Duck Duck Book

55 – you are here
07.20.2008, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

You are here : personal geographies and other maps of the imagination / Katharine Harmon.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2004.
[MCL call number: 912 H288y 2004; three copies, no holds]

A map is a compelling thing, and it does not have to be true in scientific terms to give powerful testimony. It is relatively common for novels to begin with a map, showing something like the neighborhood in which the murder occurred, or the geography of a fairyland. And we encounter nongeographical and other conceptual maps regularly in other places too — the zodiac that is sometimes featured on Chinese restaurant paper placemats, or the diagram of the path to clarity displayed in Church of Scientology storefronts.

You need a map to understand the geography of a completely imaginary place, especially if you’re not the imaginer. Here are some examples from my own cultural influences: What if I want more information about the assets of the four countries of Oz? How can I get a feel for the lake in which the Swallows and Amazons sailed, see where Christopher Robin and Pooh had their adventures, or find out that Professor Plum did it in the library, with the candlestick? I need a map.

Diagrams of human anatomy, religious maps showing the dangers of loose morals and the benefits of a virtuous life, battle maps, and even those Family Circus cartoons showing little Billy’s path all around the house and yard in one afternoon are still more examples of imaginative maps revealing shapes and relationships in much the same way as traditional “real” maps show national interests, property, routes of travel, and weather predictions.

In You Are Here, Katharine Harmon has collected scores of maps and map-like representations of ideas, feelings, states of being, relationships, time, and more. Each chapter collects maps on a particular theme, with an introductory essay by a different writer. Some of the book’s examples are very clearly maps; others require some suspension of disbelief, some allowance for creative license. Some are in fact self-conscious works of art; others were created for humorous purposes, to teach, to inspire, or to convince others of a deeply held belief. Here are some of the maps I found most notable:

  • “Falls of Eternal Despair,” a map showing the river of death as it slides off the plain of sin and wretchedness over the waterfall into the depths of hell. (page 44)
  • “Map of Americana,” a 1929 map by illustrator John Held, Jr. shows the 48 contiguous states as vast central area thinly populated with gas stations, hot dogs, and opportunities to purchase orange drink, surrounded on all sides by a dense ring of rum runners and bootleggers. (page 84)
  • “Surrealist Map of the World,” another 1929 map showing the countries of the world, centered on the pacific, but with Ireland dwarfing the island of Britain, a giant Easter Island looming over a teeny Australia, just two cities marked (Paris and Constantinople), and no sign of the contiguous United States. (page 118)
  • A map of Los Angeles with cartoon faces showing affluence, the unemployment rate, urban stresses, and the proportional representation of race in each part of town. (page 138)
  • A nice lithographic-style poster of a restaurant table surrounded with the evocatively lettered names of the various components of a meal, two friends, their chairs, napkins, meals, drinks, conversation, and warm feelings of friendship. (page 134)

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