Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steig said it all

I was reflecting on the way home last night on the differences between a scientific and a subjective perspective last night, and how a picture of the world from the latter necessarily makes where we are (or where the author/artist/audience is) the center of the universe. And then this morning I was reading the Caldecott Award acceptance speech by William Steig, who was given the award in 1970 for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. The book has been reissued with a fresh set of the illustrations based on the original watercolors, and has a copy of the speech at the back.
Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead to useful discovery.
So there you are.

What I was reflecting last night again is how cartographic maps and other scientific communication intentionally leave out any of the content that is personal, including point of view. As I've discussed earlier, the idea is to create a pidgin point of view that bridges the subjective points of view and personal biases. But in doing so by leaving out the personal and subjective, we also leave out of the discussion the "mystery of things." We depend on that discussion happening elsewhere.

It has been suggested that this lack of the subjective, of the "mystery of things," in cartography
is a fault. But I want to suggest that the problem is the separating of cartography into its own little ontological niche. Cartography is a part of a wider discussion, and it performs a valuable role. But is a role, and not the entirety of the play.


Joe Banks said...

As my 11 month old daughter begins to communicate through words (and begins to navigate repetitively around our little apartment), I realize that the very basis of our names for things, and of our sense of the relationship between places emanates from our bodies, from the center of our sense of self.

In an architectural project I'm working on now, a school located in a brownfield urban social disaster, I keep trying to make that center happen geographically and architecturally, and I keep thinking of the Eliade quote "In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation is established, the hierophany [appearance of the Sacred] reveals an absolute fixed point, a center."

Almost every ritual that Eliade analyzes follow this pattern, of re-creating the center. From the Catholic Mass to the Greater Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, movements and words are used to create the center, to reaffirm that we are re-visiting the very center point of the universe .... and perhaps we are, at least in the sense that the center of our Self is probably an undisbuted Center.

However, I find some interest in the way that movement(s) and words create this center, whether for my toddler, or for a Lakota healer.

On the other side of things, I think about the isometric projection in architecture, particularly in its use by modernist architects like Corbusier -- its power is that it actually doesn't privilege any particular perspective point, showing all distances in the same proportion of accuracy/distortion. It's the perspective that one sees from satelite photos, and is the 3D allegory of a 2D map, or of the way Nat's presenting scientific discourse.

The closer one gets to the line, the less personal, the more de-entered the representation becomes. The closer one gets to the body, the more centered, the more personal representation becomes.

natcase said...

Yup. Not much more to say.