CARTOGRAPHIC ABSTRACTION IN CONTEMPORARY ART: SEEING WITH MAPS
I am sharing the full text of my book CARTOGRAPHIC ABSTRACTION IN CONTEMPORARY ART: SEEING WITH MAPS which is published by Routledge, details here. It looks like the retail price has now come down below £100, but in the event that you’re not extremely wealthy, this may not represent much of an advance in being able to access the book. So in the interests of access I am adding the text here. If you need page numbers for referencing purposes, the book is available at some university libraries and most importantly the British Library where it can be read for free if you’re in London. If not, please do contact me. I will add the rest of the chapters when I get time, including the full bibliography, so watch this space…
From critical cartography to cartographic abstraction: rethinking the production of cartographic viewing through contemporary artworks
We see with maps. Using maps to create complex visual understandings of the world is an activity that most of us are so used to that we do not tend to consider how the maps we read help us form these understandings. Map use has become a thoroughly commonplace activity, whether we are navigating in a city using a smartphone, planning a journey across the country, or looking at artworks that include images of maps in an art gallery or on an artist’s website. The specifically cartographic ways in which we create spatial and visual understandings of the world is the subject of this book. I offer a new theoretical framework for understanding how we go about the complex process of ‘seeing with maps’. I use this idea of seeing with maps to claim two things – that maps are deeply concerned with creating a sense that we can see the world by using them, and to assert a commitment to further John Berger’s important claim, that “[o]ur vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are” (1972/2008, p.9). Vision is an active process, constituted by a range of means, including map use, and it is the process of how we see with maps that I focus on here. The cartographic image implies and constitutes its viewer using distinctive visual techniques that can usefully be investigated through considering contemporary artworks that take up, explore and disrupt cartographic ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger 1972).
This book proposes a theory of cartographic abstraction as a framework for investigating cartographic viewing, and does so through exploring a series of contemporary artworks that are engaged with cartographic abstraction in different ways. I bring together close readings of these artworks – by Joyce Kozloff, James Bridle, Trevor Paglen, Layla Curtis and Bill Fontana – with materialist approaches to abstraction. This is an interdisciplinary investigation concerned with enlarging the current possibilities for critically understanding viewing and subjectivity in the area of cartographic imagery. I aim to push beyond the highly productive framework of critical cartography, to articulate a new approach to understanding cartography’s effects in the world. In order to do this, the new theoretical proposal that I put forward and use throughout this book is ‘cartographic abstraction’[i].
Cartographic abstraction is a material modality of thought and experience that is produced through techniques of cartographic depiction. It is the more-than-visual register that both posits and produces the ‘cartographic world’, or what John Pickles has called the ‘geo-coded world’ (2006). By this I mean the naturalised apprehension of the earth as a homogeneous space that is naturally, even necessarily, understood as regular, consistent and objective. I argue for interpreting cartographic techniques of depiction as themselves abstract, and cartographic abstraction as such as the modality of thought and experience that these techniques produce. Abstraction within capitalism comes to be socially real and material, taking place outside thought. It is this identification, of abstraction existing outside of the thought and consciousness of individuals, that I pursue in terms of cartographic ways of seeing and knowing.
Arising from Marxian theory, the concept of abstraction is needed now because it enables cartographic processes to be re-assessed and understood in terms of their contribution to making social and physical worlds. While many critics have noted and discussed abstract processes as central to the making of cartographic imagery, particularly projection, symbolisation, scale, and generalisation (Monmonier 1996, Jacob 2006, Wood 2008, 2010), I build on these insights to put forward a theory of cartographic abstraction, particularly concerned with cartographic viewing. By cartographic viewing, I mean the encultured practice of apprehending the world through the reading, viewing, and interpreting of cartographic imagery; principally ‘the map’, but also images, and especially artistic images, that use or engage with cartographic techniques.
I therefore refer to ‘the cartographic image’ throughout this study, in preference to ‘the map’, in order to engage with imagery addressing ‘cartographic techniques’ through which the world is rendered as an image. Cartographic abstraction, then, is the central critical term that is proposed, explored and theorised across the chapters that follow. Both the theoretical content and the method of this research contribute to moving forward the terms of debate in Marxian theory, and suggest a new approach to making use of Marxian theory in relation to visual art.
The group or constellation of visualisation practices that I consider in this study all share processes and capacities that may usefully be identified as ‘cartographic’. In the context of the capacity of toponymy to order the space of the map, to effect the “spatialization of knowledge” (Jacob, p.201), Jacob articulates a description of cartography that encompasses the field of theoretical concern to which I contribute the framework of cartographic abstraction:
The inscription of toponymy on the map is one reason the earth cannot resemble its maps. Never will the earth appear to the eye of a satellite or the aerial observer as something covered with toponyms. The mimetic process stops where writing begins […] The cartographer creates a world: not the natural world, but a cultural world, invested by one language among other possible ones, attesting to an organized space, punctuated with meaningful and constructed places, invaded by a reticulation of proper names that bear witness to the appropriation of space through chains of metaphors, fields of knowledge, components of individual or collective mythology, and the declension of lexical variations (Jacob, p.206).
Following Jacob, the cartographic image is concerned with ‘spatializing knowledge’, with ‘creating a cultural world’, with ‘attesting to an organized space’, with constructing meaningful places, and with the ‘appropriation of space’. Toponyms, as one cartographic practice, “result from a point of view on space, a particular position of the body and the gaze, a selection from among many possible correlations” (Jacob, p.204). I argue that cartographic imagery at large may also be characterised this way, as always a selection, and a categorisation, always an active process of producing visual conceptions – visualisations – that posit and structure a ‘point of view on space’ that is complex, constructed, and abstract. Therefore, cartographic abstraction is not exhausted by considering viewing; rather, giving sustained attention to the ways in which cartographic viewing, and visualisation, posit the viewing subject enriches an area that has not yet been fully explored, and may contribute to further work on the role of abstraction in cartographic ‘ways of seeing’.
I propose a series of viewpoints, that are posited by the relations of viewing enacted by the selected artworks themselves. I analyse these viewpoints in relation to modes of cartographic viewing offered by theorists. Through close readings of cartographic artworks, I expand the current possibilities for understanding cartographic abstraction and its effects, through proposing a range of viewpoints that are both deployed in, and themselves problematise, cartographic viewing. I connect cartographic abstraction to debates about abstraction in Marxist and materialist approaches to philosophy, arguing for interpreting cartographic viewing as an abstract practice through which subjects are positioned and structured in relation to the ‘viewed’. This study discerns ‘real abstraction’ functioning in a particular area of ‘the operations of capitalism’; that is, modes of visual, and epistemological, abstraction that we can identify by exploring artworks concerned with cartographic depiction and conceptualisation. This approach to abstraction explores how cartographic knowledge can be theorised through recognising cartographic abstraction as a material modality of thought and experience.
The concept of cartographic abstraction builds on critical cartography’s project, and moves beyond it. Therefore, it is worth considering what critical cartography has already given us in the way of critical tools – and their limitations – before moving on to consider what cartographic abstraction has to offer.
Critical cartography broadly developed from the 1980s onwards, and scholars working in this area have been concerned to critique the prevailing positivistic and objectivist epistemology in cartographic practice and theory. This development has taken place in parallel with the emergence of geographical interest in western Marxism, and vice versa, from the 1970s, particularly in the French context (Soja, 1989). Work in critical cartography has more often found its inspiration in the work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida rather than Karl Marx, as I do. Denis Wood and J.B. Harley are notable initiators of the critical cartographic tradition, both of whom drew on Foucault and Derrida, and power-knowledge and deconstructivist approaches more broadly (Jacob, 2006, p.xvi), to frame their influential critiques of cartography’s effects, its conventional interpretation, and its discursive frameworks.
Although Harley and Wood offer a convenient chronological starting point for a survey of the critical cartographic field at large[ii], instead I want to offer a focussed consideration of issues and debates in critical cartography that lay the groundwork for my subsequent discussion of the abstract viewpoints produced through cartographic imagery. I briefly consider some of the most prominent areas of concern for critical cartography, before moving on to detail the more particular critical and theoretical discussions from which I draw, and to which I respond, in offering my own analyses of cartographic viewing.
A historian of cartography, J.B. Harley may be credited, alongside Denis Wood, as one of the key early theorists of critical cartography, applying a Derridean approach to deconstruction and a Foucauldian emphasis on power-knowledge relations to the analysis of cartographic imagery and its history. Harley’s position on the question of how to define the map acknowledges that “locating human actions in space remains the greatest intellectual achievement of the map as a form of knowledge” (Harley and Laxton, 2001, p.35) while insisting on the need to move away from understanding the map as mirror of reality, or ideologically neutral view of the world.
Harley introduces a concern with the social aspects and implications of cartography, asserting that
For historians an […] appropriate definition of a map is ‘a social construction of the world expressed through the medium of cartography.’ Far from holding up a simple mirror of nature that is true or false, maps redescribe the world – like any other document – in terms of relations of power and of cultural practices, preferences, and priorities (ibid, p.35).
Although this approach to defining the map displaces the need for definition onto a secondary term, cartography, Harley’s emphasis on interpreting maps in their socio-historical contexts and reading them as bound up with social and epistemic power has been highly influential[iii]. Harley also argues for recognising the importance of both the textual aspects of maps, and interpreting maps as texts: “Within the frame of one map there may be several texts – ‘an intertextuality’ – that has to be uncovered in the interpretative process” (ibid, p.38). Identifying the map as a “signifying system” (ibid, p.45) opens it to processes of interpretation developed through structuralism, an approach also pioneered by Denis Wood. Harley draws on the work of Raymond Williams, writing in ‘The Sociology of Culture’, to claim the map as part of a signifying system “through which ‘a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored.’ Maps do not simply reproduce a topographical reality; they also interpret it” (ibid, p.45).
Many authors writing in this field contribute to an unfolding debate as to how we may usefully define ‘the map’. Some approaches emphasise the map as a graphic representation first and foremost, troubling the inclusion of ‘maps’ that also display three-dimensionality, or that rely on gesture and ephemeral materials, or what Fredric Jameson has influentially termed cognitive mapping[iv]; other definitions foreground the map’s common function as a navigational device, causing difficulty with how to classify images commonly regarded as maps but without a navigational function, such as medieval world maps, mappaemundi. Many definitions anchor the map to the discipline of geography, positioning it as the geographic image, depicting part of the Earth’s surface in two-dimensional form. In this vein, Jeremy Crampton has interpreted mapping as primarily an approach to “making sense of the geographical world” (2010, p.12), acknowledging this as a very loose working definition. For Crampton, we cannot define the map but that is not seen as a critical obstacle. Rather than ‘seeing through’ maps to a posited underlying reality, instead maps are means of constructing knowledge and “making a world” (ibid, p.44). Crampton draws a distinction between institutionalised mapping, and “a parallel series of mappings that were not scientific” (ibid, p.21) or not claimed as a site of the production of scientific knowledge. Cartography as a discipline is in ‘disarray’ but the actual making of maps is thriving.
Christian Jacob has also taken a more open-ended approach to the question of definition, seeing the study of maps as a thoroughly interdisciplinary endeavour (2006, p.3) that must necessarily be approached without dogmatic attitudes and definitional boundaries. Thus, "as a product of technology, a cultural artefact whose materialisation and uses cannot be reduced to a unique and transhistorical model, the map is now seen as a complex object that can be submitted to a theoretical approach" (ibid, p.6). Art historian Svetlana Alpers has also remarked on the difficulty of defining what may be understood as a map in the sixteenth century Dutch context: “[t]he reach of mapping was extended along with the role of pictures, and time and again the distinctions between measuring, recording, and picturing were blurred” (1987, p.68).
Jacob looks to the question of method to help define the map. He identifies his methodological approach as empirical, offering theoretical responses and directions in response to “the documents themselves” (2006, p.7). While this approach seems to offer more scope for making theoretical responses to a wide range of ‘cultural artefacts’ identified with mapping, it remains problematic. Jacob’s empirical method still depends upon a pre-existing concept of exactly which objects should be subjected to such an approach; again the question of definition is deferred. That said, another of Jacob’s definitional remarks is more helpful – that the map may be “essentially envisaged as a symbolic mediation between humans and their spatial environment, but also between individuals who can communicate through this visual medium” (ibid, p.8). Though still not yet definitive, this formulation emphasises the central role of symbolic processes in mapping, as well as bringing in the idea of mediation, describing the human subject as crucially divided or separated from their spatial environment, and requiring an intermediate entity or process to enable interaction and interpretation.
One question arising from this idea of the map as symbolic mediation is the debate as to whether practices associated with mapping, as well as maps themselves, may be understood as transhistorical or as more culturally particular. Jacob’s view admits the broadest possible range of cultural artifacts into the category of maps, while Wood takes a more delimited view, seeing cartographic theorists, in particular Harley and David Woodward, as being guilty of “conflating maps and mapmaking with such universal human, even such animal abilities as orientation, wayfinding, and other aspects of spatial intelligence, even though these are not what maps and mapmaking are most often used for” (2010, p.19, emphasis in original). Wood argues persuasively that the fifteenth century should be seen as a key turning point in the history of maps, marking the beginning of an exponential increase in their production, circulation, use and cultural and political impacts. Rather than a form of expression of a universal human cognitive function, Wood interprets map production as arising in particular cultures in response to developing needs for communication and depiction. For Wood, to transhistoricise map production and use is to mistake the map for the spatial cognitive abilities that it extends and develops.
Central to Wood’s approach to the analysis of maps, and particularly the question of their periodisation, is “the map’s origin in the rise of the state” (ibid, p.19). Using a definition that emphasises a continuous tradition of European mapping from the early modern period to the present day, he argues that to define the map as primarily a representation is to comply with the map’s presentation of itself as a politically and socially neutral form of imagery. The ‘representation view’ is “a projection, as it were, of the map itself, the map as it would like to be understood” (ibid, p.18, emphasis in original). The map projects or provides not only its content but also guidance as to how that content should be interpreted.
The role of cartographic production in the formation and consolidation of the nation-state has been widely discussed. Geoff King (1996) argues that while maps have a practical necessity in, for example, national defence, they are equally concerned with establishing and naturalising the nation state as such as an idea and an ideological form.
An important body of contemporary theoretical and visual work in geography centres around the idea of ‘experimental geographies’. This idea has been particularly championed by artist and geographer Trevor Paglen. Paglen positions experimental geography as a call for the importance of thinking in terms of the production of space, in a Marxian lineage via Henri Lefebvre’s theories on the production of abstract space (Lefebvre, 1991 and Stanek, 2008). This emphasis, for Paglen, enables those thinkers and activists who are critical of cartography’s power relations to move beyond critique to real politics and transformative action.
This work draws on earlier, and ongoing, work in critical geography, notably championed by David Harvey, particularly in his 2001 work, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography, as well as Marxian accounts of postmodernity such as Edward Soja’s influential assertion of the centrality of space to geography and critical theory in his 1989 work Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. The distinct lineages of critical cartography and critical geography are clearly marked in Paglen’s frequent insistence on the very distinct concerns of cartography and geography.
While Paglen does not regard the map as a privileged object of contemporary geographical inquiry, his work takes up David Harvey’s commitment to the political necessity for critical approaches to geography. In this light, Paglen’s experimental approach to critiquing space and geographical knowledge production is complementary to critical cartography’s account of power and the role of the map in the production of such ‘geographical knowledges’[v]. Paglen’s approach to cartography as being severely limited is also seen in critical cartographic work that foregrounds cartographic principles and techniques as necessarily involving distortion and loss.
As Mark Monmonier dramatically frames the issue, “[n]ot only is it easy to lie with maps, it’s essential. To portray meaningful relationships for a complex, three-dimensional world on a flat sheet of paper or a video screen, a map must distort reality.” (1996, p.1) Attending to the technical procedures used in cartographic production, Monmonier’s provocatively titled How to Lie with Maps (1996) has provided an influential account of the multiple processes of selection and ‘distortion’ that are at the heart of the mapping process. Monmonier identifies three techniques used in all maps - “scale, projection, and symbolisation. Each element is a source of distortion” (ibid). The necessary selectivity of the map-making process is no longer regarded as unproblematic or apolitical. Selection functions at every stage of production, from the choice to survey and produce a map in the first place, as opposed to another form of account, depiction or record, to the choice as to what will appear, what will not, and what forms those appearances and non-appearances will take. While Monmonier’s framing of the issue is perhaps the most forthright, the issue of deception in cartography has also been extensively critiqued by Wood (1992, 2010).
Denis Cosgrove also argues that compilation is an aspect of selection, the process of compiling survey data into appropriate forms to be drawn onto the map. For Cosgrove, the conventional story of cartography as a progressive development from ‘art to science’ (2008, p.161), or from subjectivity to objectivity, is a story that in part functions to allay ‘cartographic anxiety’[vi] about the potential distortions and problems in compilation. Cosgrove argues that many of the decisions that go into this process are cast as ‘scientific’ when they are actually arbitrary and shaped by needs that are more cultural and ideological.
Cosgrove identifies important shifts in “cartographic historiography” (2008, p.155), including “detailed exposure of the normalizing and often ideological authority of maps” (ibid), the question of cartography’s scientific claims to making objective representations having been challenged “with recognition of the inescapable imaginative and artistic character of cartographic process and products” (ibid), and mapping having come to be recognised as a “complex cultural process” (ibid, p.155) that needs to be understood in relation to its contexts of production. The map is an outcome of processes, and it generates further processes through its circulation and reception in the world.
I therefore engage with existing ideas and scholarly work not only under the rubric of critical cartography, but more widely, work addressing: abstraction in cartographic production; ways of understanding the status of cartography as representation, text, historical artefact, discourse, and site of knowledge production, interrogating the cartographic claim to objectivity and epistemological access to a posited ‘real’; cartography in circulation, including contexts of use and readership; and cartographic viewing. I examine a series of practices through which a range of modes of cartographic viewing are produced, and discuss them with emphasis on the differing viewpoints that come to be constituted through cartographic practice.
Viewpoints as abstractions, and reflexivity in cartographic viewing
One of the most important ways in which cartographic abstraction functions, and has effects in the world and on we who read maps and interpret cartographic imagery, is that processes of abstraction posit what I will call ‘viewpoints’. Such viewpoints – ‘a point of view on space, a particular position of the body and the gaze’ – are themselves cartographic abstractions (as nouns, or entities), and they are also processes of the modality of thought and experience that I am calling cartographic abstraction. To name the viewpoints in question – the view from nowhere, the panoptic view, the Apollonian view, the drone’s eye view, the god’s eye view, the antipodes, and immersive installation viewing.
The view from nowhere is the familiar cartographic view from above all points of the mapped terrain simultaneously – non-perspectival, and highly abstract (and therefore extremely useful); the panoptic view or panoptic viewing, is the kind of viewing that is at work in the Panopticon – disciplinary and internalising; the Apollonian view (or viewing) is how we picture the earth from outside, as a body in space; the drone’s eye view (or drone viewing) is the complex and networked way in which military drones picture terrain and human subjects; the god’s eye view is the fantasy of viewing from all positions, in both time and space; the antipodes (admittedly a slightly awkward fit as a ‘point’ from which to view) enables the remote conceptualisation of globally distant lands and persons; and immersive installation viewing is an original analysis of how we can view cartographically from within a depiction.
Some of these viewpoints are already in existence in popular discourse – the god’s eye view, the drone’s eye view, the antipodes; some have arisen in critical and theoretical discourse – the zenithal gaze (Söderström, 1996), panoptic viewing (Foucault, 1977), the Apollonian gaze (Cosgrove, 2001); while the view from nowhere is an idea that has quite a broad popular usage – to describe the concept of an objective, disinterested view[vii].
I examine these viewpoints in more detail below, paying particular attention to the ways in which they posit and structure their viewing subject, how they effect cartographic visualisation, and what effects they have on each other and the ‘cultural world’ of which they are a part.
Positing viewpoints is not the only way in which cartographic abstraction works. Remote viewing, cartographic silence, and the cartographic grid are also examples of cartographic abstraction, but they do not work through the same process of positing a viewpoint into which the viewing subject is positioned. Rather, they support the ability of cartographic imagery to produce meaningful depictions of the world through, respectively: enabling the conceptual viewing of places that are distant from the viewer; producing ‘silences’ by choosing what not to include in any given cartographic depiction; and organising our conception of the globe as a regular sphere – which it is not.
The critical concerns of the research are reflected in the methodology I use to explore and analyse both the cartographic viewpoints and the artworks that open out these theoretical concerns. This research occupies a thoroughly interdisciplinary position at the intersection of critical cartography, art theory, critiques of visuality, and debates in Marxian approaches to epistemology. I draw on existing critical approaches to the problem of cartographic ‘power’ to forward my approach which foregrounds power in terms of the constitution and re-constitution of modes of viewing that are formative of the viewer as well as the viewed. I therefore draw on existing critiques of cartographic viewing that arise not only in work that positions itself as concerned with cartography, but also in work concerned with visuality more broadly, representation and visualisation, relations of power and domination between viewer and viewed, and methods of remote visualisation. Abstraction has so far received limited theoretical treatment in terms of critical cartographic discourse, and I use the interdisciplinary situation of this research to expand and extend this cartographic interest in abstraction into a more fully developed theoretical framework.
A central critical concern of this research, then, is with the reading and viewing of cartographic imagery, in contrast to the concern, foremost in critical cartographic work, with the making, or production, of such imagery. I therefore focus on the experience of the subject who interprets, reads, views and experiences cartographic imagery, including artistic imagery. With this critical concern in mind, in each chapter I offer a subjective and experimental account of the viewing encounter with the cartographic, and artistic, image. I emphasise the viewing experience in order to consider the interested character of cartographic imagery, in fostering particular viewing positions through which the viewed is rendered legible and intelligible to the viewer with a range of purposes in viewing such images.
This way of engaging with cartographic images embraces political, artistic and geographic practices and images; this innovative approach is called for by the complexity of the cartographic image, and artistic images that address cartographic ways of seeing and knowing. The object of study is not concerned with having its effects in one specific disciplinary area, or rather, one area of living, seeing, knowing, and theorising, and accordingly the critical approach must be able to embrace this multiplicity. As part of this endeavour I am concerned with what it means for me to view, attempting to consider my viewing experiences theoretically, as a viewing subject, and considering how this sheds light on how ‘the viewer’ more generally is posited through cartographic ways of seeing and knowing.
My concern with cartography began through encountering artistic appropriations of recognisably cartographic imagery, which led me to consider cartography’s effects through the register of hegemony. Following the Gramscian interpretation, I understood cartographic production as hegemonic in the sense that popular assent is secured for the knowledge claims made by institutional and state-led forms of mapping. Cartographic art, in this context, could be positioned as offering a site of resistance to cartography’s hegemonic domination of consciousness and to its wider role in the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism. This resistance may be framed in terms of developing ‘contrapuntal cartographies’. This idea takes up Matthew Sparke’s (1998a) adaptation of Edward Said’s (1994) concept of contrapuntal readings in order to emphasise the subtlety of submerged discourses in understandings of imperialism. Some of the nuance in this framing of the critique of cartography’s hegemonic tendencies is lost in the recent emergence of ‘counter-mapping’. While very usefully anchored in social and political critique, this mode of resistant practice tends to focus on the production of cartography (for example mapping ‘from below’) rather than addressing the much more commonplace and widely shared practice of cartographic viewing.
Through engaging in theoretically and critically interpreting artistic cartographic imagery, I increasingly found the need to engage reflexively with my own viewing. I recognised the positioning of my own viewing, both physically and critically, as central to the interpretations I was formulating. By ‘physically and critically’ I mean to encapsulate a range of experiences: viewing artworks online, remotely, via a screen, as well as being physically present to other artworks; viewing as someone with trained habits of thought, interpretation and valuing (with a background in art history and fine art, as well as critical theory); viewing repeatedly; re-considering some artworks long after first encountering them; ‘actively’ viewing in the sense of reading, looking up place names online and in gazetteers, and with duration as reading leads the eye around the cartographic image in a non-linear manner; and viewing interestedly, seeking to generate ‘knowledge’ through the encounter with the image.
Alongside these more individualised concerns, which to a certain extent take the viewing experience to be something that goes on while one is alone, I was concerned to explore the relationship between individualised reading and interpreting, on the one hand, and the larger social level, on the other. That is, where critical cartography – at the risk of oversimplifying an increasingly diverse field – opens out very important critiques of, for example, the nation as a socially constituted and spatialised political form, I became interested in understanding more deeply the ‘person’ who exists within such a formation.
In exploring how it might be possible to attend to both the ‘social scale’ through which subjectivity is mediated, and the personal level at which perception and interpretation are experienced, I turned to a slow, detailed approach to writing about artworks, as well as to the theoretical framework of real abstraction. This affords the recognition that consciousness, thought and perception are at once mediated, constituted and delimited through the social reality of commodity exchange relations (Sohn-Rethel, 1978), but also that the ‘site’ at which these abstract relations are experienced and lived through is the particular, embodied person. While this problematic is, of course, very extensive and cannot be adequately addressed by a single book, it provides the motivating framework for this study. I pursue in depth the question of how the mediating power of capitalist abstraction operates in terms of the cartographic rendering of the world as image, and how the viewer of such imagery may be, partially, theorised.
Where critical cartography has been very concerned to address issues at the higher level, then, such as Pickles’ important emphasis on attending to ‘the subjects we become’, I attempt to push this forward to start to take account of the particularity of viewing as a subject whose viewing is always-also constituted in and through the map or the cartographic image. This provides a rich framework for critical inquiry into some of the visual aspects of social modalities of abstraction[viii], treating the image as a site of inquiry into material processes of abstraction, processes of abstraction that are not confined to the visual, and so should not be studied using one disciplinary approach. In the context of a ‘perverted’ and ‘inverted’ reality (Loftus 2015) we need more innovative and multivalent approaches to visual images that are engaging with some of the methods through which this reality is formed and how it continues to be reproduced.
The artworks gathered here provide an opportunity to inquire into visual ways of knowledge-making, visual techniques and the resulting artefacts, working with the understanding of, or working with a theoretical commitment to, the recognition of social abstractions. What is needed now is work that explores ways of fleshing out and expanding on what we can do with the framework of social abstraction, to attempt to find ways of analysing how subjects are mediated by, and constituted through, particular modalities of abstraction. The framework of cartographic abstraction arises from consideration of the works, in conjunction with my emphasis on social abstraction, and also necessarily shapes the further theorising that I engage in. The purpose of identifying distinct, or distinguishable, modalities of cartographic abstraction is to make it possible to consider their effects, whether, for example, enabling the visualisation of persons living on the other side of the world, or underwriting visualisations of particular lands as empty of meaning and inhabitants, or making possible the visualisation of the earth as a body in space, a coherent abstraction that goes on to authorise and support political understandings and uses of the iconic earth.
I have selected the artworks that I consider in the following chapters on the basis of the interest they seem to take in ways of seeing, viewing and knowing, treating visual ways of knowing as complex, intricate, and involved in taking up physical and conceptual positions in relation to what is seen, whether that is a photograph of a sky at sunset, or a walk-in globe, or a grid of digital webcam images.
The series of viewpoints through which this study is organised have emerged as a way for me to articulate some of what cartographic abstraction produces, and how it proceeds. I have not set out to develop a theory of, for example, Apollonian viewing as such; rather, the attempt to explore how cartographic viewing renders the world and co-constitutes the viewer has led me to engage with existing work that approaches this question. Some of the formulations that I have concretised as viewpoints have been proposed by others, and I have taken up and extended them. This has, in turn, led to my being able to use the idea of the abstract viewpoint as such to examine situations of viewing that are not already understood in this way.
Seeing with maps
In the chapters that follow, I first engage in close readings of the selected artworks, leading to theoretical proposals relating to the cartographic viewpoints. Chapter five then takes an overview of the theoretical proposals regarding cartographic abstraction emerging from the four preceding chapters, and outlines relationships between cartographic abstraction and the Marxian problematic of real abstraction.
In chapter one, ‘Reconfiguring the view from nowhere: collage and complicity in Targets by Joyce Kozloff’, I begin by contextualising my study of cartographic abstraction with reference to critical cartography, examining its deconstructive critique of cartographic power which began in earnest in the 1980s. The question of how, and whether, to define the map gives the initial context for my wider proposal to engage with cartographic processes and the imagery they produce in terms of practices of abstraction. Selection, distortion and loss of particularity are necessary, but not neutral, factors in the possibility and efficacy of cartographic visualisation, and are examined in the context of the existing critique of cartographic power. ‘Contrapuntal cartographies’ have developed from these theoretical critiques, including practices and modes of depiction that seek to undo some of the power relationships that are now seen as embodied in cartography. These contrapuntal approaches engage primarily with cartography as a practice of, and a means of access to, power. I both draw and diverge from these ‘activist’ approaches to situate the theory of cartographic abstraction as an alternative approach to addressing and contesting the violences engendered by cartographic visualisation.
Targets problematises and critiques the cartographic view from nowhere through a critical redeployment of the panoptic view. I interpret Targets as combining aspects of the cartographic view from nowhere, and the tension surrounding the idea of embodiment in the debate over panoptic viewing and viewing ‘from nowhere’. In order to relate theoretical models of viewing to the experience of viewing as a person, I explore the question of how Targets may be ‘read’ as an approach to encountering and responding to the work as a viewer-reader. I draw on ideas of encountering installation art as an embodied experience, to interpret and begin to theorise my own ‘remote viewing’ of this artwork.
I use a close reading of a selected area of Targets to open out questions of map interpretation in light of the recognition of maps as irreducibly both graphic images and texts. Closely linked to this subjective approach to interpretation, I explore the new, ‘deconstructive’, collaged cartography of the globe as performed by Targets; attention is also given to the cartographic silences created through the active de-selection of cartographic imagery. The viewing position formed in the artwork offers an identification with an imagined viewing position of the United States, conspicuous by its non-depiction in this re-worked ‘world map’.
The view from nowhere is a highly abstract viewpoint, and is the signature viewpoint of modern cartography. It operates by compiling, or synopsising, a view that is non-perspectival so that we see all parts of the mapped terrain as though from directly overhead simultaneously. Images that use this viewpoint therefore enact a view that cannot be understood to position the viewer anywhere in particular, and therefore may be said to position the viewer nowhere[ix].
Focussing on Targets as enacting a panoptic viewing position, it is through reading the work’s imaginative geographies that critical reading of the power in the panoptic and view from nowhere is both forwarded and nuanced. I argue for reading both panoptic viewing and Apollonian viewing as cartographic abstractions that are both undermined and reconfigured in the abstract viewing position staged by Targets.
I deploy ‘panoptic viewing’ here as a mode of viewing that is ‘layered over’ more properly cartographic modes, as an approach to artistically critiquing the view from nowhere. I do not, therefore, propose it as a mode that is itself cartographic. Rather, it is a mode of viewing that comes into play within the artwork, and is then able to reflect panoptic elements existing in cartographic viewing practices. The panoptic view renders the viewed subject legible to its coercive and disciplinary gaze. Arising from Foucault’s (1977) analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s eighteenth-century proposal of the Panopticon as a form of prison, the idea of ‘the panoptic’ has been widely used and extended, not unproblematically, to areas of ‘disciplinary’ viewing more broadly. The expanded form, ‘panopticism’ has been described as “the universal imposition of technologies of control”, whereby “[t]he power to see, the power to make visible, is the power to control” (Levin, 1993, p.7). Panoptic viewing enacts a disciplinary power on the viewed subject, such that the subject comes to internalise the function of the apparatus and use ‘their own’ agency to shape their conduct in conformity with the requirements of the ‘guard’, or the apparatus itself. In relation to cartographic viewing, panoptic viewing theorises the directedness of power from the position of the viewer toward the viewed – initially. The internalisation of this disciplinary gaze in the viewed subject perpetuates the dynamic of domination and submission. The directionality of the panoptic view is lateral, or horizontal, in contrast to the more typically cartographic approach of viewing from above.
Panoptic viewing also turns on the notion of inhabitation, in the form of the figure of the guard who is thought to inhabit the position of control at the centre of the apparatus; however, the unknowability of the embodied status of the central position (from the point of view of the subject consciousness) is the source of the panoptic view’s disciplinary efficacy. The panoptic view’s mobility is very limited; while the question of the presence or non-presence of a viewer could be seen in terms of the viewer’s mobility into and out of the viewing position, it largely works through forming a viewing position from which all that is relevant may be surveyed and surveilled from one static position. Panoptic viewing is not generally applied to geographic or cartographic questions, and is discursively produced in other disciplinary formations (including critical theory at large, and surveillance studies more particularly) and ‘imported’ here for the purposes of critical analysis.
In contrast, the ‘Apollonian gaze’, or ‘Apollo’s eye’[x] (Cosgrove, 2001) describes a viewpoint that is positioned outside the earth, at the level of a ‘god’, from which the earth is viewed as a spherical body, either fully or partially seen. The NASA images of the ‘Blue Marble’ are one of most resonant instances of this viewpoint being used to visualise the earth in space (Kurgan, 2013, Cosgrove, 2001). The effectivity of this viewpoint, for Cosgrove, is to enrol practices of viewing and conceptualising the earth, from a point outside it, in discourses of globalisation. The directionality of the Apollonian gaze is from outside the earth, ‘downwards’ or ‘inwards’, apprehending the planet as an object in space. Like the zenithal gaze, this viewpoint is also conceptually inhabitable; while its name draws on the idea of the (or a) god’s eye view, the Apollonian gaze has also fostered the development of technological means to enable viewing of the earth from space, and in this sense its own inhabitation by technological bodies and viewing apparatuses.
The Apollonian gaze is conceptually positioned at the height of a body in orbit around the earth, and this also endows it with a high degree of mobility. The earth may be conceptually, and physically, viewed from ‘above’ any area of its surface. In this way, the extreme ‘height’ of the Apollonian gaze gives way to being ‘outside’ the coordinates of ‘above’ and ‘below’, although this viewpoint frequently produces images that perpetuate the cartographic conceit of identifying north with the top of the image. The technological character of this viewpoint is initially cartographic, and subsequently actualised through the development of space flight and satellite photography (Parks, 2005).
In terms of legibility, the Apollonian gaze renders visible the earth as a whole, as an entity in space. It is a substantially cartographic viewpoint, then, constituted also through technological and particularly photographic practices. The temporality of this viewpoint is nuanced; from its position external to the earth, multiple time zones may be viewed simultaneously. However, in visualising the earth as an object in space, at least half of the earth’s surface remains obscured from visibility. In this way, the Apollonian gaze performs both an enhanced invisibilising and a necessary obscuring simultaneously. In contrast to the cartographic view from nowhere, panopticism and the Apollonian gaze both invoke notions of embodied viewing, while the view from nowhere remains more abstract, uninhabitable and unrealisable through technological development.
These distinctive cartographic viewpoints – the view from nowhere, the panoptic view, and the Apollonian view – are brought together in the complex viewing environment of an installation artwork by Joyce Kozloff (Targets, 2000). In this work, the abstract viewpoints discussed here are brought into play together in one space, showing them as abstractions in which the viewer actively participates. This enables an analysis of how these modes of viewing come together to constitute a renewed viewing position for the viewer of the artwork, enabling an experience of complicity in viewing abstract cartographic depictions of aerial military violence.
The view from nowhere is re-performed as a viewpoint that is not objective, or disinterested, but instead is actively constitutive of viewing relations that enable political and military domination.
In chapter two, ‘Re-visualising the drone’s eye view: networked vision and visibility in works by James Bridle and Trevor Paglen’, I take two critical artworks as the starting point for theorising the drone’s eye view as a cartographic abstraction. I offer a subjective and exploratory reading of each artwork, and consider the modes of visualisation that are at stake in terms of their making a critical response to the phenomenon of drone viewing.
The ‘drone’s eye view’ is configured rather differently to the other, more clearly cartographic, abstract viewpoints considered here. This viewpoint denotes the contemporary and historical phenomenon of remote viewing, through a range of technological practices, carried out by means of remotely piloted military aircraft. I use the term ‘drone’s eye view’ to denote and include the range of practices that are enrolled in, and constitutive of, the remote viewing capacities performed through the use of drones, as well as the abstract viewpoint thus created, and the capacities that are frequently attributed to these remote viewing practices. While ‘drone’s eye view’ is already in use in popular and critical discourse, I specify it here in terms of its capacities to visualise landscape, territory and abstract space, and to construct persons and places as targets. I take up the idea of the drone’s eye view, like the god’s eye view, from popular usage, and attempt to expand its conception of what and how a drone ‘sees’. Gregoire Chamayou argues that military drones perform a ‘networked’ view (Gregory, 2015, p.2) and Derek Gregory (2011) pays close attention to the material practices through which drone viewing is produced, based on the live interaction that takes place among operators, other pilots in the battle-space, analysts, and particularly the video feeds which are analysed and used to inform operational decisions immediately. I build from their analyses to conceptualise the drone’s eye view as being far from an isolated position of weaponised agency, but rather a dispersed, networked and fully material mode of viewing and acting at a distance.
The drone’s eye view is a viewing ‘position’ of lethal power, as well as a certain kind of intimacy on the part of the viewer. Autonomy is increasingly a central feature of media and critical discussion of drone capacities; more than a fantasy of the removal of the human viewer-operator from danger, drones are increasingly seen (in existing drone discourse) as a means of both enhancing human capacities and compensating for human deficiencies. In this register, autonomy is represented as an inevitable, and beneficial, technological development.
I argue that the god’s eye view confers on the drone’s eye view a tendency to work towards greater autonomy and more totalising power. The embodied status, and the role of habitability, is a nuanced question in this viewpoint. While the human ‘inhabitant’ of the operator’s position is removed from directly inhabiting the viewpoint, and so is removed from direct danger, the viewpoint is also produced through the embodied, and positional, labour of many workers. A materialist reading of the drone’s eye view emphasises the necessarily embodied, and distributed, character of its production. The height of the drone’s eye view is variable, and while emerging forms of weaponised and non-weaponised drones are increasingly able to operate at human height, critical discussion has so far focussed mainly on the higher altitude mode of drone viewing, which is also characteristic of contemporary military practices.
In relationship to the drone’s eye view, I articulate a conception of the cartographic god’s eye view as it becomes imbricated with technological modes of viewing that perform varying levels of embodiment in their practices. I argue for interpreting the god’s eye view in the particular register of cartographic abstraction, and examine the role of cartographic abstraction in producing and reproducing the wider imaginaries that facilitate the present expansion of ‘unmanned’ aerial violence.
The god’s eye view, I argue, is a ‘high level’ abstraction that functions to organise, produce and delimit a range of other abstractions that are themselves both more particular, and distinctively cartographic. The god’s eye view imagines the capacity to view from ‘nowhere in particular’ (Gregory, 2014), similarly to the view from nowhere, to be outside of both time and space, and to confer authority and power on the viewing position thus constructed.
The god’s eye view is an idea that has arisen from and in a range of discourses, and I consider it here in terms of its construction through, and manifestation in, the cartographic register. John Pickles asserts that “[t]he cartographic gaze is dominated by a commitment to modelling a God’s-eye view” (2006, p.80); here the idea of the god’s eye view is identified with ‘the cartographic gaze’, with cartographic viewing as such. Trevor Paglen similarly generalises the god’s eye view as “the cartographic viewpoint” (Paglen in Bhagat and Mogel, 2008, pp.44-45). I want to be more specific, and identify the god’s eye view as ‘authorising’ or underwriting, in other more particular cartographic abstractions and forms of viewing (including the Apollonian gaze and the zenithal gaze), the investment of the ideas of omnipotence and omniscience into viewing from a conceptual height. The height of the god’s eye view is conceptual rather than physical, and it lays claim to functioning at any and all heights above the viewed subject. It is non-mobile, as everything may be viewed and known from its position of ‘nowhere in particular’.
The god’s eye view performs a totalising viewing position, that constructs the viewed as knowable and legible. The viewpoint is constructed as invulnerable; to time, to subjectivity, to positionality and to the viewed. It connotes an apparently non-human, or extra-human, position of agency, purporting to be fully objective. In cartographic depiction, this often takes the form of viewing from above the viewed subject. The viewing dynamic is of a ‘god’ objectively viewing the subject from above and outside. In terms of embodiment and positionality, the god’s eye view is de-embodied, while still figuring the ‘position’ of a consciousness. That is, it is not conceptually inhabitable by a body, but still maintains the notion of being a consciousness, in that it is able to cognise, to view, and to know (the viewed subject).
The god’s eye view is situated as both a colloquial cultural shorthand for a view that is all-seeing and all-knowing, and as a trope in philosophy of mind that addresses the question of objectivity. The god’s eye view is further theorised as an abstraction that is produced and reproduced partly through cartographic abstraction. Cast in this light, the god’s eye view emerges as a complex, enduring and adaptive cultural construction, that supports the contemporary emergence of the drone’s eye view.
In chapter three, ‘Remote viewing and cartographic abstraction: the antipodes in three artworks by Layla Curtis’, I elaborate a conception of the cartographic and cultural figure of the antipodes as a cartographic abstraction. This argument focuses on close discussions of three artworks by Layla Curtis concerned with visually presenting antipodal, or diametrically opposite, relations between places. From these readings I draw out a series of visual and conceptual themes: the anticipatory conceptualisation of antipodean inhabitants; non-production of knowledge about viewed places; and relationships between artistic production methods and cartographic production methods and technological character. These critical themes are then re-examined in the context of antipodal theory, which I interpret in support of the proposition of antipodal relations and ‘the antipodes’ as a cartographic abstraction.
As a cartographic abstraction, I theorise ‘the antipodes’ as a specification of the higher level cartographic mode of remote viewing. The term antipodes initially named both the inhabitants and land whose existence opposite the known world was theorised by ancient Greek philosophy (Hiatt, 2008, Goldie, 2010). Through the introduction or incorporation of the cartographic grid, the antipodes developed into a de-particularised geometric form able to construct ‘diametrically opposite’ locations on the earth’s surface as related. As with the god’s eye view and the panoptic view, ‘the antipodes’ is an abstraction that finds expression in multiple practices and forms, including literature (Blythe, 2014), and I focus here on the cartographic aspects of the antipodes. Antipodal relations, or ‘the antipodes’ as a cartographic abstraction, becomes a productive, enabling factor in the formation of knowledge relating to antipodal locations, on the part of the viewer. The viewing position is posited and structured as one through which ‘knowledge’ is produced of abstractions and abstract relations in the conceptualisation of remote and unknown regions of the globe.
The cartographic abstraction of the antipodes constructs the image of the antipodean other, in terms of both persons and lands, as well as in contributing to the material production of practices of discovery and colonial domination (Hiatt, 2008, Williams, 1988). The abstraction of the antipodes has also had an epistemological and a historical role in the production of knowledge of the West’s global others. The viewpoint’s directionality is from the known (world) toward the unknown (world) traditionally, and following the antipodes’ alteration by the cartographic grid, this directionality is de-particularised to any opposite points on the earth’s surface without the hierarchical power structure of the traditional formulation.
The antipodes is engaged in the implication of bodies and places through having theorised their existence prior to ‘discovery’, that is, encounter with the West. In this sense the cartographic spatial relationship between the viewer and the viewed combines both horizontality, in terms of living on the earth’s continuous surface, and elements of the god’s eye view, particularly in terms of the influence of theology on geographic thought. The antipodes figures the viewed as necessarily remote from the viewer. In so doing, it historically formed one of the conditions of possibility for the West’s subsequent ‘mobilisation’ (in the form of colonialism and imperialism) into the location of the antipodes. It is the only cartographic abstraction analysed here that understands itself to be concerned with theorising as opposed to reflecting that which already exists.
In chapter four, ‘Cartographic signification and soundscape: Bill Fontana’s River Sounding’ I focus on a sound sculpture by sound artist Bill Fontana, and describe this installation as performing a mode of cartographic viewing that ‘immerses’ the viewer within the viewed space, as it depicts an abstraction of the River Thames within a subterranean architectural space. I interpret the formation of a ‘viewpoint’ of the visitor within this work in terms of cartographic abstraction, in its construction of a mode of viewing that is positioned within the cartographic rendering rather than above and outside it. Focussing on critical themes that emerge from a close reading of the embodied experience of the art installation, I argue that the presentational rhetoric associated with the artwork, of ‘returning the river to the building’, deploys a particular history of human management as the desired interpretative framework for the visitor to bring to bear in engaging with the artwork. This framework is put forward rhetorically, while in terms of cartographic abstraction functioning in the work, what is evoked is a temporally and spatially delimited imaginary of the Thames, drawn from ‘surveying’ key locations of mechanical and architectural intervention along the tidal length of the river.
I further interpret ‘sonic symbolism’ as an operative mode of representation in River Sounding, and argue for reading the sonic register of the installation as continuing an indexical relationship with the source locations of the audio recordings. Building on this analysis of sonic symbolism, I read River Sounding in terms of its presentation of a ‘soundscape’ of the River Thames. This soundscape itself has a complex and shifting relationship with the visual register of representation in the work. Through both registers, the visitor is positioned as ‘immersed’ within a situated viewpoint with a complex relationship to the geographical object of the artwork, the River Thames. Where the cartographic view from nowhere has been theorised as totalising, appropriative, and de-embodied, the installation view is here theorised as situated, particularised, and positioned within the cartographic abstraction of the imaginary of the Thames, as opposed to adopting a conceptual position that is ‘above’ all cartographically viewed areas simultaneously.
Without positing an abstract cartographic viewpoint with which the work engages, I bring forward instead a particular setting in which cartographic viewing is staged, in the form of a multimedia installation, as an opportunity to consider the possibilities, and limits, of engaging with cartographic abstraction in the register of viewing. With this particular analysis, I aim to push beyond the (productive) trope of the viewpoint-as-abstraction and consider some ways in which viewing can be mediated cartographically as well as in the sonic register of an installation work.
In the final chapter, ‘Cartographic abstraction: a material modality of thought and experience’, I outline some proposed relationships between the modes of cartographic abstraction at work in the formation of a nuanced range of viewpoints that are both deployed in, and themselves problematise, modes of cartographic viewing. Through the readings of critical cartographic artworks in the preceding chapters, a range of critical issues in cartographic viewing have been identified, including remote viewing, embodiment, artistic and cartographic selection, cartographic imaginaries, knowledge production, and relationships among cartographic abstractions.
I develop the theoretical aspect of cartographic abstraction further, connecting it with the debates about abstraction in relation to Marxist and materialist approaches to philosophy. I indicate the methodological possibilities that come from approaching the problematic of real abstraction in the way that I have throughout this study; that is, as a central modality of the reproduction of capitalist social relations, that may be critically explored through investigating its relationship to visual modes of abstraction, focussing particularly on cartography. I demonstrate the relevance of critically approaching the Marxian-informed concerns with ‘visualities’ and the production of appearances in connection with commodity fetishism and the exchange abstraction.
An exploration of cartographic abstraction that is grounded in interpreting artworks gives access to a more detailed account of the functioning of real abstraction in the contemporary social formation. This approach to abstraction seeks to make visible some of the ways in which cartographic visualisation can be theoretically interrogated through drawing on the theoretical problematic of real abstraction.
In this light, I develop some of the theoretical concerns arising from critical cartography, then rearticulate my theoretical proposals in the more particular area of the abstract viewpoints that cartographic depiction instantiates and enacts. I then address a series of issues arising from more philosophically, and particularly materialist, accounts of abstraction. Here I articulate a trajectory of thought engaged in theorising the materiality of abstraction, and interpret cartographic abstraction in terms of real abstraction, or ‘materialism without matter’.
Throughout the book, I examine cartographic abstraction through a close engagement with artworks that engage in critical confrontations with particular modes of cartographic abstraction. This way of working enables me to propose a developed theory of cartographic abstraction, that opens out the current concerns of critical cartography into the more helpful philosophical terrain of materialism. Cartographic abstraction emerges as a valuable critical framework through which to examine cartographic modes of the production of visualisations that enable complex, and violent, material processes. This framework has significant implications for practices seeking to address, and redress, some of the forms of domination that are presently enacted (whether in whole or in part) through cartographic means. In contrast to the existing paradigm of resistant cartographies, this research identifies cartographic abstraction as a material modality of thought and experience through which resistant practices may seek to intervene in the ongoing production and reproduction of forms of viewing that both foster and constitute abstract relations among persons, things and places.
Cartographic abstraction gives us a new approach to understanding how maps, and other images using cartographic techniques of depiction – so ordinary in contemporary life – actively position and constitute us as viewers and interpreters. This book offers a theoretical framework, and a practical approach to thinking with artworks, that enables the large-scale social effectivity of cartographic ways of seeing to be held in view simultaneously with the particularity of individuated, always partial, viewing and interpretation.
[i] I hope the reader will bear with me if at times it seems like there is a lot of use of the word ‘abstract’, and perhaps in places that feel unnecessary – for example, in saying ‘an abstract geometrical grid’. We might say, of course a geometrical grid is abstract – but because part of the aim of this book is to name and bring into general thought something that is as a whole in this indistinct area of ‘of course’, something that is so normalised for us as fluent map readers, I try to be as clear as possible about when a particular feature, device or form is abstract and label it as such.
[ii] For a guide to critical cartography and its background, see Jeremy Crampton and John Krygier (2006) ‘An Introduction to Critical Cartography’.
[iii] See Black, 2000, pp.17-18, and Pickles, 2006, pp.47-49. For a less positive discussion of Harley see the introductory essay to Harley’s posthumous collection of essays, The New Nature of Maps, by J.H. Andrews (Harley and Laxton, 2001).
[iv] See Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (1992), in which Jameson elaborates the notion of ‘cognitive mapping’. As Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle write, “[s]uch an aesthetic called for the imperative elaboration of a cultural and representational practice adequate to the highly ambitious (and, Jameson suggests, ultimately impossible) task of depicting social space and class relations in our epoch of late capitalism or postmodernity” (2015, p.7).
[v] The relationships between Foucault’s work on spatiality and geography, knowledge, and the critique of power have been elaborated by Stuart Elden and Jeremy Crampton (2007).
[vi] The term ‘cartographic anxiety’ was coined by Sankaran Krishna (Krishna 1994, Rao 2012) initially to describe the tensions in cartographic-political practices involved in the establishment and definition of the Indian state after partition, in terms of the discrepancy between cartographic representations and the social practices which enact those representations. The term was later enlarged upon by Derek Gregory (Pickles 2006, Gregory 1994) “to refer to the foundational and objectivist epistemologies of modern cartography that assume the separation of subject and object, knower and world. This ‘observer epistemology’ leads to deep anxiety about how we know and represent the world, how we know it to be true, and how we decide what to do in the face of such ‘objective knowledge’” (Pickles, 2006, p.195). The phrase ‘cartographic anxiety’ is also taken up by Crampton (2010, p.177), and is now in common use in the literature.
[vii] More particularly in the philosophy of mind the ‘view from nowhere’ indicates the problem of objectivity and its relation to subjectivity. See Nagel (1986) The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, for discussion of the complex philosophical question of objectivity as an approach to formulating knowledge of the other from outside of the subject’s experience or position. For a history of the emergence of the idea of objectivity in science, see Daston and Galison (2010) Objectivity. Zone Books, New York.
[viii] In chapter five I discuss a range of approaches that have been taken in terms of articulating abstraction as a feature of social life, that is, made between and among people rather than being a function of thought alone. In that context, I also briefly consider Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) central theoretical contribution to this area, the framework of space as a concrete abstraction.
[ix] In earlier work on this subject, I have used the term ‘synoptic view’ to indicate what I am here calling ‘the cartographic view from nowhere’. Neither option is completely free from drawbacks. I initially favoured ‘synoptic’ because of its meaning of "furnishing a general view of some subject", "taking a combined or comprehensive view" (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). The idea of ‘synopsis’ and the term ‘synoptic’ have been used by a range of thinkers in connection with visuality and particularly cartography. Some of these uses carry with them the sense that the author is attempting to find an appropriate vocabulary rather than using the term in a specific and delimited way, such as Lisa Parks’ mention of "synoptic relations" in the context of militarised aerial viewing (2005, p.97). Denis Cosgrove uses "the synoptic vision" (2001, p.27) in reference to views of the whole earth, picking up the sense of ‘forming a synopsis’, or overview, but without a determinate meaning. Denis Wood frames the relationship between collage and cartographic presentation as "the usual inert, synoptic view" (2008, p.195). While I argue that this viewpoint is far from ‘inert’, Wood nonetheless uses ‘synoptic view’ here to designate an image that is the result of processes of compilation and collage, material practices of image production.
The term ‘synoptic’ places more emphasis on the process of synopsis, or compilation, while the term ‘view from nowhere’ places more emphasis on what is effected by the resulting image. I think that either handle for this idea works just as well. However, other authors have put forward more uses of the term ‘synoptic’ in recent years (see particularly Weems, J. (2015), Barnstorming the prairies: how aerial vision shaped the Midwest) that make me think it is clearer to shift to the term ‘view from nowhere’. The differences in how it is being used are such that it is preferable to move to an alternate term, rather than attempt to impose a uniformity of meaning where that does not exist. The view from nowhere is preferable because it foregrounds the abstractness of the conceptual viewing position, which sees as though from nowhere. This has the advantage of being less obscure, hopefully more intuitive, and underscoring the ‘objectivity effect’ that this cartographic viewpoint is able to create.
[x] The terminology of Apollo and Apollonian is somewhat cumbersome. Denis Cosgrove has put forward these terms, drawing on the figure of the mythical Greek sun-god Apollo who drove his chariot across the sky on a daily basis, pulling with him the sun. Apollo has been attributed many symbolic roles, but it is specifically his identification with Helios the Greek sun god, in which capacity he was identified as ‘Phoebus (Radiant) Apollo’ (Hall’s Dictionary, 1974/2000, p.26) to which Cosgrove refers. Interestingly, one of Apollo’s less-frequent attributes in classical sculpture is a globe, symbolising his universality (ibid).