Writing Within the Map
Writing, mapping and possibilities of spatial augmentation and architecture
Why not be able to search a place for its stories, its poetry, and its metaphors and why not be able to select what you desire as well as be able to create such things specifically for this place itself?
Publication has historically been a distribution system of printing press, audience and release of finished works. This has led to many variant developments in the past that have attempted to move this system into new paradigms, tributaries, or complete erasures into new modes. It is important to avoid the “rise, rise young lions” notion of how the new must topple the old and the construct that one must progress through radical means to “solve” the older functionalities. It is not this; it is that, as new possibilities emerge that can enhance and newer tools come into being that allow deeper levels; it is logical to explore them and to open those new tributaries. The book is not dead, nor should it be. The library does not need to be shuttered as a relic, a museum piece or traces in aging photographs. The internet too, as shiny as it may seem in comparison in these times, will someday be seen as a veritable steam ship in relation to what will come in some future present.
Progression of Ideas and Forms
The “Book” is not to be slain by the golden arrows of Kindle and other platforms, nor is hypertext a one-eyed beast somewhere cowering in a museum of curios. This is to miss the point. The Situationists walked around with the wrong maps to make an experience at once dada-esque and a commentary and re-examination of place, its navigation, and its “maps” as simple tools. Land art took the long running discussion of the semiotics of the white wall of galleries and connotations of exclusion and hierarchical bias and isolation and moved space into the fore. A floating island… is it a sculptural piece? Performative? A happening to witness it …a commentary on ecology and pollution and space? An architecture? A continent? Robert Smithson’s —— touched upon all of these things. Richard Serra took forms and geometry and placed them into new context, meaning, and readings. Christo wrapping a building took the initial semiotic read and base functionality of a building and instantly, all at once, abstracted it and made it symbolic, a vessel not just a function.
Mildorad Pavic in Dictionary of the Khazars took the “novel” and completely questioned it and moved it into deep non-linearity and transformed it into user editing and controls. Pavic took the structures and expectations of the novel and crafted a work that exists in small parts that can be read as the whole even if one page alone, can be read out of order and are, instead, a sort of encyclopedia of a place, people, artifacts and lore that never existed.
The Oulipo writer’s, George Perec’s, Life: A User’s manual was a “novel” and “book” as both a floor plan of individual apartments and a puzzle/grid to move along its parts. His work was to either be read in linear fashion or by jumping in and out at will. Both of these works are very experimental yet read with the cohesion inherent in the expectation of more “traditional” writing (cohesion vs complexity in text breaks, “pay off” of deeper sub-text, character, and metaphor as one reads or “moves” vs. more open-ended or esoteric expectations of more radical texts). These precedents lead to our increasingly wide array of spatialized narratives, hybrid senses of space, locative narrative, the possibilities of AR (Augmented Reality), and multi-tiered and multi-media “tagging”, etc.
New is not a novelty, nor a threat: the danger of the romanticized “epiphany and progression”
A common association as to the nature of publishing and writing can be equated to a parallel construct in the long carried nature of the “epiphany”. The epiphany is often seen as the “bolt out of the blue” that comes in a moment of a sudden leap and realization bringing a general genius idea or new wisdom and perspective. This is inaccurate as much as it a massive oversimplification, romanticized over time almost as if its age and its concurrent ballast is wine aged in time or some other obvious literary allusion. The first thing to consider is that the “bolt out of the blue” in Meteorology is known to be a positive charge from a storm and not some magic entity as it once may have been seen as. This massive bolt can strike from a storm far enough away as to be obscured by hills or buildings. The epiphany is similar in that it also is a very romanticized older concept as is the general precept of publishing (printing press, chapbook, distribution, validation etc..).
There really are several types of epiphany and their very construct can be diagrammed in a multi-staged format that is not the cliched bolt. There is what can be called the “blank epiphany” which consists of a simple snapping into a logical place of things, not a giant leap, but a point of realization. A realization that things should stay as they are could be described as a “pre constructive epiphany” since the realization is simply that what already is continues to be a sound and proper choice.
A “negative epiphany” is quite simply a sudden realization (or so it seems after previous thought but not a decisive interpretation/evaluation) that is a realization or seal on a line of thought that things are in effect not to change. No wisdom is coming. The decision or idea is to indeed be abandoned or avoided as it is incorrect or unwise.
The epiphany, then, is not what it appears to be. This is relevant to networked publishing and looking into new paradigms for several reasons. The epiphany is no orphan but, in fact, a member of a family of thoughts and considerations finding an apparent end point and node of connectivity (a network essentially). The correlation can be made to great thinkers such as Tesla quite easily. Tesla is purported to have discovered his design for the ac/dc motor “in a flash” while observing a solar eclipse. His epiphany led to the generation of electricity by placing his ac/dc motor at the base of Niagara Falls. This is a fascinating story and quite possible , but is more an example of the power of visualization, cross disciplinary thinking, and information design taking the complex into a form and metaphor that at once collects and simplifies the system into a structure of functionality and overarching form at a design stage. It was an amazing realization, but not all at once nor in a vacuum where no previous thoughts or pieces of interest existed.
So, what is the connection between writing, publishing and the digital age mash up, publishing in the map, locative narrative, etc? Firstly, publishing, still to many, carries very old associations and ones that are not to be outmoded or abolished, but these associations must be seen with an open eye to progressions in time, new platforms and their inherent possibilities, and a wide sense of what is possible and relevant. Kindle will not strangle the printing press in an icy 01001 grasp, nor will locative narratives cast shadows on the joy of reading a book; just as “epiphany” is, in fact, an umbrella over many permutations and parts, publishing and writing contains a wide array. The “bolt out of the blue” is a nice poetic conceit, but it oversimplifies the thought processes and ideas that come in variations before that snap-together moment. The same is true for the danger of new forms of writing and publication, seen as not only threats to the existing paradigms, but also gimmicks: shiny, flashy , prone to hype and form over function, and bells and whistles sucking the ghost of content clean away.
History of spatial augmentation and narrativization of spaces/ and importance now
To “read” a place is no longer about placing a singular narrative upon it, triggered from a map, nor is this notion of “reading” only to have a singular, unalterable experience or interpretation. To “publish” has long been a general association of taking a work and finding a print or web space for it to be presented as more than just a work in progress. This has also long been problematic as well as a gross oversimplification. To “publish” is also self publication and distribution in communities or like minded groups without the hard read of publication or rejection. Well, aren’t cities the same? Aren’t all places to be interpreted as such? Doesn’t this give rise to a need for a more malleable , variant, multi-tiered sense of presentation of texts and narratives?
The Linear Progression of Technology: From the Gutenberg Press to Now
Perspective in narrative (POV) is not just the base paradigm of 1st person (“I” and psychology and interior voice and viewpoint), 2nd person (the rarely used “You” that is a tugging at a guide line through narrative, text and spaces) or 3rd person (the distant “he” or “she” that allows text to be a camera that can zoom along a surface, into space, race down to atoms, is of detail and distance). Perspective in locative narrative changes with location, elevation, perspective among spaces and augmentations. Non-linear works have long allowed a perspective that can be meta which break walls, moves into self-referential loops and even Mobius strips (beginning and ending a novel with the same sentence in two parts like Joyce, for example), and plays with the space in which the text is an augmentation, not of just text and some blank space.
Augmentation of spaces with traces and icons is not new and has a fascinating history. There is an ongoing tradition, a whole sort of hieroglyphic, textual system of markings: where to find food, where dangers are, etc. Historically, markings have long been left for other travelers along trails, train paths, and in other spaces. There also are augmentations of experience and woe such as the poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island immigration detention center which paint vivid portraits of pain, confusion, anger and sadness of many individuals stuck there between 1910 and 1940. Graffiti is a long standing graphic/textual augmentation along moving and stationary spaces that dates back through Ancient Rome and Greece to roots in 30,000 year old cave paintings.. There is a deep human need to augment spaces, to narrativize, to communicate in location to create a communal conversation as well as leave a singular message or even mark in a space.
If emails are our standard mode of communication now and in-boxes are deleted on a regular basis and messages often tend to be truncated for time and fast turn around , what does this say for the epistolary, for documentation of letters in important events of places? What does this say for conversations among figures that in the past were to make important contributions to history, literature, and research? How much history is being lost in terms of interesting people, local histories, accounts and details of what was experienced in time and place? The Victorian era has been a problem for historians in its polite cultural mores of omission; often politeness dictated that the writer could not specifically name names; thus accounts and details are lost in these holes in time. Now the problem is much more acute.
The map can house all of these things. Place already does. Calls for work can be about, say Chicago by memory, and the whole range of memory and erasure will come in with the submissions. A literary magazine can be housed within the location of the former eastern end of Route 66 using mapping software and thus the map can have a call for one issue of works in 4 genres (poetry,creative nonfiction, interactive mixed text image work, and mixed media animations) only for those who visited it long ago, so they will write from this perspective. An experimental festival can run from within the icon of an intentionally innocuous and nondescript point on a map or even within just a mile marker or some subtle icon on the map itself. The call for work can be for those who have never been there and imagine it based only their concept of that spot by seeing it on Google earth and a map alone…creation out of absence? Imagined detail? Poetics of measure?
Return to the map: publication within maps and a time of cartography
The growth of Locative Media, Augmented Reality and mapping advancement and growing augmentation has led to a return to place, to the map and to information correlated to a larger context as well as contextualization. The current ubiquity of locative tools such as GPS and mapping software has arguably led us to an era of interest in mapping and cartography in many areas and field unseen in hundreds of years. There are many as yet unrelated areas moving toward fusion as well as amazing branchings from certain developments and nodes thus far. Narrative allows places to be “read” as GPS coordinates trigger augmentations and examinations in physical spaces. This is important, but we now also can consider going into the map itself and the place on a map as place of publication, of multiple readings as opposed to germane singular projects and possible groupings of such .
Publishing and distribution will soon also be in maps. Yes.
The news stand is to also be within that red dot . You are here.
But what is here? How many stories have been set in Chicago ? How many essays have been written on the crumbling cores of cities like Detroit? Are there calls for work for lit journals and text art about a certain place? These places and all other places have many faces, aspects, and these speak to many voices, investigations and (re)iterations.
So why not publish in these places? Why not in their maps as well?
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to scroll across a map of Los Angeles or New York and see how many writings were about the larger areas like Central Park or Venice as well as specific points like where Schwab’s once stood in L.A or ——- in New York and notated as such?
The “news stand” can also be the place itself and its place on a map. The place could even house fiction blooms, poetry nodes and essays to be seen as different areas of point of entry, connected by key words and brief descriptions or none of these things and just emerging for when to choose and enter open without context or expectation. The difference would be in the mapping: of the data, of the
place (flat map, 3d rendering on streets , icons augmented, open source for all to add to..etc). The possibilities are fascinating.
Immersive map augmentation and stories and essays of place to navigate
A wilder area of possibility is of publishing within map augmentations that are immersive. One can move through a basic google map or gis rendering and come to certain noted locations and click on them opening an immersive space modeling that location. This can be the interior and exterior of a certain building, a section of outdoor space or even a bit of infrastructure like the golden gate bridge or a section of what once was route 66.
A group of narratives can be placed within this rendered immersive space, a longer text can be selected alone to navigate through as placed in linear or non linear fashion in the parts of this space, or , again channels of types of works or key word selected works can be brought to read within one’s movement in and examination of this space. This moves even deeper into publication as well as writing as being of a space, deeper semiotics and interpretations and extrapolations of a place itself.
Imagine moving through an abandoned , once beautiful interior of a hotel or theater in the core downtown of Detroit and being able to admire its remnant beauty as well as read different interpretations of what may have once been or of what is the grace within ruin and architecture. The rooms and crumbling halls can be spelunked as a mode of reading … reading the space….reading its iterations and element…as well as the more literal of reading different texts otherwise to have been isolated in print or a web page.
Architecture, Spaces and Augmented Navigations through information
Architecture of a space is not just of form, function and measure. There are aesthetics, semiotics, architectures that are more eloquently obtuse: of light and shadow, of time, of shifting histories and contexts outside of the place yet deep into its elements themselves: to decay and its poetry to even the structure and method of how one moves through the space while viewing it. A building is not just bricks and mortar or even blueprints and construction.
Writing can become a myriad of ways of connecting to place. These differences may seem subtle , but the nuances and range are ripe with possibility and variation. What is a place like when experienced as a visitor? How is it different when one has once lived there? Lives there currently? How does it all change in memory over time and distance? What is a city,building or even street corner to those who have “seen” it but have never actually been there? Norman Klein’s work comes to mind, especially his book, History of Forgetting. There are perceptions written in fiction, poetry and critical theory of what Los Angeles connotes and denotes from people who have never been there and sometimes the places are in fact long gone, romanticized at such distance and from secondary sources and sometimes, are the imaginary. There are texts written of places assumed to be in the city that only were in films and their fictions and effects.
An interesting networking of space, form, mapping, iconography and interactivity is a sort of wiki-space within mapping. The base utilitarian map can be augmented in a way different from what has been previously discussed. A selection of works can be integrated within the point and icon of a historical landmark, within an immersive visualization of that place (whether it still exists or not) or even in a triggered overlay of lost infrastructure (ex: former roads , horse trails, previous city planning grids, long closed older sewer system or steam tunnels…). This allows the “ghost” of a place as much as its obvious present and past to become a place to ruminate on, publish within, and write about. This can allow great cross-disciplanary augmentations from both pragmatic data which resonates now (city planning,architecture,historians,engineering of past cities etc.) and creative writing in tandem.
The possibility exists to take a part of an area and overlay a dystopia, a utopia, multiples of each of these, or even recreations of previous incarnations in the past. Writing and publication thus cannot only be of place, and form(s), but of selected augmentations of icons, streets, buildings and related texts on top of the map. These spaces can be built in real time and can be turned on and off as channels of augmentation that over time illustrate many faces of place in its present, past, possible futures,etc. with texts within these alternate spaces as commentary, as fused aesthetic analysis, or simply creative writing relevant to these charged and hybrid spaces. New York can be located on a map and then open itself as a system of channels ; the place is only a platform in fiction and critical theory. Why cannot this be applied to the place itself in all possible permutations both real and imagined? Say 30 channels of New York from fiction to historical account, from 1936 to a dystopic possible future and its vistas, decay and consequence.
A final area of related near future development is a wild hybrid of the elements discussed in this essay, but it has a fascinating potential. What is grand central station? What is the Space Needle? What is (insert place or building here)? Of course it is a place, something built , a mass of material, something made from some plan or model, an amount of measure…but what is it? What is it in recollection? In Anger? In a moment of revelation? As one leaves? As one has not returned in many years? What is this architecture? This place?
Three dimensional models are made from computer programs and drawings. Functional objects are cut from online dimensions. Something interesting happens if you imagine these elements in reverse. With text to graphic programs one can formulate a sketch or architecture of a place in recollection and recall. No two will be the same and each will be the details and overall impression of one individual experience, mood and distance from complete recall (which is, of course, not entirely possible except in rare conditions) How does a place look when looking back in anger? How will it vary ,by writer, person, and individual experience? The interior or exterior will emerge based on details described, those emphasized, algorithms of word choice, repetition. The form can be in lines and abstracted forms of a space and empty spaces of what is not discussed or is less defined with less emphasis.
The emotion and voice will define the architecture and in a sense will be the architecture. This inversion of spatial augmentation takes the text, narrative, prose, etc and paints its place, its forms as a map of the emotive space, the way of memory and space. This fascinating form will be well suited in mapping software…see your voice and node of emotive spatial recall form its own sense of that building, street corer, interior of bus station etc..
Jeremy Hight is a locative media/new media artist and a writer. He is credited with inventing locative spatial narrative in the first locative narrative project 34 north 118 west. His essay “Narrative Archaeology” was recently named one of the 4 primary texts in locative media. A retrospective look at his work and a look at "reading" the landscape is in volume 14 issue 08. He has published over 20 theoretical essays and exhibited work in festivals and museums internationally.