If there’s a verb I enjoy most, it might be poring. Not pouring, mind you, although I do that often, too, but rather the act of detailed examination of every aspect of something. Oftentimes, this leads me down the ol’ Wikipedia Rabbit Hole. Other times, I get to pore over a map. Our home is adorned with maps, detailed reproductions of old cartography in foreign languages, which, in idle moments away from the hive-mind computer, I can sidle up to and see what that long-ago mapmaker thought was the most accurate representation of a given patch of the Earth’s surface. It’s a snapshot of the evolution of knowledge; a comically pinched Big Bend, a gulf spanning from San Francisco to Saskatchewan, or a homeland for people with faces embedded in their torsos.

Maps are, like most made things, a way of seeing the world as someone else sees it, but with conventions and degrees of freedom in the exploration of that vision different from others. Unlike words, relationships between points, if not their intended meaning, can be understood without language skills. Unlike narratives, be they spoken, graphical or textual, maps are nonlinear, each point randomly accessible and independently informative without having seen any other point on the map, and yet inextricably tied to the points around it in order to give context to their significance. Unlike the visual arts, their relationship to what they represent or express is explicit and quantifiable. I find this combination of traits highly alluring, perhaps in part because my often brief attention span is well-suited to something that can be absorbed in bite-size chunks, and no doubt due to my abiding preference for nonfiction and expression rooted in the recognizable world over fiction and the abstract.

Comments are closed.