Maps and Margins

Politics of Place

Today saw the publication of an interesting new postgraduade journal – ‘Politics of Place’ – and their first issue has a number of articles on maps.

Katrin Fennesz has a delightful piece (‘Rhizomatic Travels and Cartographic Connections’) comparing two Canadian novels (Restlessness by Aritha van Herk and The Hornbooks of Rita K by Robert Kroetsch) and their key protagonist’s obsessions with travelling. Her approach is a Deleuzian one so the reading uses the rhizome and the nomad as reference points. There are also nods towards Mark Monmonier, J.B. Harley and Denis Wood. In the article, Fennesz suggests that:

both Aritha van Herk and Robert Kroetsch set out on their nomadic adventure to draw their own map. Yet they engage with unmappable terrain; they seek “to chart the unknown and the unknowable” (van Herk, “Temptation” 134)

Both writers seek to “resist their own ends” (Kroetsch, “Circle” 69) by writing non-teleological stories intent on unraveling rather than cementing a narrative – something Deleuzian readings of the map also intend to do; elevating modification, adaptation, connection or severance over security, coordination and endurance. Joe Gerlach’s ‘Lines, Contours and Legends’ (2013) is representative of such a reading.

As Fennesz dives into the titles themselves, she suggests that endless travelling does not equal a nomadic existence. In fact, as she quotes Rosi Braidotti (Nomadic Subjects 1994: 5) as saying, “[i]t is the subversion of set conventions that defines the nomadic state, not the literal act of travelling”. Two characters in each of the novels (Dorcas in R and Raymond in THoRK) – allegedly nomadic – are far from unshackled beings, reliant as they are on maps, itineraries and timetables for their endless travels. Instead it is Rita (THoRK), the homebound friend of Raymond who is in fact the true nomad – intent on escape, disappearance and invisibility. She wants to, in Deleuzian terms, ‘become-imperceptible’. It is this subversion that defines the nomadic existence, and despite her unwillingness to travel as the other two characters in the novels do, she does is fact stay true to nomadic principles. It is only later, as Fennesz writes, that Dorca is able to do the same – finding such an existence in Calgary, as she:

…[E]xplores the city’s secrets. From ghosts and horses in hotels, to high-risers appearing like tombstones and the chinook with its own mythology only southern Albertans can understand—Calgary absorbs Dorcas and Dorcas disappears in and with the city. Invisible at last. She is escaping the codes, defying signification and definition.

Only then is she able to discover her own world, rather than follow an already-existing one.


‘Rewriting the City: Reading Harry Beck’s Tube Map as a Form of Writing’ by Andrea Vesentini is also in the issue. 

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