Observation Journal — three thoughts about maps

This page of the observation journal is about maps, as well as about a specific book: Mark Monmonier’s Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Risk in America.

It was a fascinating book (and dense — it took a long time to read and absorb). Also, it was published two decades ago and I HIGHLY recommend reading technical books (outside of your own field) that are 20 years out of date — it takes the pressure off having to remember details accurately and is very useful for conversations at parties, because you can usually find someone who is willing to fill in the gaps.

Three map-specific thoughts on reading it:

  • Every map is rhetorical.
    • I had a very invigorating argument with someone on a panel, once, about whether a particular map could be considered as absolutely objective, and they just CAN’T. Especially military maps, which I think was the focus of our debate.
    • Every map exists for a reason, and makes choices, and needs artificially constructed skills to create and/or read it, and presents views and is intended to accomplish (or enable the reader to accomplish) a purpose. That’s their whole reason for existence! And their fascination, power, and possibility.
    • I’ve made a note here to play more with the idea of maps for hyper-specific purposes, but I’ve already touched on this in a few stories (“Kindling”, in which maps suppress the fantastic, and “The Tangled Streets”, in which maps are an expression of the fantastic), as well as illustrated maps. I approach book maps less as tools for physical orientation than as a pool of narrative possibility into which the reader is about to be pushed.
    • Related to this, and equally subjective: I often enjoy introductory descriptions of the location of a story (separate from character action) when (and because) it plays the same role as an illustrated map (of the type I like).
  • All maps are maps of where the dragons are (or might be, or how far they have been pushed back).
    • This is a more lighthearted argument than the one above, but I’m still prepared to have it.
    • I don’t know why I compared this to applying for grants.
  • That maps (like books) are pins stuck in time.
    • For some reason this thought linked to both the Muppets travelling by map and Connie Willis’ characters’ reliance on maps of where bombs fell in the Blitz in Blackout and All Clear. There was also a splendid website that let you go back to maps from specific years of Brisbane’s history and find photos of or from those places in a given year, but I can’t track it down.
Trees sketched for a new map, in progress.

2 thoughts on “Observation Journal — three thoughts about maps

  1. Pingback: August 2021 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Map process: Amira and Hamza | Kathleen Jennings

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