Personal Cartography: Research (pt 2)

Further reading in the You are here book introduced me to allegorical maps, which also seemed to be relevant to my chosen theme of maps with narrative.

As we navigate on the trip that Dante called ‘our life’s way’, we are all creating private maps… we are laying a new set of lines down on a known but changing world… To orientate is to hop back and forth between landscape and time, geography and emotion, knowledge and behaviour.

Stephen Hall, ‘J. Mercator’ in You Are Here 2004

This extract felt especially relevant to the purposes I had in mind for my map – to help me navigate this new chapter in my life amongst a new landscape – to destinations unknown. How to draw a map to a place not yet known that can only be imagined? I must turn to fiction and allegory, with an element of fantasy.

We need some secure oasis of order, even if only a memory (or a fiction), as a home port for our various explorations, our attempts to make sense of the unknown.

Stephen Hall, as above
Example in You Are Here

This complicated visual allegory for the Road to Success seemed highly relevant here. Beginning at the bottom left, we follow the individuals setting out in hopes of success and see them facing many obstacles and distractions along the route which snakes up a tall hill, including ‘bad habits’ and ‘shortcuts’ leading straight to the river of failure. The only assured way to get to the top is to get on the ‘right system’ train at the very beginning. This has some troubling overtones of elitism, but the illustrative representation of the narrative here, with pitfalls and a snaking path to indicate time and toil, are of interest. However, I think it is perhaps over-complicated, ominously dark and perhaps not easily grasped by the casual viewer.

Likely preceding this unknown illustration however was Madame de Scudery, who is attributed as the original creator of allegorical maps with her ‘Carte de tendre’ that features in her 1661 novel Clelie.

Here, Scudery lays out the possible routes and distractions along the course of a woman seeking to journey to ‘Tendre’ from the place of ‘New Friendship’, along the rivers of Recognition, Esteem and Inclination, or along Constant Friendship to the left (past the sea of enmity), and Goodness on the right (past the lake of indifference). Marriage was notably excluded from the map, with Scudery herself believing women should be emancipated from matrimony (as her novel’s heroine is).

As for the previous example, it is noteworthy the map is read from bottom to top, with landmarks used to denote key way markers in progress and/or key obstacles or detours to be avoided in pursuit of the destination. Not unlike a fable or moral tale, it advises the reader and cautions on what to look out for in their own life journey.