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Mapping practices and the cartographic imagination


This paper claims that maps and the “act of mapping” have the capacity to disrupt symbolic horizons concerning representations of space constructing aesthetic, political and subjective worldviews. These worldviews constitute modes of subjectivity that challenge the notion of the Cartesian subject, and put forward a “situated” concept of subjectivity. Through an intertextual analysis of Deleuze and Guattari, and Heidegger’s late essay “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Moro pursues a possible redefinition of mapping as assemblage or gathering point of the fourfold. This redefinition in turn indicates the becoming-space of a narration that constitutes particular kinds of world views and subjectivities. The lines between narration, mapping, and mythology are further blurred in recent art projects, where through the ‘cartographic imagination’ artists deliberately deconstruct the rational appearance of the map to expose current political impasse in a globalized world.

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  1. There are of course many relevant texts in the critical literature that analyze the phenomenon of mapping in contemporary cartographic image-making. Some examples are Giuliana Bruno’s Atlas of Emotions: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (Verso 2002); Tom Conley’s Cartographic Cinema (University of Minnesota Press 2007); Jacques Lévy’s edited collection A Cartographic Turn (Routledge 2015), and many others that are not possible to discuss in this short paper, which intends to focus on a very specific philosophical understanding of the practice of mapping. I discuss these and other texts at length in my book Cartographic Paradigms in Modern and Contemporary Art (forthcoming by Routledge).

  2. The process of “urbanization” of Heidegger’s thought has been pursued by Gadamer, Vattimo, and Volpi, among others. See G. Vattimo, Essere e dintorni, p. 397. A similar pursuit, albeit under different terms, is at the basis of Jeff Malpas’s re-reading of “Building Dwelling Thinking” in his lecture for the University of Auckland's School of Architecture, cited here.

  3. A seminal text is, here, Heidegger’s The Age of the World Picture, which is at the center of Martin Jay’s critique. Jay’s intent is to challenge the monolithic conception of ‘world picture’ advanced by Heidegger, and especially his focus on Cartesian perspectivism as hegemonic of modernity, in favor of a more pluralistic view that includes two other ‘scopic regimes’ of modernity: (a) the ‘art of describing’ mode of the Dutch renaissance (Alpers), and (b) that of ‘baroque reason’ (see Buci-Glucksmann): “Each of these was a manifestation of what Jacqueline Rose had called the ‘moment of unease’ in the dominant scopic regime of an era” (p. 55).

  4. I am, of course, mindful of the different perception that a book such as Chatwin’s may have more than thirty years after it was published, particularly in light of the flourishing of indigenous studies and texts written by indigenous scholars on these issues. However, I am also interested in exploring what happens when non-indigenous consciousnesses encounter indigenous consciousnesses, and the opportunity offered by such encounters.

    As Paul Daley notes in “Songlines at the NMA: A Breathtaking Triumph of Twenty-First Century Museology” (The Guardian, September 15, 2017), “Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have long embraced Chatwin’s ‘songlines’ (at least the word, if not his 1987 novel The Songlines). They have claimed it to describe what they also know to be churinga tracks or dreaming paths – cultural, political, spiritual, ecological, geographical, historical (and so very much more) wisdom that is etched for them in the land.”.

    In “Travel and Endless Talk Connected me to Details Chatwin’s Songlines Missed” (The Guardian, October 15, 2017), Daley remarks that “The Songlines, which I first read about 1990, was instrumental to my awakening about Indigenous spiritual belief and creationism.” He quotes from “eminent historian and museum ethnographer Philip Jones” who, in the essay Beyond Songlines, writes, “Thirty years after its publication it is evident enough that Bruce Chatwin’s book was much less about Aboriginal culture or ‘songlines’ in particular than about his own rather strained efforts to find a universal human rationale for the nomadic, self-sufficient lifestyle he and his moleskin notebooks now represent.”.

    For all its shortcomings and simplifications, Chatwin’s book remains an important reference with respect to the reception and “translation” of the Aboriginal mapping consciousness in the West. Most importantly, its value lies in it being a literary work, not a scientific account. As such, I consider it an example of poetic cartography itself, no less mythological than the cartographic practices it purports to describe.

  5. The quotation is from Heidegger, “What are the Poets for?”, in Off the Beaten Track (Cambridge University Press 2002).

  6. See National Museum of Australia page,

  7. Information gathered during personal research in the archives of the New York Public Library, at the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map division, by analyzing nineteenth century maps recording aboriginal Native American settlements and trails.

  8. The Manahatta Project documents the ancient ecosystem of New York City and its environs through interactive maps. See:

  9. Malpas acknowledges the problematic interpretations of ‘place’ and identity as belonging to an essential dwelling, in particular with reference to Heidegger’s political adhesion to National Socialism in the 1930s. He also examines Levinas’s critique of Heidegger on this issue (Malpas pp. 5–6), but rejects it by way of a more nuanced (and ‘corrected’) reading of the concept of “belonging together,” to demonstrate that in Heidegger issues of identity need to be understood as instances of difference. This reading diverges from the way we understand identity in Western metaphysics. What is ‘essential’ here is the relatedness of identity (p. 8).

  10. The Deleuzian twofold meaning implicit in the term “plan/plane” can be of help: it indicates two contrary conceptions: (1) plan as design, organization (hidden, transcendent, involving forms and subjects), (2) plane of immanence (no supplementary dimension; composition, not development or organization; not hidden but given, disclosed; not form, but relations of velocity between unformed material). See Spinoza, 1988, p. 128.

  11. Mapping can be considered a techne in the sense Heidegger gives to the term in Nietzsche, Vol. I, David Farrell Krell, trans. (New York: Harper One 1991), pp. 80–82, that is, as a mode of knowing.

  12. Jeu de Paume website,


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Correspondence to Simonetta Moro.

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Moro, S. Mapping practices and the cartographic imagination. Subjectivity 13, 298–314 (2020).

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  • Mapping
  • Cartography
  • Place
  • Deleuze and Guattari
  • Heidegger
  • Contemporary art
  • Bouchra Khalili
  • Emily Kame Kngwarreye