Monday, May 20, 2013


Maps over time have become not unlike bodies after torture or strenuous unnatural exercise.
Formerly it was different. One in the Western Hemisphere was used to seeing the world through the eyes of the Flemish cartographer Mercator who created, in 1569, the first cylindrical world map, using meridians and parallels. His revolutionary projection was immediately considered a heresy. Nevertheless, his map still stands as a close-up scientific view of the world as it was known then, without any hidden agenda or malice. Europe in this mindset was the focal point of the Orbis. The Chinese emperor, who certainly had another concept of where China stood, nevertheless invited Flemish and other Jesuits to China to share their astrological know-how with the Middle Kingdom.

Since then, the objective translation of facts on the ground has shifted.  The political agenda syndrome metastasized, multiplying interventions which led to the upstart of artificial entities which overruled natural borders or self-contained cultural/political clusters.  Maps and worldview in general were manipulated and subjugated to hidden agendas.  Google is making strives towards the future, trapping misrepresentations by way of higher technological objective velocity.

In the 19th Century, Africa figured as a black hole, ready to be consumed. This void was also a statement. Today, Iran erases Israel from the map. Tomorrow the map will probably undergo a "topsy-turvy,"  which could overturn the worldview which has inhabited the Western retina for centuries.  Europe might be "relocated," becoming an extension of Asia.  The Asian tell uric mass is indeed marginalizing Western Europe which could be reduced to an appendix, if there were not the Russian buffer, which is actually more a two-headed Hydra looking both ways:  to Europe and to Asia.

Admittedly maps have been indifferent toys when the West ruled, carving countries out of the defunct Ottoman Empire.  Heterogeneous newcomers were created with no time spent to test their viability. Minorities were dispersed over several borders, which is partially at the origin of the Middle Eastern mess.  Curzon, Balfour, MacMahon, the treaty ports imposed upon the Qing Dynasty, etc., imposed arbitrary borders and nautical line limits disguised as map updates. Natural frontiers, socio-cultural homogeneity had to make room for expeditiousness and the depletion of natural resources. The Conference of Berlin in 1884/1985 and the Sevres Treaty in 1920 were more about indifferent carving than about mapping. 

Who knows what can be expected in the Arctic?  The eight Arctic Circle member states seem to have a consensual approach with regard to research and conservation. National borders have been agreed upon. What will happen when agreement meets the test of greed?  The science of mapping has been overtaken by other considerations. Paradoxically, the scientific exactitude of rendering logically the geographic mass has been mortgaged for political ends. Despite the advances of the tools, the possible positive consequences thereof have been distorted and we are left with sleeping toxic situations such as the unresolved border dispute between India and China or India and Pakistan for instance. Balfour is like Hamlet's ghost, clouding the Middle East peace(?) process...and one can go on.

Whatever the Google map shows, Google becomes in certain quarters the enemy. The distortion will continue to rule in corners, which refute the Holocaust as much as the reality on the ground. Maps were supposed to be enlightening. They might become treacherous and as a result we might look at the Mercator, Chinese or older Arab representations of the world as museum pieces, overtaken by ulterior motives.

I quote Houellebecq: "It's a game.  It's a million-dollar game."  The writer went into overdrive with the map allegory which figures in his book  "La carte et le territoire wherein the banal Michelin map becomes some sort of contemporary art totem.  He refers to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the " usual suspects ".   We have come a long way since Mercator!   Prejudice and the empirical find themselves locked in a combat to the finish.

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