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The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

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Angus has been eulogising about the Melbourne streetmaps (I've never heard anyone get affectionate about the London A-Z...), but as I sit here beneath a map of the Balkans, I have to admit, I'm something of a cartophile too. And purely by coincidence, I've just read this passage, from Czeslaw Milosz's Noble Prize Winner, The Issa Valley (Penguin, 2001), which is great, by the way:

"Although the atlas showed neither Gine nor any of the surrounding locations, something it could easily be forgiven, Thomas became fascinated by maps - the way the finger went down, and under it were born forests, land tracts, roads, villages, and vast multitudes of people in motion, each distinct, each somehow distinguishable from the other; but how, the moment it was lifted - poof! And just as he had hungered for flight, for a higher perspective on those kneeling in church, so now he ached for a magical magnifying glass powerful enough to bring out all that was hidden beneath the paper's surface. The more we devote ourselves to that realm of contours, zones, and lines, the greater our enthrallment. The thrall is as great as when the mind tries to imagine what lies between two numbers. Now, if a map could be drawn to include every house and human, stationary or in motion, that would leave all the horses, cows, cats, plant species, fish in the Issa - not to mention fleas on dogs, shimmering beetles in the grass, and ants and many other things. That meant a map was always approximate. Another discovery gained through his map explorations: Seated up here in the chair is one me, but down there under my finger being held on the blank spot that ought to have been Gine is another. I am pointing at myself, at the shrunken me. The second me is not the same as the one up here; down there, it is merely one among many."


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