Mapping the Face of the World, Mappa Mundi


Disclaimer: this is not an academic text. Poetic licence applies.




A map of the world without utopia on it is not worth looking at, because it

excludes the only country where mankind is constantly landing.”

(Oscar Wilde, qtd. in Braye and Simonot 186)

Certain historians supposed the art of verisimilitude achieved in drawing, painting and sculpture to have originated at the time of antiquity. Several legends appeared recounting how. Thus for instance, the sculptor Phidias astonished by the clarity of his daughter’s shadow, drew its outline on a wall planning in fact to make a modelling by first applying a mound of clay onto its precise shape, a prophetic precursor to map projection. A passing stranger is said to have fallen in love with the girl from the mere sight of this line. This is not implying the impulse or ability to symbolize the elements constituting the substance of our environment was not present prior to this new method of depiction. What it suggests however is, on one hand a primordial hermeneutic intent, thus domesticating the form by simplifying its visible shape, reducing it in this case to co lateral design overlooking the complex properties of its three dimensional appearance by relying on a flat opaque imprint, on the other, the desire to map a profile literally and euphemistically, i.e., to replace reality with an ideal that proffers to be more truthful than the real, to contain the borders of a terrain whose properties are always put in question on account of its nature. In this case, the shadow will provide a perfect transition between the living and its indexical image. Here is the perfect edge from which to trace a perfect line, a line that, if left by itself on a pale background would look like an irregular nonsensical mark to the untrained eye, for this line is also a code. What happens when the mind recreates form through the elevation of a model resting purely on geometric solids or mathematical hypothesis? Some would venture the idea of the origin of a holographic universe. From the surface of a face, the seat of the intellect has expanded its scrutiny to the furthest reaches of the cosmos and has begun to theorise about the mapping of two elusive substances physicians have named respectively Dark energy and dark matter.

Moving back and closer to what constitutes a face, we arrive at signs of character. We must move from profile outlining to interpretation of an open territory. The strange characteristic of this territory lies in its ‘auto-mapping’ insofar as it presents a selective set of characteristics usually adapted to a prognostical conceptualisation, a manoeuvre by which actual beings retain and prolong their contextuality when confronted with uncontrollable values, in this case another human being. This territory absorbs the signs of its context in order to reflect it and thus feigns or supposes affiliation and compatibility.

We could suggest a description of this process of psycho-mapping occurrence. For example, the onlooker assessing and retouching what they are presented with, a sanitised version of a face, a facade, and the ‘carrier’ of a face presenting what would be considered, in their view, most appropriate at this point in time and space. This is an interchangeable double mask meeting playing both parts simultaneously, thus demonstrating a quadruple psycho-virtual inter-reactional exercise. But this remains another hypothesis. By applying clinical mapping to psychosocial behaviour, one automatically flattens the territory, in effect depriving the context of content. Such principles of analysis are extended into a wider field of mapping. It is pervasive to our interaction with the world. It springs from an impulse to distance the mind from the object it contemplates, but also from an urge to possess it, by proxy bringing the additional issue of purity, cleanliness or non-contamination/decontamination into focus.

It even harks back to the games children play, pretending to hold something in their hand actually much larger than themselves, an illusion enabling virtual dominance over objects. It is also a by product of a trait especially particular to the human species, self reflective, a self consciousness encapsulating the mind in a kind of insular melancholia, demanding the effectuality of a mirror by which agency the forming psyche will situate itself in an either wise unreadable cosmos.

To see ‘oneself’ may still be an incidental proof of existence although what is seen is but a perceived selection of a momentary presence amounting to an immediate form of mapping. To place a point in space, one must frame the point and this in itself is one of the primary steps towards virtualisation, an inevitable by-product of the paradox of being in the infinite, making ‘being’ a continual possibility of non-being and being simultaneously. Could we then talk of a cartographic instinct of ontological survival? Could we even associate the human brain with a three-D mapping of the mind, pointing to an ironic association with the psychiatric condition of paranoia, (beside-mind), the brain continuously gravitating the ‘unquantified’ through conceptualisation, thus making itself into a fearsome tool of autopsy, as much as a flattener of depth. Could we say that an artist also engages with the cartographic simulation of a reality in which the mind cannot condensate or locate itself save by this stratagem? It seems still that art moves along different channels where profundity is no longer removed from representation but sustains its very foundation. A kind of philosophical taboo in the super-gridded cerebral system.

Mapping is after all a device, despite its apparent urgency, if we are to judge by the fixation brought upon its exponential elaboration and application; it is functional rather than the result of ‘self expression’. It tends in fact to express anything but ‘self’, being closer to an archive than an arcane state, the objectifying perspective directed at a ‘sector’ of the world, be it external or internal, the latter for example including scientific evaluations of the mind through neurological classification. Mapping cannot operate without division. It brings context into view, the content of which has been purged of personal history. Yet we see down the line of its evolution that this premise will be a source for contradictory determinations. An idea advanced by Guy Debord in 1955 will trigger a butterfly effect that will precede the theories of Deleuze and Guattari elaborated in A thousand Plateaux about what they called “Deterritorialisation” and “reterritorialisation”. The idea was coined “Psycho-geography”. It was carried out by a group of thinkers, Situationist International in the 1960s. In effect the Situationists seemed to turn the sterile factuality of mapping into the art of ‘anthroponoia-geo’ portraiture. The basis of the project rested on controversial ethics of desire. S.I advocated the benefits of disruption, the denial of habit, the abandon to “la derive”, a form of day dream drifting, an idea Charles Baudelaire the Romantic poet evoked through the “flâneurs”, himself having been inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe story The Man of the Crowd. This walker was no longer idle but a poetic urban investigator, or in Baudelaire’ s words, “a botanist of the side-walk”. It was pure defiance to the Cartesian empire coming into full reign during the “enlightenment”, although Descartes himself had advocated a radical rejection of all prior unproven deductions to begin the research anew. His was the path of the ‘sage’, for nothing could be apprehended unless one had the courage to impose a tabula rasa on all previous unfounded concepts. From this point, ‘the single idea’, one could move into the complexity of its substrata via rigorous dissection. This new methodology inclusive of geometry was the basis of modern science. The “method” was a form of mapping indistinguishable from any instruments of power.

Debord’s aim by contrast was to render institutional maps obsolete by replacing them with emotional maps (One is tempted to call this a complete contradiction in terms). Getting lost and recording each moment according to the feelings that arose on the occasion was pivotal to the building of the Psycho-geographic map. These new markers would ultimately displace the system of impersonal reference forming the basis of what was fast becoming corporate mapping, although solely within the domain of the poetic vision. We could view this growing schism as a reflection of an underlying war between poetry and politics.

It was along those lines a new idea, promenadology, was elaborated twenty years later by Lucius Burckhardt who developed it further in the 1980s. Two apparently contradictory tendencies, urban contextuality on one hand, and the ‘reverie’ of the paysage on the other became interlaced in the “promeneur”, who despite his/her attachment to the city, as a dweller among many, would resurrect the thought of beauty as truth beyond its walls, its laws and above all beyond the graphic idea of a world flat-lined by geometric interpretation and geographic conceptualisation. The promeneur acknowledges a realm that still exists, out there, not only as a milk provider, a dump or a pastoral playground, but as an actual site of experience, a scene the promeneur will dare enter, no longer a tourist or a witness but a walker in awe, master of his own vision. Poets and philosophers in ancient Greece, errant knights and minstrels in the Middle Ages, masons during the Gothic elevation of cathedrals, then in the renaissance, with the renewed desire for the sacred hierosgamos between the human figure and the natural creation slowly gaining autonomy from the supernal arbiter of forms, artists became the upholders of the beauty of the paysage, to reach a sublime stance during the romantic era. In Burckhardt’s work, the emphasis is put on that which is reported from the expedition, and where this leads. There is no objectification; we lie in the midst of privacy, an intimate record of memories and sensations. This will supersede the practical design of a geographic understanding of the land, for it is the result of a union between mind and place. In one particular promenadological model, texts from a journey undertaken by captain Cook in 1772 were read out loud in situ following an entirely different peregrination in Germany, thus bringing out the contrast between the exploration of the island of Tahiti and that of a derelict military training field. Burckhardt wrote in Le Design au delà du visible: ” Geography”(Parallel with cartography)”is the exact example of a science where forgetfulness operates […] while leaving aside most of the information, it invents what we call landscapes. Promenadology will be the form through which I alone will direct my approach of and into the landscape.” We could think of a pilgrim, more precisely a ‘pilgrim of origins’, diverging from the “Flâneur”, having gained the poetic lunacy of the Mat/fool, the numberless card of the Tarot, the bohemian curiosity of the flâneur, replaced by the astonished immobility of the Taoist, the focused contemplation of Zen, and the solidity of purpose of the geologist.

It was in France, in the 17th century that La Carte du Tendre, in which the journey of the heart unfolds towards fulfilment, was invented, an allegorical prelude to the Situationist map, a little ironic if we consider this to be an aristocratic invention, to amuse the précieuses. But to be fair, such a map was reflecting a real need for sentiments to regain a central place in the harsh political context of France under Louis the XIV, the Apollonian king, led mainly by women of high rank who saw the magnetic vanity of their sovereign as a potential gap in the rigour of his megalomaniac iron grip on every aspect of his subjects’ existence, and thus inserted this timid affirmation of feminine aspirations hoping to gain erotic emancipation. We note a similar representational display in the map described by John Bunyan in his novel A Pilgrim’ s Progress. In the latter, the map offers a detailed cosmological overview of a spiritual itinerary, mostly dictated by moral fervour and religious piety. Later in the early 20th century, Lizzie Magie, a London suffragette, writer and much more besides, would create Pank-a-Squith or The Landlord’ s Game, what was then appropriated and semantically inverted by Charles Darrow during the great American depression and renamed the Monopoly, making him a monopolising millionaire. Hers however was a game board in the shape of a circular labyrinth exposing the injustice of the social system, pointing to mapping as the basis for positive change and a tool of political awareness, but more interestingly, showing how a clinical and narrowing representation of the world can be turned into an interactive instrument of learning and communication. It is remarkable how such an idea was so easily inverted to serve the indoctrination tactics of the new rich, the parvenus, bankers and industrialists whose world-plan excludes all non-profitable designs.

A map henceforth, besides providing a simplified interpretation of the world, generally in parts, can also tell a story. If we look closely at certain periods of history, we will find that the science of map making correlates with the pictorial art techniques of the time or that our pictorial translation of the world has approximated a kind of cartographic perception throughout history. For example illuminists from the early middle ages painted what they thought existed rather than what they actually saw, in a way in which maps were then mostly conceived, time and space coinciding and unravelling on one plane allowing for what we could regard as a logical linear ‘planispheric’ reading of events. This was a conceptual rather than perceptual operation, somewhat raising the supernatural above the rational. In effect painters then were mapping history, through for example the lives of saints in one single all encompassing image, a metaphor for the mind’s eye or the all seeing eye of god, with no centred perspective. The 13th century Psalter map clearly shows Jerusalem at its centre, leaving some relative faithfulness to the locality of its origin, the British Isles for example. Mappa Mundi means “cloth (or) chart of the world”. We could almost visualise a monk throwing the cloth on the earth to get a miraculous trace, Veronica with the face of Christ. These maps were a strange amalgam of veracity and fables, a world unto themselves, libraries of new discoveries, but also a reflection of cultures and beliefs. It is true that art and science mingled quite harmoniously and that even architecture, “frozen music”, as it had been called, reflected this need for an artificial topography rising from the cartographic instinct of homo sapiens as the ‘alienated panoramic spectator’, a position Walter Benjamin developed in his vision of the flâneur. This temporal and pictorial panoramic view was also present in works painted in ancient Egypt throughout all of the dynastic periods, upholding a precise model of art for thousands of years before the Christian era, combining hieroglyphs with allegorical scenes. The Book of The Dead or book of Coming forth by Day is a map tailored to the need of the departed. Time and space are no longer an issue, displaced by new non-quantifiable properties pertaining to the journey of the soul outside of the physical world. The map in this case embodies the itinerary as a real event within a real yet invisible dimension. Each sign included is essential to the survival of the soul now encircled by a world only approachable through the imagination. The papyrus onto which it is painted is rolled up, like a film in a capsule. The end is therefore at the centre. This map is a form of labyrinth, its walls covered in spells, a silent army of words only to be voiced when summoned by the respective actualized enemy of their meaning. They are semiological spirals unfolding according to the progress of the itinerant. On this basis, the Tarot also maps out an itinerary of the psyche through personal experiences joining a kind of modus operandi to hermetic divination. These ‘maps’ are of a sequential nature akin to the division of time through seconds, minutes, hours, days and so on, time measurement playing the part of a map, and this since humans have observed the passage of sun, moon and stars.

Homo Sapiens leaving Africa did not possess a map, armed only with the desire to discover and to conquer. But could we imagine their mind was still open enough to their natural environment that was not as yet covered in asphalt and electric cables, to contain an intuitive conception of the world, i.e., the ideo-graphic extension of their potential habitat? Migrating birds follow pathways virtually blue printed in their psyche like an etheric map of the globe, although “map” here is a misnomer. All phenomena and forces contributing to the coherent organisation of physical space seem to be combined and comprehended as if a live multidimensional view was formed in the very act of flying, a view shared by and uniting the flying birds. A map is to the earth what grammar is to the hermeneutic interpretation of a book.

Humanity was evolving into a multi faceted mirror of the universe and mapping represented a desire to rise out and above our condition. Mental beings enslaved by mere gravity, would thus compete with god(s), since mapping would present a view from any vantage point, including from the sky. (We are eager to know all but ourselves). Having gained a wider view, it is not so strange to think a map could have philosophical and mystical implications, if not applications. For example, the Kabbalah tree of life is undoubtedly one of the most complex maps of the process of human transmutation from gross matter to spirit. To come back to Ancient Egypt, it was then believed that by replicating the Am-Duat, the celestial underworld, onto the surface of the earth, magical talismanic protection in the form of symbolic guidance would be granted. In this case, the map is actually applied to three-dimensional space rather than in a sense lifted away from it. It integrates space, impregnating the fabric of organic life with the gnosis of the greater cosmos, arriving at an antithesis of contemporary mapping. Nevertheless, a form of more precise and scientific mapping would emerge in the third century BC with Eratosthenes who calculated the circumference of the earth, and was responsible for the first map of the world (for now). But it has been demonstrated that evolution does not follow a straight forward path, and maps certainly provided information about the peregrinations of the human mind through the fluctuations of history, perhaps also pointing to other needs more pressing to the soul, and certainly influencing the way in which we would portray the world at any given time.

Why would humanity disregard certain already known principles considering these would be particularly useful in terms of orientation? Yet, Neither the rationalism of the Greeks, nor the analytical geography of Ptolemy would divert the medieval mind from allegory, metaphor, and artistry in the invention of a different kind of map. Some ‘topo-anthropo-chthonical’ maps seem stranger still, symbolic in appearance, such as the Nazca geoglyphs in Peru. Although they can be detected from hilltops, it was suggested these or similarly produced designs could only be truly understood from further up, insinuating the possibility of airborne intelligence. It is not so far fetched to imagine our ancestors aiming to communicate with the higher spheres whether this entails real contact with some unknown entities or not. It suggests at least mapping in this form acted as a focal point of recognition by which to locate a place that lay right beneath it, not only spatially but also symbolically, a place of meaning or perhaps even a crucial position such as a portal or a well of knowledge. This type of location detector tool seems to arise and disappear early in the history of the hominid. This reversed perspective, i.e., from above rather than based on the horizon, would not emerge again until Mathias Seuter in 1740, placing the observer of our planet 12,750 kilometres above sea level. In this model, vertical perspective, the hypothetical viewer would float like an angel far from the ground. This would however offer a seemingly coherent and cohesive design of the continents, following new accurate measurements. It was however recently noted that older maps had delineated the edges of Antarctica, the Reis map drawn in 1513, followed by the Oronteus Finaeus map (1531), when Antarctica had not yet been discovered, these anomalies leading to the hypothesis of an extra-terrestrial perspective, a highly controversial theory.

A map tends to veil the world rather than reveal it. It acts as an instrument of moral and politico-social selection. It has been and continues to be after all a tool of power. A great example is the Magna Carta, a map that introduces the under-lying sinister idea of a new world order. Order in map making is the crux of the matter although as we have seen, this was not a continuous characteristic. But in this respect, the map becomes a surgical instrument of punctilious division and classification, while implying a will to monitor and sanitize. One could contend that if anything is revealed, it is the intentions of its makers. Besides, we are so used to looking at maps we are unaware of the fact they are the product of someone else’s point of view which in a sense objectifies our own by aligning it with a multitude of others seeing the world from an identical angle. And if a map somehow yields information on the intentions and psychology of the maker, could this be the basis for a character profile?

Maps tend to separate rather than integrate although much effort has been made to synthesize our vision of the world through them. They are nevertheless a dead conglomeration of fragments, constantly re affirming the manufactured limitations imposed on the population and the environment. Hence an increasing number of specialized maps corresponding to multiple administrative and scientific bodies investigating for example the development of a section of society in a given location via statistics. It is therefore primarily a mode of observation and discrimination and by logical extension, a mode of control over the population, which as aforementioned demonstrates a persistent will in participating in a program of global indoctrination and uniformisation by assimilating the information contained in maps as neutral fact, that is, devoid of (ulterior) motive.

Deleuze writes in La Logique du Sens “The motive for the theories of ideas is to be sought in the direction of the will to select, to sort out. It is a matter of drawing differences, of distinguishing between the “thing” itself and its images, the original and the copy, the model and the simulacrum”. Furthermore, mapping in the twenty first century aims to displace the original, that is, the native truth of a situation or what resides in its own locality, with a copy that satisfies the priorities of he or she whose perspective, detached from the real, is thus concretised, in short, it permits the instalment of a colonization praxis by proxy, an abstract grid dividing a totality and to which the essence of that totality must conform. The jest of this idea was also present In The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord where it states “Thus, after the practice of art has ceased to be what is most eminent and this predicate has devolved to theory as such, it now breaks off the latter, insofar as synthetic post theoretical practice is constituted, which has as its mission first of all to be the foundation and truth of art as well as of philosophy. ”May be an accidental imposture.

Maps in their odd vacuity filled with data carry the ambiguity of the mask. This face is inhuman to say the least, or all too human perhaps. It aids in the synthetic unification of unidentifiable elements with identifiable ones. The map indeed covers the world with a new kind of face, artificial, apparently stable yet, mutable, it confuses the onlooker who desperately believes in its fidelity to some evasive truth. Are we looking at maps or smoke screens growing out of computer hardware, for Google map is replacing all others, virtualising our vision with our consent. This, no doubt, looks like a game and humanity wants to play. Perhaps this is in fact the perfect time for art to change the map into the territory of the imagination, to draw the face back out of the mask and re inhabit the domain of philosophy beyond the abstraction of theory, echoing the pataphysical détournement of the flâneurs as they walk away from their burning maps into the unknown recesses of the city, but primarily following in the foot steps of true pataphysicians such as Boris Vian, and before him, Rabelais and Francois Villon, troubadours of a timeless poetic universe. Ultimately, the live inclusion of meaningful coincidence was triggered by the absence of map.

Where this was demonstrated most overwhelmingly was Venice, a city where all maps fail. Incidentally and ironically, I was invited to a conference at the Teatro Marinoni on the Lido in summer 2014 (Tracce visuali, Linguaggi Artistici, Nuove Mappe) where “Methods for the interpretation and representation of urban transformation” were exposed and debated. I would have returned to the meanders of the mysterious city with a sense of waste if it not been for my exploration of the abandoned hospital on the same grounds, and the magical Tango night that succeeded it. Rather than experiencing the colour-coded conduits of confusing patterns stretched between my hands, I experienced what all travellers seek, the perpetual renewal of discovery, an endless sequence of liberation. No matter how large a map, there will always be antipodes lying beyond its reach, but not beyond the reach of the psyche, and less so beyond that of he or she, as the Japanese proverb goes (uroko ga me kara o chiru), whose’ s scales fall from their eyes, and armed with a new vision, perhaps wonder, “should I follow none but the lines of my hands?” « Ne devrais je suivre que les lignes de ma main? »

Finally, the flâneur will be supplanted by the pérégrinateur, or the “pilgrim of Origins”, they who, in the action of walking as in the non action, standing still, make by what is felt. Where they are, is not the access of a point in space or the continuation of a line, and therefore it is not possible to retrace their steps, for even if not especially when followed to the letter, the reproduction will lead elsewhere. Within this pérégrinateur resides the voyage that is the landscape created out of their innermost depth.

Le Flâneur sera supplanté par le pérégrinateur ou le « pèlerin Originateur », celui qui dans la marche comme dans l’immobilité, fait à travers ce qu’il ressent. Là où il est n’est pas l’atteinte d’un point ni la continuation d’une ligne, et donc n’est pas retraçable, même et surtout si suivit au pied de la lettre, tout fac simile ne conduira qu’ailleurs, car en lui réside ce voyage qui est le paysage qu’il crée depuis ses profondeurs.

Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2015-Revised2018