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 11:05 AM | TrackBack

My silence

…is broken. Much like Dave, I’ve also retreated during the days following the election. Probably not one of my more admirable points, but I tend to retreat to think, consider, and weigh what has happened when I feel this much disappointment. I suppose there are all kinds of clichéd responses I can take to the outcome: he started this mess in Iraq, let him take responsibility for it; the country wants more of the same, so that’s what they’ll get… yadda yadda yadda. You’ve heard it before. The thing is… I think we all knew it was going to happen. Despite the “act like a winner and you’ll win” philosophizing, we knew that a positively stated platform is the more successful one. No matter how much the Democrats tried to dress up their arguments, the majority of them were “cons.” Republicans have a splendid way of turning sophisticated arguments into positive pithy statements, and there’s nothing the Baby Boomers (Let’s be honest… You’ve seen the demographic distribution of voters… it’s the Boomers who made the difference) like more than pithy arguments. There you have it: four more years. The real question to me is what will the Democrats do to improve? My outlook is not optimistic. If the learning curve is as shallow between now and ’08 as it was between ’00 and ’04, then we can start sounding the party’s death knell. Dems were almost giddy at the campaign’s “outstanding growth” in using technology. But simply using technology doesn’t fix the core problem (look how easy it was for the ultra conservatives to jump on the blog bandwagon). What have Republicans done that works? They’ve created a “new” message and convinced the public that they mean it. Democrats won’t succeed again until they can do the same.

So, why have I come out of my warm, cozy bed of denial to start putting type on a screen? Because I’ve never felt more compelled that what I do matters. I still believe that the primary emphasis of the humanities is to teach students to engage with sophisticated and complex ideas, to learn how to participate in civil and thoughtful discourse about controversial ideas, and to formulate thoughtful and informed opinions. I think that this reminds me that I’m not always going to like the result. Sometimes, my students may come to very different conclusions than I would like. But I will feel more comfortable if I can believe that at least the 25 students I teach had the best “tools” with which to make their decision, so that when they finally do decide to vote… I’ll at least feel like it’s an informed decision—not one driven by logical fallacies.

Posted by c_jane at 10:06 AM | TrackBack