Friday, June 12, 2009

MAPS: Cartographic Ontogeny

by agraphia

As a child, I spent the good part of summer exploring the woods around our house. In the evening, I would return to a pad of graphpaper and chart out what I had explored; rivers, forest paths, animal tracks, vegetation, old ruins. Each proceeding summer the maps became more intricate as my geographic explorations, mental capacities, and, in some sense, 'spiritual' inclinations, as an imaginative child elaborated in a kind of 'Cartographic Ontogeny'. Common landmarks took on a mythology or dreamtime, each annual layer encoded with an increasingly complex system of symbols representing the emotional or imaginative states of a personal narrative, as opposed to any actual, physical space.

Katharine Harmon suggests something similar:

"I sense that humans have an urge to map -- and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human ... As a youngster, in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I came to know intimately the ceiling of the room where I was supposed to be napping. I stared upward for hours, making out forms of imagined countries in the water-stained plaster. Why was I seeing international borders even before I knew the meaning of the concept? It was a natural way to pass the time and kept my restless imagination engaged far beyond that bedroom while my body got the rest my mother thought it needed.

... Orienteering is such an odd but impressive word that it has always stuck with me, and in fact moves me to propose a related concept to describe a process somewhat like orienteering but more personal, more historical, more associative, more metaphorical, perhaps more spiritual: "orientating", or crashing through the larger landscapes of memory and experience and knowledge, trying to get a fix on where we are in a multitude of landscapes that together compose the grander scheme of things. Orientating begins with geography, but it reflects a need of the conscious, self-aware organism for a kind of transcendent orientation that asks not just where am I, but where do I fit in this landscape? Where have I been? Where shall I go, and what values will I pack for the trip? What culture of knowledge allows me to know what I know, which is often another way of knowing where I am? And what pattern, what grid of wisdom, can I impose on my accumulated, idiosyncratic geographics? The coordinates marking this territory are unique to each individual and lend themselves to a very private kind of cartography."

-- Katharine Harmon You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination

"Maps construct -- not reproduce -- the world." -- Denis Wood

Of course, such fantastical musing among the young in the early 80's was the perfect brew for a serious addiction to the world of AD&D. Alas, twas my fate! The somewhat dangerous undertakings (for a lone kid) and fantastic escapades of a fertile youth gave way to sleepless nights, pouring through the charts, maps and statistically rich tables of AD&D modules. A geeky adolescence, fraught mainly with the task of somehow, magically, actualizing the mythos of a spent youth through the manipulation and punishment of naive playmates as 'Dugeon Master'. Good times were certainly had! ...but I think the better part of my adolescence may have been spent in frustration at the inability to conjure into being the lost mythological realm of an early, hyper-imaginative (and undoubtedly romanticized) childhood. All the maps, reference books, lead miniatures and dice were cool... but it just wasn't the same.

Stuart Brown, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul suggests we explore backwards, as far as we can go, to the most clear, joyful, playful image we have, consider how it connects to life now, and we may find ourselves changing jobs, or at least, enriching our life by prioritizing it! ...all wishy-washy, self-help, feel-goodness aside... no doubt, AD&D character sheets and maps of the 'The Forgotten Realms' were some of the most rudimentary forms around which the unruly fungus of my early, unripened brain shaped itself. And before the 'edenic fall' of early youth, the maps of a childhood dreamtime. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately) most of my maps and records from those days are long gone. Thankfully, guys like Dean_S and things like the internet exist, so I can reminisce...

What is with the big yellow stain of Skone in the south ...about to consume all of Fantasia?! "In the beginning, it is always [yellow]." -- The Childlike Empress

Dean_S 's gut splitting caption:

"This was my first serious attempt at a Dungeons and Dragons world map. It was designed around 1983 with many small features added in at a later date as we went on adventures. Stains are a result of excited gamers spilling drinks on it over the years. It is held together today with masking tape. It is loosely based on the Greyhawk maps among others and also my own design. After all the work, I couldn't think of a good name for the world and settled on "Skone". At 14-15 years old naming a world after an English biscuit didn't seem like such a bad idea! We did most of our adventuring on this half of the map." -- Dean_S

And then there's the fictional maps of Shane Watt:

"The country I have created is called Loyala,” the artist writes. “It’s a reference to my heritage and it's the place all my maps interconnect. It has an imperial – a very British – sound. That’s something I feel a strong connection to being Scottish Canadian. The country exists (sort of) in a geographical location on planet earth. I basically changed history a bit – traveled back in time – and moved some things around. The location is secret. It’s encrypted in the maps. There are riddles and secrets in all of my maps. I never disclose the secrets – I want someone to figure it out." -- Shane Watt

The imaginary railways of traingeek Peter Edwardson:

And fictional cities of avid map collector and roadgeek Adrian Leskiw:

This has got to make you wonder what drives such meticulous, cartographic obsessions!!

1 comment:

  1. Aha. So you played in the Forgotten Realms too.. I never really got that into any of the other worlds...

    This was interesting reading and seemed to provide a little bit of insight into myself.

    I'm one of these people who can't focus on a single image. Whenever we had to do those meditation exercises in school were you picture a dot and then let it grow out until it becomes a whole picture, I always had trouble because the dot would never say still. It would instantly split into open, spawning clones, a sea of polka dots. Then the image would shift, like a defective slide projector. It would never slow down.

    The same goes for counting sheep. Instead of one sheep jumping the fence at a time, they stream across my mental map, at speeds too fast too count.

    So I guess it's no coincidence that I'm terrible with maps. The outside world is always spinning, changing beneath my feet, even as I stand. I've long ago given up any hope of being able to place myself in it and have even come to enjoy the chaos.

    What I'd be interested in knowing is whether this stems from a fuzzy inter psyche, or whether my fuzzy inner psyche comes from not having reinforced it with maps, the way you describe.

    I never was a Dungeon Master. I always preferred to be a character. Acting out, improving, exploring how far my mind could go. They really must be two inherently different types of personalities. The DM and the PC...