Session 6 Reading Response: Reterritorializing the Map

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all of this to be marked on my body when I am dead... I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

I wanted to posit this passage from Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient in response to the Marlowe poem that Harley opens with. Harley’s piece discusses the connection between power and knowledge and the usage of maps to control space and designate authority. He catalogs the ways in which maps have been instruments by which various authorities conquer, rewrite, and desocialize territory, gerrymander, glorify religious ideology, and purport singular narratives of space. His historical characterizations of maps leads me to question whether increased access to data and mapping tools can ever truly generate multi-sided, contested cartographies.

James Corner and Denis Cosgrove write about critical mapmaking with more optimistic outlooks. Both discuss the tendency to view maps in terms of what they represent, rather than what they do. Cosgrove describes two directions that critical cartography can take: the finished map or the mapmaking process. He argues that mapping is ultimately a creative process; one that involves us inserting our humanity into the world. Corner articulates this point in other words: as the re-territorialization of sites that are changing in space and time faster than ever before. Corner’s emphasis of embracing bias as inevitable and reconsidering the power dynamics embedded in accepted facts makes me question the efficacy of relying on technical drawings and maps of our site.

There is already an evident power structure organizing the various stakeholders of Water Tunnel No. 3. Drawings of the tunnel are purposefully nonspecific, perhaps because of the “security risk,” but also perhaps because the technical details are assumed to be beyond the grasp of the proletariat. Of course, more detailed maps exist somewhere but, again, an emphasis is placed on their function as a technical object for the consumption of engineers, foremen, and sandhogs. The paradigm of mapmaking in the Water Tunnel project is one that preferences the technical over the social and the product over the process. As we continue to diversify our definition of the “expert,” we might consider experimenting with the techniques that Corner describes - plotting, layering, psychogeographic mapping, etc. - to generate more interpretative, pluralistic cartographies. How do we do this in a way that calls into question the underlays that we forget are already highly politically charged? And how can these maps serve to transform the “non-expert” into a referenced “expert”? These are lingering questions.

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