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Maria Antonietta Mariani (Economist and anthropologist)
Engraving space. Maps, a world-body portrait

Space is a powerful metaphor, Foucault argues that the space is the most obsessive metaphor for the language, because space provides language with a way to disclose, create and reach out. Through its close relation with space, the map is also “metaphorized”. Now, through an analysis of written texts, films and images we will explore the metaphorical power of maps. We can follow the way in which maps are used to relate, to disclose and to design our space for our thought.

Korzybski talks about “the map-territory relation” when the message is not the object it defines. The map is not a territory. Bateson uses Korzybski’s metaphor. What part of the territory will be represented on the map? What does become part of the map is simply the difference, a difference in landscape, in altitude and so on. But what is the difference between two or more objects? Nothing. The difference means an abstraction. The mapmaker’s interpretation reshapes the object and gives it other meanings. In doing so, the relation between mapmakers and territories comprises more than recognisable signs.

In the drawing scale of maps, the space-time relation is hidden. The map abstracts a space dimension that keeps time and distorts it. This time distortion is well known to the traveller. On maps, the experience of time is multiplied and changed. The representation of all places becomes instantaneousness. Perception will be broken.

The map seems to be a world-body portrait.

Leonardo da Vinci says “Man is called by the ancient a world in miniature and certainly this name is well applied, for just as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, so is the body of earth. If man has in him bones which are the support and armor of the flesh, the world has rocks which are the support of the earth; if man has in himself the sea of blood, in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its oceanic sea which also rises and falls every six hours for the world to breathe. If from the said sea of blood spring veins which go on ramifying throughout the human body, similarly the oceanic sea fills the body of the earth with numberless veins of water”.

Just like the body, the map is tied to space organisation. In Ancient Egypt, the Osiris body is broken up and each part becomes a district icon. In some African areas, where movable capitals exist, when the king dies the capital is shifted to another place. The capital shapes time, because its movement modifies space and engraves memory.

A cartography is a place of memory. In his film Memento (2002), filmmaker, Nolan, describes the story of a man who loses his memory, while his body becomes the place of his memory. Signs are drawn on his body to remember things. His skin, just like a map, gathers and holds his memory.

The map gives an order to all the world places. It chooses a north, a south, an east and a west. Mary Douglass argues that the space-time organisation derives from the exploitation of differences: it is only if we follow differences, in/out, up/down, man/woman, with/ without that an order appears. The fence creates a sacred space. Maps keep the concept of the sacred threshold.

In Lars Von Triers’film, Dogville, (2003) the protagonist, Grace, is on the run from gangsters. The tale is shot entirely on a skeletal stage, where houses have no walls and the names of the streets are written in white paint on the wooden ground. Just like on a map. The film tells the story of Grace's stay in Dogville, at first they appreciate her generosity, but slowly look upon her as something else, an object of secret depravity. Stepping over the threshold costs the foreigner a high price . It is the unknown risk living inside the traveller, and nomads and migrating peoples.

Just as in a mythical story, maps keep a traveller and society reading the endless change of human beings. So what is the object/territory behind the map, and what is it like?

In the Medieval age, topography was mainly religious. The Holy Land was the destination of philosophical travels. Maps also signalled the importance of the sacred space. On the other hand, an imaginative topography is drawn by Homer’s stories. There were two types of maps: Zonal Maps and T-O maps. Geographical theories inherited from Greek Science and mythology divided the earth in five regions, the so-called Macrobius’s Zonal Map is oriented with the north at the top, which preserves the Hellenistic tradition of following the North Star. While T-O maps are diagrams that originate from the Romans and later developed with Christian concepts. They are oriented with the east at the top; the O represents the known world and its circumfluent ocean; the T is the axis of the Mediterranean crossed by the meridian from the Don in Russia to the Nile. With the east at the top, the viewer focuses on Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden. In this way, philosophical thoughts and the social importance of religions are shown. The Medieval age was therefore characterized by schematic T-O map-types from Isidore’s manuscripts or zonal diagrams from Macrobius’s manuscripts. Later on, Christian themes are combined with Islamic decorative motifs and forms. The late-fourteenth-century picture of the known world is enriched with real and imagined portraits, landscapes, flora, fauna, heraldry, ships, caravans, stylised mountains and rivers. Medieval maps represent Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible and tales of medieval travellers.

In the ancient world, the boundary was fixed and no one would have dared to transgress it. Places and distances enter maps only after several centuries, when travel becomes a scientific experience. Then the process of comparison starts. Renaissance travel introduces the same/different opposition. is the description, “like in Europe”, leads to an object inside one’s mental space. The old world considers itself advanced in comparison with the new one. The latter is a place of mythical times. Space difference is also time-society difference. Before the Renaissance, maps were inspired by texts. Then, discoveries were drawn on maps. Maps were filled up with differences.

History continues to provide new maps. After the fall of Berlin wall, Europe appears deeply changed. Some countries have changed their names and boundaries, some of them have disappeared, others have created new countries (i.e. Czechoslovakia gave way to the Czech and the Slovak Republics). Behind the new map-lines stories of borders and conflicts, shifted axes and international political strategies lie.

Technology modifies the mapmaker’s approach to building maps and the viewers perception. On one hand, maps are filled up with new information, on the other hand, maps are multiplied, broken up and innumerable fragments created. And even if sophisticated instruments are used, a clear choice about data compressing can be seen behind them. Using technologies the mapmaker is increasingly like a web designer. Just like a web designer, the mapmaker images a muddle of possible routes.

Pictures and numbers come together in the production of the manipulated image. Satellite photographs are used to predict the future. Satellite images were used before the war in Iraq to verify Saddam Hussein’s arms and, more recently, the Tsunami disaster in Asia. The way we look at satellite images, has been modified. It has become three-dimensional. It finds new depths. Maps show the evolution of events: past, present, future. Reality movement is followed.

Walls, former walls, gates, check points, military bases, refugee camps, buffer zones, new development areas, abandoned villages, untouchable areas, juridical lines. These are some of our daily borders. If migration flows increase, and more and more people are anonymous foreigners, contrast represents a cohesion structure for the identity. If we do not know who we are, at least we know against we are. In order to distance the risk of contamination, boundaries were built to drive out the evil of loss.

More and more diagram-maps are drawn to relate a polarized world. Some parts of the globe are shown in newspapers to narrate stories of conflicts.

Le Monde diplomatique Atlas collects data information from many international organisations and reveals the differences. Space appears as an image of differences in consumption, differences in development index, and so on. Social, political and economic indexes are worked out and compared. Colours and symbols underline the distance of given resources and capabilities: positive and negative freedom, as Amartya Sen defines them.

More and more maps gather together differences, or rather, they continue to multiply differences. In Koolhaas’s maps, all indexes are joined and melted showing the A-Z World. The melted maps of Koolhaas provide unusual powerful matching/relation/difference.

The map is broken and dissected in order to contain all differences. Maps as an image of political and economical power. In the press, maps break into pieces. The world representation is dilated but also shattered. In the same way the post-modern body is broken up, while some parts of it are isolated and manipulated, the same is true of maps. We could paint the map as a representation of the world-body, its image becomes the sum of scattered fragments. And the power of a single piece is a strong image, just like the mouth, leg, or breast. If we pay attention to their pertaining article titles, we might note that they often remind us of the body.

No doubt there is a connection which ties a map to a body. This happened in the space organisation of ancient Egypt with the Osiris body, and in Africa with the movable capitals. Or the body is used as a map, as with Nolan’s Memento. But this time the map becomes the body, the map-world-body, where someone writes what has to be reminded. The body space has now become the space body. Like the body, the map is not natural. Its signs, movements, and its appearance all are significant. It is a fragment that shows relations with missing pieces and more. The break in the map interrupts the association flow, causing a shock effect. The viewer perception is modified by differences multiplying and scattering. If the map is a ever-changing metaphor, now it has the power of being the world-body. Where a body part is a really strong image. And in this way, it is used to puzzle the viewer