Article published in The Funambulist 18 (July-August 2018) Cartography & Power. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
Cartographies With No Remainder ///
Carl Nilsson Linnæus published his Systema Naturae in 1735. He proposed a system of hierarchical classification of the natural world built upon the division between the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. In the first editions of his work, there was a section within the animal kingdom division called Paradoxa. It held everything that did not fit elsewhere. It was mostly populated with fantastic creatures: the unicorn, the satyr, the mermaid and the phoenix, as well as the pelican. This category disappeared in the sixth edition of the work published in 1748. The modern era demanded clarity and sharpness in its limits. While philosophers and scientists alike still treasured the idea of mathesis universalis, (i.e. a universal science of order and measurement modeled on mathematics), the box of paradoxes subjected Linnæus’ edifice to a dangerous kind of tension: it could make it all collapse. Thus, having done away with the uncomfortable “remainder” represented by the Paradoxa (that residue or excess left over while looking for a mathematically precise division of the real), this tension was overshadowed by the illusion of an absolute, stable and apprehensible order.
Until the end of the 18th century, maps of the African continent appear filled with different kingdoms and monsters. When imperialism implemented the colonial expansion of the 19th century, they were suddenly emptied. Maps such as “Africa, Performed by the Sr. Danville Under the Patronage of the Duke of Orleans,” from 1766, or the 1790s “Sketch of the Northern Part of Africa,” engraved by Joseph Rennell, showed a blank continent. They feel like images that have been overexposed to erase all the differences deemed insignificant; an effacement of all trembling lines in order to highlight only those validated by Western geographic knowledge. Paradoxically, many of these maps emerged out of indigenous knowledge and ephemeral plans drawn by local inhabitants on the ground, deeply effective despite their alleged inaccuracy. Europe’s’ cartographical endeavor was one among many of modernity’s optical apparatuses. In their mission to conquer the real, European cartographers and geographers ended up overexposing reality to erase all possible remainders and eradicate all traces of haziness, by extension, eliminating the Other.