Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ChildLit Cartography: The Hunting of the Snark

My professor shared the following "map" with me out of a bit of whimsy and amusement. Taken from The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll, the map mirrors the crew's wit, intelligence, and imagination: it's completely blank. Thus "they found it to be / A map they could all understand."

Gut reaction tells us this is ridiculous! To respond to complete emptiness, with no "Mercator's North Poles and Equators,/ Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines," cannot logically lead to success (or lead to anything), because it lacks all the necessary markings, what they view them simply as "conventional signs." If you're familiar with this epic tale of adventure and mystery, then you know conventionality is no ingredient to the tale, so for the purposes of absurdity, it makes sense.

But, its blankness can also depict what every cartographer wants to achieve with a map: scientific fact as autonomous from social dimensions, with assumptions that reality and representation are linked. The map, blank as it is, depicts the entire sea as one sees it: vast, nearly limitless, a blank slate (what brews beneath or above is not articulated). So, ironically, yes, this map depicts the ocean at its cartographic best.

But that blankness of course leaves room for all of our assumptions, because, as JB Harley puts it, "there is a second text within the map" which carries social or political weight. This particular map allows every viewer to read their own hierarchy of markers and symbols. In fact, if you look carefully at the image, the map is blank but its margins carry symbols; those symbols, even on the strict scientific map, contain "a dimension of 'symbolic realism' which is no less a statement of political authority and control than a coat of arms." Basically, you can't escape social theory, no matter what blank slate you are given.

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