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Re: <nettime> Questioning the Frame
Michael H Goldhaber on Thu, 30 Dec 2004 18:13:20 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Questioning the Frame


I want to comment briefly on Coco Fusco's impassioned and cogent remarks 
on maps and war. I spent the year 1981 (the first year of the Reagan 
administration) hiding out in the bowels of the Library of Congress in 
Washington researching a book on the causes of war that I never wrote. One 
of my main conclusions was that modern wars are fought precisely because 
of maps. Modern states are defined in terms of their control of mapped 
territories. maps have a certain look in which it begins to seem plausible 
or necessary that some boundaries are wrong or artifiical, and so must be 
changed. For example, consider Northern Ireland. Because Ireland is a 
distinct island on the map, the map-reader's eye can easily conclude the 
whole island should be one color. (Only one island in the entire world has 
more than two different nation states on it: Borneo; only a handful have 
two; while tens of thousands of islands are within one state. Likewise, 
the map-reader's eye is unhappy with enclaves surrounded by other 
countries or the lack of clearly demarcated borders, or any territories 
that "belong" to no one. In principle one could imagine several countries 
interpenetrating or overlapping on the same space. Australian tribes, for 
instance, had overlapping home areas or areas through which they moved; 
modern mapped states cannot accommodate such ways of life. (The famous 
topological four-color mapping theorem would have made no sense in a world 
in which a single territory could have overlapping colors.)

Obviously this thesis could be developed much, much further, but perhaps 
I've made the point: without maps, what would wars in the modern sense be? 
Where would they be fought? How would victory, or even partial victory be 
gauged? Why would they seem necessary? What would the defenders defend? 
So, while Coco is of course correct that the damage done by wars are done 
to real people on the real earth and not on maps, maps and the sense of 
necessity they seem to offer cannot be separated from modern wars.

I say modern very deliberately. Pre-Modern wars were (or perhaps even are) 
different; they were not fought over maps. Post-Modern wars -- if acts of 
violence such as terrorism can be thought of as acts of war -- are also 
not about changing the color on maps, necessarily, but about the control 
of attention through other representations such as TV screens or websites. 
Or so I suspect.

Best,

Michael





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