The Map

Words not only name the world they make it. Wittgenstein’s idea that language does not merely represent reality but essentially brings it about has been around for a while.

I wonder if the same can be said of ‘maps’ — attempts to situate knowledge by reference to spatial categories in a fashion akin to a geographical map: The map made the British empire ‘real’, it turns states and peoples (in a collectivist sense) into real entities independent of their constituent elements — people. In short, it informs the way we envisage the world at large to be.

What makes the map so powerful a catalyst for (the perception of) reality? It is a limitless canvas, an externalized tabula rasa, it cannot but be waiting to record the process of human creativity — the making of the world. With its spatial references it connects neatly with the primordial categories of perception Kant identified.

However, lacking our third spatial dimension as well as a temporal evolution of its own (‘change’) the map is for ever ontologically inferior to its authors, and totally under their control: language can be interpreted in many ways very different from what their author had in mind.

With maps this is much more difficult. If language is reality, then maps are even more so: a map embodies reality and control. So in a sense the map is the confluence of the formulation of human will, the ability to implement it, and to control it — all at once. As such a map is not an objective description but the result of specific intention.

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