Article published in The Funambulist 18 (July-August 2018) Cartography & Power. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
Playwright Tennessee Williams referred to time as “the longest distance between two places.” To think about or refer to time (in the English language) often involves its spatialization; a tendency known in linguistics as space-time mapping. For instance, we speak of temporal domains of the past and future as being near or far, as being in front of us or behind us, and often as destinations, i.e. “returning to the past.” In the present, the “now” is “here” (spaced and placed), when you are here instead of there, you are at this point instead of that one, again invoking a sense of space or place. Albert Einstein only reinforced this sense of spatialization of the temporal when he declared time to be intimately bound up with space creating “spacetime.”
A map is an object/phenomenon that allows for the re-presentation of this fused space-time. As much as the map re-presents a geographical territory, landscape, or space, it is infused with time and temporality, usually at the intersection of the distance between two points on it. The map is also infused with several intersecting and conflicting temporal domains. There are the past(s) — of the mapmaker, of the mapped territory that lies inert on the map — the present(s) — of the map user, of the mapped terrain’s changes in reality — and the future(s) of all of those events. These interactive temporal domains fuse together as a 3-D invisible hologram layered over the body of the map.
Philosopher Henri Bergson found a fundamental incompatibility with “representing time by space,” since it is not possible to “follow the process of psychic activity […] like the march of an army on a map.” (Time and Free Will, 1889). Bergson’s argument follows in the ancient wisdom that the mapped image is not the reality or the territory itself: it is merely re-presentation. The map is not the land itself, it is not the rivers, it is not the place; it can only ever be a symbol of those things. You have to walk the land to know it. Maps do not account for experience and lived knowledge. They do not account either for how many paces it takes for you to walk somewhere, or your own experiences and memories of where a thing used to be or not be.
And in that way, argues Bergson, you cannot go back in time in the way you are able to turn around in space, making them ultimately unequivalent: