November 4, 2010 2 Comments
The readings this week are concerned with the human imagination, and our ability to create meaning, patterns, and maps from suggestion and implication. By creating a map, the map’s subject becomes defined and explained, making something that previously was abstract into a visible form. Maps give definition to what we cannot see. This is even more evident when the map is created whole-cloth to serve or from a fictional narrative. These kinds of maps are ones that I am intimately familiar with, as I’ve been playing and reading with fictional maps since I was in preschool. I encounter them in the books I read for pleasure (Which, often enough, are formula fantasy.) as well as in my intellectual and academic reading. I encounter them in the electronic games I play (Including, until a while ago, World of Warcraft, but also many other games.) I even create them myself, for tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Maps capture the imagination and invite exploration, either of space or ideas.
With any tool, there is also the potential of misuse. This is especially true of something that grasps the imagination like a map. This is also quite well illustrated by the readings this week, especially in the maps of Dante’s Inferno. Our very ability to create maps from abstraction also leads us to see patterns and structures where none may exist. It may be because of this week’s election, but the tendency of groups on either side of the aisle to leap to conclusions, saying “This is a clear mandate!” or “This means we can achieve real change!” based on what are ultimately small changes in the percentage of votes in any given place strikes me as an example of letting imagination and maps create unsound conclusions. This isn’t to say that maps are dangerous, or shouldn’t be used. I merely mean that maps deserve our respect, both of their power and their limitations.