Wednesday, 24 October 2012

National geographies: the madness of mappings

My fascination with Maps and Mappings drew me to this great read. Well worth the effort. 

 Map the matrix  to un map your mind. . 

Border scholars argue that making borders is the essential modern gesture: ancient empires and medieval states had fluid and flexible borders, or none at all, and people lived and thrived in what were in every sense gray areas. The growth of the nation-state made the border an indispensable bureaucratic tool of mind and body control. Borders told us where to stand, and where we stand. We watch the red grow and shrink in the atlases as the British Empire expands and recedes. We see straight, ruled lines on a map—whether they mark the peaceful states of the American plains or the warring muddles of the Middle East—and we know that those lines were drawn by some yawning bureaucrat in a big building in the capital. And yet these arbitrary lines make cultures as much as they express them

At times, this cartographic turn gestures toward a “Matrix”-like pessimism: what you think is natural is manipulated; that nation you live in, and the country you live in, were fiendish contraptions made by power to catch your soul. That’s the sense you get from “The New Violent Cartography” (Routledge), a collection of academic essays edited by the Hawaii political scientists Sam Okoth Opondo and Michael J. Shapiro, on the problems of why people fight over borders—or, rather, in one case, “an articulation of geographic imaginaries and antagonisms, based on models of identity-difference.” They make perhaps too much of the truth that the things rich people need are better mapped than the things they don’t, and that people with power tend to be able to impose their maps on people without it. Nonetheless, the idea that imaginary lines can have real victims is a powerful one.

Snyder is seeking to overcome what one of his admirers has called the “Hollywood version of the Second World War,” where evil men in a Berlin suburb plan occult murders and carry them out with industrial efficiency in a distant land. In that version of what happened (“Schindler’s List” is a good example), Nazi ideologues decide to murder all the Jews; their work is done by other Germans, with dogs and guns, and, apart from a handful of heroic Gentiles, everyone else is a bystander. Eventually, Russian soldiers arrive to find a few emaciated survivors.
Snyder, by contrast, wants to localize the Holocaust, to make it part of a geographic and spatial history. He sees Eastern Europe not as a denuded wasteland, a battlefield where modern man could execute any plan he chose, but as Europe’s cluttered attic, stuffed with used oil rags and open paint cans and old newspapers; a single spark could set it on fire. What happened was not a war on the Jews so much as a convulsion in a long-disputed territory, in which everyone killed everyone.

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