Cartographic strategies of postmodernity : the figure of the map in contemporary critical theory and fiction

Mitchell, Peta Robyn (2003). Cartographic strategies of postmodernity : the figure of the map in contemporary critical theory and fiction PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Mitchell, Peta Robyn
Thesis Title Cartographic strategies of postmodernity : the figure of the map in contemporary critical theory and fiction
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor J. Seaboyer
Total pages 312
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects L
420200 Literature Studies
200104 Media Studies
190102 Art History
420101 English
Formatted abstract
This dissertation identifies and analyses the metamorphoses of two interlinked concepts—map and metaphor—in contemporary critical theory and fiction. These transformations, I argue in chapter one, have led to the formation of a self-reflexive "cartographic" writing that has been influenced strongly by the deconstructive logic of Jorge Luis Borges's parable of the total 1:1 map. Within this writing, the map metaphor functions to suggest not the boundedness of knowledge and the objectivity of the author-cartographer, but rather the impermanence of boundaries, and the experiential and subjective nature of understanding.

While chapter one lays the theoretical foundation for an analysis of the postmodern map metaphor, the second chapter provides a brief historical analysis of the emergence, development, and metamorphosis of Western conceptualisations of cartography, geography, and space over the past six hundred years. By examining cartographic history through the lens of Foucauldian genealogy, this chapter seeks to throw into relief the socio-historical forces contributing to the formation of various cartographic and spatial epistemes. Foucault's genealogical method offers itself as a useful tool in an analysis of the history of cartography because it operates outside the linear narrative of historical progress, augmenting the conventional historicisation of space with a spatialisation of history. Thus, I consider medievalism, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, imperialism, and postmodenity as discursive formations within whose epistemologies are played out emergences, formalisations, and rejections.

One such emergence charted in chapter two is that of the nineteenth-century shift from the rectilinear space of Euclidean geometry to the curved space of Riemannian geometry and Einsteinian physics. In the postmodern episteme curvature is no longer a deviation from the straight, the true, and the literal, but effectively becomes the norm. Moreover, the curved space of the twentieth century calls for a new, yet paradoxically ancient, "nomadic" subject better equipped to negotiate its terrain. Chapter three, therefore, examines the irruption of the nomadic within the discourse of postmodernism and maps its rise to prominence through critical and fictional texts of the later twentieth century. Li this chapter I argue that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's figuration of the nomad not only functions as an intensive critique of the sedentary Cartesian subject, but also rejects the Kantian conception of the philosopher as an omniscient cartographer who permanently inscribes the borders of knowledge. The nomad does not reduce knowledge or subjectivity to a single map, but creates multiplicities, elides the border between cartography and art, and exists perpetually between the smooth and striated.

While chapter three analyses three novels that correspond to the nomadic spaces of the desert, steppe, and sea—Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, Milorad Pavić's Dictionary of the Khazars, and Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, respectively—chapter four considers the way in which nomadic subjectivity has been transposed onto the apparently incongruous space of the postindustrial city. It examines how the figure of the urban nomad has been linked with a subjective project of "cognitive mapping" and how these conjoined figures permeate both critical and fictive urban writing of the later twentieth century. The novels considered in this chapter— Michel Butor's Passing Time, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion—reveal not only a shift toward the experiential and cognitive mapping of urban space, but also an awareness of the entropic, or even chaotic, nature of the city. The influence of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura upon Calvino, Ondaatje, Michel Serres, and the early architects of chaos theory, Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, points once more towards a revaluation of curvature, but in this case as a force of creation and transformation.

The final chapter examines the relationship between metaphor (as the curvature of language) and metamorphosis, and charts the twentieth-century debate surrounding this problematic. I propose a mediating space for metaphor as the point of tension between the poles of the literal and metamorphic, and argue that it derives its potential force from existing in this space between the striated and the smooth. Ultimately I argue that the significance of the postmodern map metaphor lies in its capacity to self-reflexively register and perform this ambivalence, along with its implicit foregrounding of human agency and an experiential mode of knowing and being in the world.

Keyword Postmodernism (Literature)
Geographical perception
Critical theory

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:10:52 EST