries or things being constantly on the move. Its visual and verbal strategies are thus informed, I am going to argue, by the attempt to shift the concept of mapping to processual, dynamic and performative meanings, an adaptation of the concept that has been under way in cultural discourses for some time. The conceptual alterations have the advantage of expanding the meaning of "mapping" to human corporeal and cognitive experience. Yet they also contain the danger of reducing these to an atemporal imaginary.

2. Mobility and Mapping

Since the spatial tum all the humanities have been aware that places and locations are profoundly implicated in the society which produces them and that they are serviced and shaped by that society's techniques of representation. One of these techniques is the rendering of the geographical surface of the earth on the two-dimensional surface of a map. The rationalising effort of mapping the world through which unknown land became charted territory played a particularly important part in the colonial and imperial expansion of European nations. Cartography allowed an imaginary subordination of the alien and un- known to its reductive geometrical organisation; it has recently been described as "a technology in the service of imperial hegemony" (Crampton 2010: 9). At the same time, new technologies like GIS (Geographical Information Systems) have made mapping one of the most sophisticated, authoritative and seductive technologies. Yet scepticism about these is required: GIS are one of the great technologies used extensively by administrations and governments. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they were deployed to assess risks; and, among other projects, the FBI began building a database of all the mosques in the US (Crampton 2010: 9).1 How is it that mapping could become such a ubiquitous concept in cultural criticism and a topos in popular fiction?

The term mapping has seen an enormous expansion of meaning in the last fifteen years beyond its traditional field of cartography, surveying, and geography. Along with its transdisciplinary career, the concept of mapping has undergone a tremendous re-evaluation (Crampton 2010: 10). This re-evaluation, which accompanied the spread of spatial and mobile categories through cultural criticism, saw a complete break between scientific and cultural approaches. …

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