Map and territory

by Franco Farinelli

It's wrong to think that the subject of modernity is Homo viator, the traveller, explorer and passenger. The protagonist of the modern world is quite different, so static and immobile that it appears to Pavel Florenskij that he's been paralysed with curare -the spectator who looks on at the world on the basis of the rules of Florentine perspective, and who has to remain still to make sure-paradoxically-that the whole world can be transformed into space, an extended plain whose parts are identical, which means that all that counts is the time it takes to cross it, and the speed of travel. Walter Benjamin famously marvelled at the fact that the Paris of Atget's photographs was empty of people, deserted, and drew the attention to the 'concealed political nature' of these images. He was much closer to the truth than he was able to explain. The evacuation of the human component from the urban context between the 19th and 20th centuries, the disappearance of men and women from the panorama of the city, is the completion of the process that began four or five centuries earlier, which unnaturally stopped the onlooker's gaze at the threshold, in such a way that his eye (one of his eyes) moved as quickly as possible in the direction of the point of escape, the point that fades into nothing. The body doesn't follow the eye, which is the principle of retention that Derrida was to discover in Rousseau. Sight says the opposite of touch, which is the start of schizophrenia. Retention and schizophrenia at the basis of modern cartography, the triangulation process first applied and theorised by Leon Battista Alberti, as a result of which we have the order of the modern political figure par excellence-he state, something that doesn't move by definition, and takes on the spatial order as a model, within which there's no place for mobile, visible subjects.

Arjun Appadurai speaks of "metonymic freezing" to argue that natives, indigenous peoples, never existed, if by native we mean a human being confined in (and by) the place where he finds himself, not contaminated by exchanges of materials and ideas with the rest of humanity. Appadurai's point of view is that of post-colonial anthropology, but all he's doing, without knowing it, is to illustrate the projection out of the western world of a reduction that's valid first and foremost for western man himself, first immobilised then literally made invisible by the modern transformation of the world into space. In an attempt to understand how we truly see things, the psychologist James J.Gibson introduced the survey of the real visual world in the seventies, in which the perceptive processes refer to situations of material life, which means seeing the environment not just with the eyes, but with the eyes in a head on the shoulders of a body that moves around. It may seem banal, but at the time the approach, defined as ecological, was almost revolutionary, because it was a question of reacting-even though Gibson was unaware of it-against the fundamental principle of all of modernity.

If it's anything, post-modernity is precisely the discovery of the mobile nature of the subject. The post-modern isn't, as Baudrillard would have it, the age in which the simulacrum (the map, the chart, that is, space) precedes the territory, but quite the opposite-the end of this precession, of this antecedence, is the end of the modern paradox whereby speed is the product of a relation between a subject standing still and an Earth which, precisely due to the immobility of the subject, has to become more and more uniform, smooth and straight in all its parts. Exactly to the contrary of what Baudrillard sustains, postmodernity is in fact the end of space, of the control of the map of the territory, of the territory as a copy of the map, and therefore the end of the idea that in the end the world is made up of objects rather than relations, processes and dynamics. The pages that follow illustrate what processes and dynamics we're dealing with, in a revealing, at times painful, but always exemplary way.