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Nat Case ncase at hedbergmaps.com
Thu May 24 12:14:47 EDT 2001


Ven wrote:

>Are you familiar with the native art of Australia. I don't exactly
>understand how it works but I have seen examples of dot paintings,
>which are essentially maps of journeys I presume these could be
>created fictionally. And I've just remembered a friend and I once
>went for a walk in the woods under the influence of certain
>substances. It seemed like an epic journey and later on we drew a
>map of it, with pictures and text. 
>
>To use a bit of semiotics jargon, maps are texts, assemblages of
>symbols, in a sense they are all fictional as they can only model
>reality. Consider, for example the shape of the coast line at
>different scales, the smaller the scale the more indentation will be
>shown. Maps are as subject to the processes of selection and
>representation as any other text.
>
>So, can a map tell a story? -- yes. Could it be a fictional story? --
>certainly. (I'm tempted to mention national boundaries here, they
>are, after all, mere social constructions).

You bring up a good, post-modern (or whatever you want to call it) 
point. Map makers have traditionally worked with the assumption that 
they were operating outside of culture except in the most superficial 
sense. Sounds silly now, but that's the starting point which we start 
from: "pure" data. Study of non-western geographic knowledge, whether 
encoded physically or transmitted orally, has helped break down this 
idea over the last 10-20 years, but it's a long time crumbling, and 
it's hard for many of us (myself included) to figure out how to make 
a "good map" that doesn't presume limited omniscience.

>It is, I must admit, hard to imagine how to make that story clear
>without some context -- a title and some names. However it would
>be possible to create conventions that could then be indicated by a
>key.

On reflection back, don't we depend on conventions of written 
fiction?  For instance, you can see how long the book is, so you can 
gauge where you are in the story, for instance. Try as we might, the 
cover and the title also affect how we read.

>As a role player I have created a number of fictional maps, but of
>course they are made as an adjunct to the role playing fiction. The
>degree of information varies from the straightforward indication of
>physical relationships between places, roads, buildings etc, to
>more complex palimpsets, involving land use, historical sites and
>events, vegetation, climate and so on. The act of drawing the maps
>is an important part of building up the setting for the game. I find it
>one of the most difficult but most rewarding parts of the business. It
>can be where the ideas really come together. I just wish I knew
>more about physical geography -- I worry that my landscapes are
>implausible.

Again, it's interesting to reflect back to fiction writing: Authors 
need to make their worlds SEEM to cohere, but they can do this 
without Tolkienesque research by being more or less specific, by 
relying on characters not noticing things, etc. To write really good 
stuff, the author DOES need to pay attention to things like structure 
(micro and macro), tone, cadence, rhythm... all specific to the craft 
of writing, rather than the development of a fictional world. I found 
Jones's discussion of Fire and Hemlock;s structure and its drawing 
from Eliot, Spenser, and other sources a revelation. Like most 
non-English major readers, that structure is invisible to me, but 
it's what makes the book hang together.

Similarly with maps: I think a lot of beginning map makers get hung 
up on "how accurate should I be," and neglect the craft of visually 
representing things. The map reader is likely to catch really glaring 
errors, but is also likely to be more off-put in a vague, uneasy 
sense by poor design and conception.

>Yes to fiction without characters -- Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities
>springs to mind (although I suppose Marco Polo is in there). The
>character of a map might be given by its style -- space age or
>medieval, hastily scribbled or beautifully drawn. Hmm that does, in
>fact, say something about the map's creator, who would be, in fact,
>a character.

Exactly, which goes back to my first point: the conventions of 
mapmaking put the real wizard behind the curtain pulling levers and 
telling us to pay no attention. A good map plays fair, has no 
advertising, is generous to its users, and tries to pretend the map 
maker is merely a servant of the Truth, a scribe setting down what is 
instead of putting his/her spin  on it. Rubbish of course, but 
rubbish in the same way it's rubbish about journalism: it may not be 
true, but the assumption that we at least TRY for objectivity is a 
glue within the profession.

The trick would be then to draw the reader's eye to the hand of the 
mapmaker, which as I said last post flies in practice against most 
ideas of "good mapmaking".

>Finally I wanted to mention Thomas Hardy's Wessex
>as an example of a fictional mapping of a real place, although I'm
>not sure he actually produced the map I've seen.

Similar mappings have been done of Raymond Chandler's LA, and other 
places. It makes for an interesting exercise... Susan Cooper's 
Britain, anyone?

Thanks, Ven. Useful thoughts indeed.

Nat
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