Reply To: Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

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Anonymous # Posted on April 15, 2014 at 16:26

Sorry for a late post.

Wenzel Steinig – Reflections on Tim Ingold (14th April)

“There is a paradox at the heart of modern cartography. The more it aims to furnish a precise and comprehensive representation of reality, the less true to life this representation appears. … The world of our experience is a world suspended in movement, that is continually coming into being as we – through our own movement – contribute to its formation. In the cartographic world, by contrast, all is still and silent. … no sunlight nor moonlight, … no variations of light or shade, no cloads, no shadows or reflections, forests and pastures are devoid of animal life, houses and streets are empty of people and traffic. To dismiss all this … is perverse, to say the least. For it is no less than the stuff of life itself. … Where nothing moves there is nothing to which one can respond. … These observations should finally lay to rest the cartographic illusion, namely that the world is pre-prepared as a stage upon which living things propel themselves about, from one point to another. Life in this view is an internal property of objects, transported upon the exterior surface of a lifeless earth. … Contrary to this assumption, life is not contained within things, nor is it transported about. It is rather laid down along paths of movement. … Ways of life are not therefore detemined in advance, as routes to be followed, but have continually to be worked out anew.”

I chose this quotation in order to talk about a specific idea and not the whole range of ideas Ingold confronts the reader with, as this would lead to a very broad and abstract reflection.
For me, this quote from Chapter 13 contains 4 main statements, two about what modern cartography implies and two about what it should take into account. These are both interconnected as well as related to other ideas presented by the author in Chapter 8, 11 and 12. In summary one could say that this is a variation of Ingolds thoughts about what life and living, things and thinging means on the background of the cartographic realm.

The 4 statements:
1. Cartography kills or paralyses reality by exclusively depicting material, but no movement (in all 5 ways of our senses).
2. This is due to the cartographic illusion that earth is a background that only comes to live by objects that populate it. When an object is removed, in this worldview, it leaves a hole behind.
3. A motionless world is not. Or it is for nobody. It comes into being by every movement happening within it, from the vibration of its smallest particles to the circular relocation of the whole system around a point in space.
4. Thus, cartography neglects that wayfinding and orientation, which Ingold also calls mapping, rely on the co-movements of things, as f.ex. a human being judges the correctness of a path not by the relative location of things, but by how these things move in relation to itself: If I want to get through between two houses, they have to move around me to the right and the left, respectively.

Now I don’t want to get into a deep discussion of the philosophical foundations of Ingold’s perception of what life is. Instead I will extract a specific implication of his reasoning, namely that cartography failed its task to build on living ways of orientation, that imply change, which means dislocation and rearrangement of its elements. What I wonder is what a map fulfilling such requirements looks like. It must be alive as the things it shows. Does that mean: No maps anymore? Or animated maps tracking the faintest movements of what they depict? Degressive maps, which show a 3D view of the observer’s location and slowly slide into a bird’s eye map view the farther a point on the map is from the observer’s location?

As Ingold seldomly uses the world system, one could call him a systems thinker in disguise. Systems thinking tries to avoid thinking of things as parts or wholes of a system, as this neglects either their self-organising capacities or their connections to and dependence on other parts of the system.
A human being consists to 9/10 not of cells forming part of its body in the narrow sense. They are bacteria, peacefully coexisting with our body. So if you only want to have the human being, you take away the bacteria etc., right? But that only works in a motionsless world, since as soon as you give life or movement to such a human being, you will find out that its survival is far from certain, as it depends on the eco-system services of these bacteria. Whereever you look you will find parts becoming wholes and wholes becoming parts, a rhizome of interdependencies stretching out in all directions of the world.
So that would mean that maps have to stop depicting objects, as they evoke the illusion of parts and wholes in the world. Then again, Ingold compares the activities of thinking and speaking with mapping and mapmaking, respectively. Are we thus not allowed to speak anymore, because each word kills the movement of things by putting them into a category? Should we all learn telepathy? Where is Ingold heading?