Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Borges short-story, relating to the Foucault discussion

On Exactitude in Science

. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

From Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Translated by Andrew Hurley Copyright Penguin 1999 .


Anonymous said...

Borges is such a badass. I have to say, Chinese Encyclopaedia will always be my favorite. I love Foucault's use of the Borges passage not only because it so succinctly shows a way of classifying the world that would compel someone to undertake an archaeology like the one Foucault takes on, and it shows Foucault's sense of humor. (I think his analysis of Vasquez' Las Meninas does the same thing...God, I love that book!) Humor, in my opinion, is one of philosophy's greatest tools, and yet we spend so little time discussing it--generally speaking or in specific uses.

Scott Abbott said...

This map so perfect that it is the same size as what it depicts and thus useless is a fine example of the limits of "natural" language, exactly what Foucault was getting at, I think, when he pointed out the practicality of conventional language for analysis.

Antoine Cassar said...

Thankyou ever so much for this! I came via Boing Boing, searching for information on the relationship between maps and literature.

All the best,

Antoine Cassar

Anonymous said...

such a map, as borges defined, would be useless before it is beeing "built".
we already know, (we sure do ... no?) but no one cares.