Map Critique: Witold

Map Critique: Witold

Map Critique: The Open Country of Woman’s Heart (Maps as Media, Week 6)

I stumbled upon this map looking for forms of “libidinal cartography”, my project for the semester. Originally, I thought of libidinal cartography primarily in the capacity of mapping the expressions and sites of desire in the city. Of course, this would be a highly subjective exercise – desire is not simply “located” anywhere, but rather, depending on your theoretical model, an energy sucked into the insatiable vacuum of our fundamental lack (Freud), an interconnecting productive force (Deleuze), a borrowed and mediated affect (Girard), and so on. My project, as I formulated it, was to think creatively of where such libidinal drives (and their repressions and sublimations) come to the surface spatially. I never thought about mapping the inner libidinal geography, since there simply wasn’t any space to explore.

That is, until I found this hilarious map. It was featured in a book written by the Irish reverend Bernard O’Reilly and published in 1883, titled The Mirror of True Womanhood: a Book of Instruction. This work is a Christian manual for women, which sets as its goal to “preserve the Home […] by making of every mother a supernatural woman, living a life of faith, loving above all things self-denial and sacrifice, fondly attached to the heroic ways of our ancestors […], and devoted to the best interests of country and religion.” I were to suggest that it concerns here a highly ideological document, I imagine this would raise no eyebrows. The map claims no authorship except an enigmatic (and implausible) “by a lady,” which, ironically, is probably intended as an argument from authority.

When it comes to critique, I don’t even know where to begin. While the map is symbolically and aesthetically effective, even beautiful, it does not take a graduate student to determine that it betrays more than a hint of sexism. Practically the entire area is taken up by the regions of vanity and sentimentality; some of the main provinces, indicated in bold lettering, are love of dress and coquetry. It’s quite clear that whoever drew this map has a political interest in presenting the female libidinal economy as fundamentally frivolous. Considering that the map is embedded in a didactic work for women, its primary purpose seems to be to convince the reader of her own foundational inadequacy, sinfulness, and by extension of the necessity of moral reform. A critique in the Foucaultian sense, that is, a project of tracing knowledge genealogically, further allows us to pinpoint this map as a document of deeply patriarchal Victorian society’s views on gender, family, and morality. It’s a beautiful example of power-knowledge at its most insidious, simultaneously undermining the reader’s sense of self-worth and offering salvation through her self-sacrifice to the dominant male, Christian order.

One reason this map is interesting from a critical perspective is the fact that it’s clearly an art map, a map of fantasy. Much of the texts by Krygier and Crampton presupposed that critique must be aimed at cartography’s positivist inclinations, and they tended to group art maps, maps of everyday life, et cetera, together as broadly emancipatory. This map clearly demonstrates that while the positivist map’s pretense of objectivity easily lends itself to hegemony, there is no reason why subjective maps are necessarily “better” in that sense. Knowing that, it becomes extra important to study a map in its contexts of use: in this case, the map’s “argument” ranges far beyond geopolitical concerns, into the very constitution of human subjectivity.

As facetious as this map may be, I did not select it simply as comic relief; it actually inspired a pretty cool inroad into my own project. Freud, who popularized the concept of the libido, asserted that civilization was constructed to tame our furious life force and channel it into controlled, nonviolent forms. Within civilization, then, the libidinal drive is granted its outlets in sublimations, in aesthetics, in intoxications, and in love – Eros domesticated. While I am still interested in locating these (and other) libidinal outlets spatially in New York City, I could start with a foundational map of the libido itself, which would schematize the affective and practical expressions of Eros through various theoretical lenses. Unlike the Open Country of Woman’s Heart, however, my libidinal cartography is not intended to serve any political interest. Rather, it would serve as a kind of foundational mind-map to my project, itself cast in the mold of a cartographic representation:

The Open Country of Woman’s Heart was clearly a formal inspiration. I find the heart-shape both symbolically effective and concise – its associations with love and sexuality, as well as the heartbeat that is essential to life, are immediate. The island is framed by the Oceanic Feeling, which, according to Freud, is the sense of wholeness with the universe that precedes the individual’s subject-formation and the loss of which forms the the essential lack or void that creates Desire. An alternative theoretical view, propounded by Deleuze and Guattari, holds that desire is not motivated by lack or absence but is rather a fundamentally creative and productive force which interconnects all beings; this is hinted at by the factories of desiring-production. Various other theoretical concepts from psychoanalysis, post-structuralist theory, and everyday life are represented as geological and urban areas on the map.

I’ve retained The Open Country of Woman’s Heart‘s tendency to represent “negative” or, in this case, hazardous processes (repression, intoxication, narcissism), as geologically dangerous areas – deserts, swamps, et cetera. I made marriage a prison, the road towards which leads through the valley of seduction – most of the theorists I use are suspicious of these “civilized” arrangements, although the sketch map above hardly encompasses the full range of texts that I hope to utilize in the final project. The “capital” city, which in The Open Country is Love itself, here is the citadel of Civilization: the nexus which mediates libidinal expressions. I sketched a few roads, but probably should have made more, since at least conceptually, everything else is linked to it.