More on Maps

Carta Marina_04 (Small)

(more on maps featuring sea monsters here)

Maps establish, formalize and stabilize relations between entities. They also set boundaries around human knowledge – think of how ancient maps articulated what we knew to be true and what we speculated about. So if maps solidify a set of relations that are co-extensive with human knowledge, why not extend them to include those elements that, under the spell of modernity, we have shut out of our sociotechnical imaginary?

Timothy Beatley, professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia, suggests something like this in a recent interview for Grist:

Instead maps of coastal cities that end at the shoreline, they could extend out into the waters, to show where kelp forests outside of Los Angeles are as magnificent as the redwoods outside of San Fran, or where deep-water reefs lie largely unexplored off the coast of Trondheim, Norway, or the tracts of ocean where orca whales migrate by Seattle and Vancouver.

Extending maps in this manner would have a multiplying effect on “matters of concern” (as Latour would put it), with interesting ethical effects: if it’s on a map we can no longer ignore it. In this sense new mapping practices may help restore the diagrammatic essence of maps as means to “blow apart semiotics systems or regimes of signs on the plane of consistency of a positive absolute deterritorialization” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.136).

[addendum 1: as is so often the case, Google is already there with its new underwater streetview]

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[addendum 2: “The shrinking of the Arctic ice sheet in the 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World is one of the most striking changes in the publication’s history”. Climate change must be real, then. But there’s more than meets the eye here since arctic ice is extremely dynamic – both between seasons (obviously) and between years. Not only is the choice of data crucial (in this case 2012, which saw historically low arctic ice levels), but the mapping itself strikes me as exercise in territorialization.]