Reviewed by Andrew Berardini
Everything can be mapped.
Put simply, a map is a visual reference of space, a diagram, a representation. This stands in for that.
They are only useful really if they remove everything but what we think we need to know.
But what do we know?
I recently attempted to memorize all the names of trees in my neighborhood. What had once been simply “trees” had become Weeping Bottle Brushes, Norfolk Pines, Indian Laurels, Canary Island Palms. They had names I had not known, and not knowing their names, I did not see them. Now the streets are filled with exotic friends from far-flung places, each with a unique story, twist, bend, rudely trimmed or lushly let wild.
Like Francis Bacon the essayist said, faces are but a gallery of pictures when there is no love.
We can’t map what we can’t see, or perhaps have yet to see, territories yet to be discovered, acknowledged, made visible through a map. A rock orbiting the sun, an electron circulating an atom, both somewhat recently invisible.
Borges made a map in one story that covered the world in a one-to-one ratio. Unloved, it frayed and only remnants of it remained, inhabited by wild animals and beggars, the last remnant of geography.
My favorite is in the Chronicles of Narnia. A map that hangs in the great hall of Cair Paravel is so detailed that if you hold a magnifying glass up to it, you could see people moving along the streets, the ships unloading in the port, the birds winging from tree to tree.
The drift of galaxies may be mapped, the serpentine flight of a dust mote in a ray of sunlight in my bedroom right now is chartable, the street corners thickest with memories can be plotted. To map something though is to show a care for it, perhaps the mapmaker only cares to conquer the world, drill for oil, or build a subdivision, but under the certain circumstances, that care can be the care that becomes love, the map a poem tracing the beauty of something individual, a unique place, space, situation in the life of the world.
Denis Wood attempted some of this, using a neighborhood to discover new ways to view the world. Some are quite beautiful, others less so, but this book is a single sheet of an epic novel yet to be written, mapping uncharted territories we have yet to discover for stories whose names we have yet still to learn.
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Denis Wood, Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas, (Siglio, 2010)
Images: Cover and “The Night Sky” and “Sidewalk Graffiti” maps from Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas