November 19, 2004

The Map

On the 15th, I was driving home from work and listening to All Things Considered on NPR. This report by Melissa Block caught my attention. It is one of their "remembrance" pieces. This time, it features cartographer Arthur Robinson, who will be encomiumized today at a ceremony at the University of Wisconsin.

The Robinson Projection, Robinson's primary contribution to the field of geography, changed the way maps were theorized and constructed. I'm not going to reconstruct the whole NPR report, because I think it does a good job on its own, and I really want you to hear it. But the one central issue is that Robinson made "the look of the map" central to its design. The look of the map took as its consideration its aesthetics and its representation of the land's cultures--a radical proposal in 1963. As one of his students recollects , he "brought the way colors and mood of the map into how it affects people's desire to work with it." In his critique of another more popular mapping system, he said it looked like "wet ragged long winter underwear hung out."

The reason this struck me so deeply has to do with what I'd just discussed with my dissertation advisor hours earlier. I need to select 3 other female poets to write about. Elizabeth Bishop was quickly agreed upon as one of those poets. One poem that has not been included as an "ekphrastic" work in critical engagements with her poems that I believe should: "The Map."

Robinson's proposed map, which suggests aesthetic considerations, appeared in 1963. Seventeen years earlier, Elizabeth Bishop published "The Map" in North & South, her first book. The poem seems to anticipate many of the aethetic questions Bishop raises in all of her work: the limits and desires of language, the humanity in things that seem inhuman, the inward revelry that looking outward demands. I'm not suggesting (although it is possible) that Robinson was aware of Bishop's poems; however, hearing about Robinson and his accomplishments makes me more certain that choosing "The Map" to begin a discussion of Bishop's ekphrasis was a good start. It is certainly timely, considering our assumptions about a country's cultural makeup based on divisions of "red" and "blue."

Posted by c_jane at November 19, 2004 11:05 AM | TrackBack