Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Cartography: Representation and Revealing the Hidden

In 'Postmodern Temptations', in Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, Claudio Minca explains that, historically, our concept of space has been dominated by the 'the metaphysics of representation', and in his essay he demonstrates the problem that this has created in regards to power and concealment. Minca says that the duality inherent in seeing abstract life and the concrete world as separate, has “colonized” our relationship with space (2001: 197-198). And, this worldview also has the dual effect of hiding that logic behind its structure:
The map, the classical tool of geographic descriptions of the world and its various 'parts', similarly embodies the logic of such a 'colonization'. It is through its simulation of more or less reliable reproductions of the territory, that mappings have succeeded in naturalizing the continual evocation of some underlying, objective reality which only awaits to be unveiled, to be narrated; a reality whose order – and whose very existence – necessarily depended on its representability.
(Minca 2001: 198).

Minca is saying that cartography has the process of naturalising the allocation (or acquisition) of territories that are inherent in its project. What it does is merely offer a representation of space as seen from a particular perspective; but over time this model of the world becomes concretised within a particular worldview. If this is the problem with the modernist geographic project of mapping, it is important to consider the impact of this on a postmodern cartographic project. It has been the aim of this project to lift the consumerist veil which cloaks the university, in order to challenge its corporate 'logic'. But, this is based on an assumption that there is an objective reality hiding underneath, that can be revealed. This assumption could be problematic if one is attempting to locate a locus of power within the university.

To further explain the problems of creating a cartography of the world, Minca provides a complex example of two types of maps: Map A is a map that is a representation of an area that sees itself as part of a project that exists because this materiality can only be realised through the actual territory; Map B is a hidden map of meaning that can only be brought to light through concrete actualisation; this is “the real referent” (2001: 212-213). A useful way of thinking about these models might be to apply the Freudian concepts of manifest (Map A) and latent (Map B) to them. Map A, then, becomes what appears to the dreamer (to the viewer of the map) and is a reproduction that becomes lost in the process of translation (the dreamwork). It is the exterior appearance of the dream that can be recounted upon waking; for the map it is what appears in place of the unrepresentable. Map B, as the latent one, becomes available through the decoding of the manifest map. It is the manifest map that draws the latent map into the light. Map B is interior and hidden. Minca explains that when Map B fits with Map A, we consider it to be 'real' (2001: 213). Overdetermination, in regards to maps, being the consequence of the (latent) elements of Map B being represented many times in the, fewer, manifest signs that appear in Map A. In a political sense, Althusser sees overdetermination as the multiple voices available in a given situation that represent different viewpoints. Even though the dream is the product of one person, it is often the result of competing internal voices that represents certain drives. The process of mapping, while the product of a particular worldview, can say as much about the terrain by what it disregards or sweeps aside, as it can by what it promotes in its ideological manifesto.

Minca describes this modernist cartographic model as “the 'secret' of the colonization of the world” because it is a closed logic and describes only one possible reality:
It is here that we come fact to face with the iron-clad logic of cartographic reason, a logic which recognizes the existence of the territory in the only form in which it is capable of conceiving it; as the representation of a plan, a project; essentially as the representation of the cartography which has produced it.
(2001: 214).

Minca's discussion on cartography hinges around the colonization of the world and not the form of representation capital takes in the postmodern world. However, what is comparable here is that capitalism represents a plan, even if that plan involves the illusion of incorporation (everyone can have a stake) or the idea that it has behind it that we are free citizens, existing in a free market, able to make free choices. Globalization is the culmination of this free-market model. But at the same time, the ideology behind this model disguises social relations. This is apparent in the way poorer countries, in their attempt to get a foothold in the dominant financial model, have to make sacrifices on a human level: for example, in negotiating with richer countries a rate to be paid for disposing of their nuclear waste for them. This exchange produces a whole new concept of space: territory is altered by becoming a prohibited space due to the dangers from radioactive matter imported from elsewhere in the world.

As Minca says of modern cartography, it is simply a representation of itself, of its own model. This is the simulacra of capitalism that the Situationists so abhorred, and of which Jean Baudrillard discusses when he talks about the simulated signs that proliferate in the postmodern environment, never finding a resting place. This is the power of capitalism's face; attempting to look behind that face might imply there is something static, solid and central hiding behind the surface. In an essay entitled 'Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment' Cindi Katz states that the concept of a “hidden city” implies that the globalizing machine takes advantage of the already existing imbalance in concrete social practices (2001: 93). But, she goes on to say: “The hidden city is itself an outcome and representation of what might be understood as 'postmodern geographical praxis', but so too is the project of its unhiding.” (ibid.). But, because there is no central place where capitalism exists, this does not mean it cannot be revealed. It just means, in a way, it is located everywhere. This makes the search for the signs of capitalism easier than first appears. In relation to the project at hand, the university, this becomes apparent when historically examining objects that exist in space.

Katz, Cindi. 2001. ''Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment'', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 93-110.
Minca, Claudio. 2001. 'Postmodern Temptations', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 196-225.

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