Thursday, October 10, 2013
Flying out of O'Hare, bearing southeast, the strict crosshatch of Chicago's streets and close-set houses gives way to more liquid suburban subdivisions, and then to Indiana's fields, green and tan and brown, sections and half sections and quarter sections and little rectagular subsubsections.
They call it a checkerboard, as if Jefferson's curse was a game. It's a game that doesn't end. There is no checkmate. Chess, checkers, Scrabble, go, the gridiron of the football field... each contains our ambitions to eviscerate the opponent, each outlines the field of play. We walk off th field, and the game is over. But we cannot walk off of Jefferson's gameboard without leaving home.
Ptolemy never meant his latitude and longitude to be inscribed back onto the ground, to guide roads and property lines. He wanted to create a guide, a system to transfer his sketch map of places and coastlines into the freshly-plastered wall. He wanted others to draw the same picture of the vast world he had recorded, over and over.
One and a half millennia later, transplanted rationalists saw in the New World a clean slate, and so city after American city rose, squared and aligned with the next. The people who lived here prior to these rationalists worshipped the four directions; the Europeans carved them over and over into the ground, they used them to worship their own dreams of empire.
Here's what I think we need: storytellers who walk new dreamlines, or find the old dreamlines, in our world. We need to unmap ourselves, ungrid the land. Then we can map lightly, the lines left imaginary. We can measure without cutting, and know without pretending to own.
With thanks to the Harrisons.