Accepted paper:

Mapping utopia: exceptional states, states of exception, and the visualization of non-place


Joshua Babcock (The University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

What are the technologies of Utopia? How does the state navigate between history (including those of its reproductive technologies) and the utopian, even impossible futures that lie always beyond its grasp? This speculative work explores these questions through three cartographic portfolios.

Paper long abstract:

This work explores "the island" as a figure for cognizing states of (spatial) nonbeing. Historians of cartography have shown how, beginning in the 13th century, islands accorded the graphic conventions for visualizing that crucial feature of the state, the territory (Steinberg 2005). The social life of cartographic islands can be extended from the Medieval Islamic world—where the mapping of nonexistent islands indicated a place's richness—to the 'Utopia' of Thomas More (1515), which collapsed island, city, and state into a single nonexistent (perhaps satirical) entity that proved fertile for mapmakers and political theorists, and beyond: habits of visualizing islands motivated 20th century German "language island" research, where maps "revealed" German speakers stranded "in a sea of foreign language and culture" (Braun 2016, Höfler 1955). Drawing inspiration from Turnbull's 1989 'Maps are Territories: Science is an Atlas,' the present work comprises three cartographic portfolios "conceived and structured not as a linear verbal narrative[,] but as a progression of...exhibits [that] exercise the [viewer's] skills of visualization and visual analysis" (v): (1) Mapping Riches, Insularity, and Comprehensibility; (2) Suggestive Cartography and the Linguistic Image of Empire; and (3) Fixing Master-Planned Futures. Through these portfolios, I explore the following questions: what are the technologies through which territory, space, and (non-)place are visualized? How does the state navigate between and relate to the histories of its means of visual-technological reproduction and the creative production of ideal, not-yet-existent, even impossible futures (or pasts) that lie always beyond its grasp?

panel P55
States beyond states