Quodlibetica 10 – Cartographies

Written By: Collier White News 10.1.10

Black TulipDetail

Kunyo Wanguo Quantu, Detail. Currently on display at the James Ford Bell Library.

“[T]he boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea … In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”

- Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias

A sinkhole is developing at a major intersection just a few blocks from the North Minneapolis room where I write this. There, gravity and chaos conspire to subvert the grid of streets – the connectedness of sites. I will spare you the romance: It will use the motion of your car to tear your muffler out as you perform your daily errands. One could map the city’s potholes and have a document of failing infrastructure, or a tool with which to navigate the city, or a diagram of use and redevelopment, unevenly distributed resources, or a random smattering of dots on a grid entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good Avenues.

One of two copies of Kunyo Wanguo Quantu, (literally “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World”), or the so-called Black Tulip map, moved on September 15th to its permanent home at the James Ford Bell library at the University of Minnesota. The map was printed by Italian Missionary Matteo Ricci and Chinese collaborators at the request of the Wanli emperor in 1602. This map placed China at the center of the world, and thus of the universe, for it was not until a few years later, in 1610, that Galileo would start publicly promoting a heliocentric view. Foucault again: “the real scandal of Galileo’s work lay not so much in his discovery, or rediscovery, that the earth revolved around the sun, but in his constitution of an infinite, and infinitely open space… as it were a thing’s place was no longer anything but a point in its movement.”

For Foucault, this desanctification of space takes on a new character in the modern era, when the site – as defined in relation to other sites, and in terms of uses, distances, classifications and grids – again replaces the inviolable space. And here we are, jealous of castaways, marines, every sanctified sailor.

In this constellation, we offer you seven pieces around the theme Cartographies. From the flattest abstractions, we explore visuality, power, time and, in our sense of displacement, we displace the centrality of our focus of fine art here and there. It’s fitting that in this issue, we have wandered blithely outward to see where the theme takes us, with no direction home.

But back to my sinkhole. The other day, the city came and drew a box around the hole and wrote the word, “Water”. Synecdoche or non sequitur to me, it is a sign for those who can read: municipal workers, or subcontractors, or surveyers. I set down my theoretical writings, stop my earnest wondering, and indulge in a moment of reverie: imagine a tiny boat, so small that a body of water that could fit inside this pothole would seem to stretch to the horizon. Another set of wheels fails to straddle the hole, and the frame of a rusty Cadillac bounces loudly off the pavement. Please enjoy the issue.

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