Dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ships be­tween maps and the land­scape

The land­scape is ev­ery­thing a map fails to grasp of the world and to ex­press in terms of the sep­a­ra­tion be­tween sub­ject and ob­ject, plac­ing some dis­tance be­tween them

Domus - - CONTENTS - Text by Franco Franelli

Let’s say it right away: the land­scape, the form of a place, is ev­ery­thing that a map, i.e space, fails to grasp. It is ev­ery­thing that es­capes spa­tial cap­ture. The land­scape is a lim­it­less ques­tion, its ex­is­tence pos­ing the prob­lem of how there can be a whole that is vis­i­ble but lacks bound­aries and so can­not be mea­sured. For this very rea­son, it raises a prob­lem that is very hard to re­solve: that of to­tal­ity. This serves, how­ever, to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the land­scape from all the other mod­els ap­pli­ca­ble to the Earth which are, on the con­trary, by their very na­ture cir­cum­scribed and with which peo­ple have ca­su­ally and hur­riedly been tend­ing to equate it for some time. Land­scape, area and space are not bod­ies of things but ways of por­tray­ing them. In the lan­guage of Got­t­lob Frege, the fa­ther of con­tem­po­rary an­a­lytic phi­los­o­phy, they do not cor­re­spond to the mean­ing of Earth (which is the Earth it­self; the mean­ing is the thing) but to its sen­sa­tions, to the var­i­ous spe­cific ways in which the Earth presents it­self; how it gives it­self. Each of these ways stems from a spe­cific in­ten­tion, a dif­fer­ent form of his­tor­i­cally de­ter­mined col­lec­tive will; it obeys a gaze that up­holds a dif­fer­ent project from the ex­ist­ing one. The land­scape is ev­ery­thing a map fails to grasp of the world and re­duce to its essence, i.e to ex­press in terms of the sep­a­ra­tion be­tween sub­ject and ob­ject, plac­ing some dis­tance be­tween them. We can be even more tren­chant: only the di­aphragm that is a map al­lows the dis­tinc­tion be­tween sub­ject and ob­ject. By con­trast, the land­scape model is founded on pre­cisely the im­pos­si­bil­ity of such a sep­a­ra­tion, such a de­tach­ment, and on the non-ex­is­tence of any in­ter­val be­tween the two es­sen­tial terms of the cog­ni­tive process. The at­tempt to hold sub­ject and ob­ject in­dis­tin­guish­ably to­gether ef­fec­tively ended in the mid-19th cen­tury with the sub­sti­tu­tion of a “read­ing pub­lic that de­bated crit­i­cally about mat­ters of cul­ture by the mass pub­lic of cul­ture con­sumers”, to use the words of a young Haber­mas; and with the end of the project to know the Earth that was crit­i­cal and po­lit­i­cally civilly ori­ented, i.e. could trans­form bour­geois knowl­edge from aes­thetic-lit­er­ary knowl­edge to sci­en­tific knowl­edge, one no longer ca­pa­ble of only de­scrib­ing the world but also of con­trol­ling and chang­ing it. It was in this way and within this strat­egy that the con­cept of land­scape – of pic­to­rial and lit­er­ary ori­gin – be­came part of sci­en­tific anal­y­sis, thanks to Alexan­der von Hum­boldt. In the sec­ond vol­ume of his prin­ci­pal work, Kos­mos, pub­lished in Ber­lin in 1847, he dis­tin­guishes be­tween three stages of knowl­edge, three stages in the cog­ni­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­mans and their en­vi­ron­ment, valid not only in the phy­lo­ge­n­e­sis sense of the his­tory of the hu­man race as a whole but also in that of on­to­ge­n­e­sis, the his­tory

of the in­di­vid­ual. The first stage is that of the im­pres­sion (Ein­druck) that stirs in the hu­man soul as an orig­i­nary man­i­fes­ta­tion, a primeval sen­ti­ment be­fore the grandios­ity and beauty of na­ture. Its cog­ni­tive form is, in­deed, that of the land­scape which cor­re­sponds to the world in the sense of a har­mo­nious aes­thetic-sen­ti­men­tal whole to which all ra­tio­nal anal­y­sis is (still) alien – and so it re­gards only the sub­ject’s men­tal fac­ulty. Ein­druck is a com­pound and only seem­ingly sim­ple word. Druck means im­pres­sion and also ap­plies to that of type­face on a white sheet of pa­per. For Hum­boldt, how­ever, it in­vests the sen­si­tiv­ity of the ob­serv­ing sub­ject: the white sheet is their soul and the land­scape fea­tures are the letters printed on it. How­ever, the other half of the term, the pre­fix Ein, is of equal im­por­tance. De­spite mean­ing “one”, it ac­tu­ally per­forms a dual func­tion. On the one hand, it refers to sin­gu­lar­ity, to the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the ob­serv­ing sub­ject, and ob­serv­ing starts the knowl­edge process. Equally, it sig­nals a sub­ject’s ten­dency to re­duce an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of im­pres­sions to a sin­gle unit, in such a way that – from the very first and al­beit only on an aes­thetic and im­pres­sion plane – the cog­ni­tive sphere is con­fig­ured as a to­tal­ity, as a whole pre­dis­posed to re­veal the or­der “con­cealed be­neath the skin of the phe­nom­ena”, of which the sub­ject it­self is an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part. The to­tal­ity is trans­formed and re­stored not in terms of an aes­thetic and sen­ti­men­tal im­pres­sion but a sci­en­tific one in the fi­nal stage of the cog­ni­tive process, where it takes the form of a Zusam­men­hang, the con­nec­tion of ev­ery­thing with every other thing. The de­vel­op­ment of every knowl­edge is, ac­cord­ing to Hum­boldt, none other than the trans­la­tion, at long last in sci­en­tific terms, of an au­ro­ral im­pres­sion, the one ex­pressed by the land­scape which is ab­so­lutely not sci­en­tific but with­out which all sci­ence would be im­pos­si­ble. In to­day’s sci­en­tific lan­guage, Hum­boldt’s Zusam­men­hang equates with com­plex­ity or rather with global com­plex­ity. It is undis­putable that when the his­tory of global thought, i.e. that of glob­al­ity, is writ­ten, Hum­boldt should be given a place of un­qual­i­fied promi­nence by the West. Mean­while, Gre­gory Bate­son was right: ecol­ogy is some­thing that pri­mar­ily con­cerns the mind and the thought mod­els with which we try to come to terms with every re­al­ity. What do we do when we mul­ti­ply two very big num­bers? We use pen­cil and pa­per to re­duce a com­plex prob­lem to a se­ries of sim­pler prob­lems. We find the so­lu­tion via an in­ter­linked se­ries of it­er­a­tive com­ple­tions of the model and by re­mem­ber­ing the par­tial re­sults thanks to the pa­per. It is per­haps the first form of sym­bolic ma­nip­u­la­tion we have man­aged, in which the out­side en­vi­ron­ment be­comes a vi­tal ex­ten­sion of our minds. Tra­di­tional ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence based on the sim­ple dis­tinc­tion be­tween sym­bol and rule com­mit­ted a fun­da­men­tal er­ror by re­duc­ing the whole, con­sist­ing in the cog­ni­tive pro­file of the agent and its sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, to the sim­ple cog­ni­tive pro­file of the brain. In re­cent years, how­ever, things have changed, to the de­gree that we no longer know where the mind ends and the world be­gins. So we speak of the “ex­tended mind”, see Andy Clark and David Chalmers: a

de­vice in which it is clearly ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, ex­cept in­stru­men­tally speak­ing, to dis­tin­guish be­tween hu­man men­tal func­tions and those of the “ma­chines’ ma­chin­ery”, of the car­to­graph­i­cal de­vice from which all ma­chines orig­i­nated and also of ev­ery­thing that con­sti­tutes the whole of el­e­ments that we con­cisely call “en­vi­ron­ment”. This is be­cause the In­ter­net ap­peared in 1969 and, as ex­plained by Manuel Castells, when we say “In­ter­net” we mean an ag­gre­gate within which it is im­pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish be­tween the ma­chine (hard­ware), its in­built in­tel­li­gence (soft­ware) and the men and women tasked with their func­tion­ing. Suf­fice to add that, pre­cisely like Hum­boldt’s first stage of knowl­edge, the form of per­cep­tion re­quired by the In­ter­net does not en­tail a dis­tinc­tion i.e the dis­tance be­tween sub­ject and ob­ject, pre­cisely be­cause, just like the land­scape, the In­ter­net world is the epit­ome of the anti-Kan­tian world, within which time and space have vir­tu­ally no im­por­tance any­more; in­deed, they have al­most com­pletely ter­mi­nated all their con­stituent func­tions. In short: to date, or al­most, the mind model has been the map, a lim­ited but open struc­ture and all moder­nity has per­ceived and con­structed the world in its im­age, i.e spa­tially. To­day, how­ever, glob­al­i­sa­tion – via the deadly ve­hi­cle that is the In­ter­net – forces us to ac­knowl­edge that the world is not a map but a sphere, a globe, the struc­ture of which can­not be re­duced to a map; on the con­trary, it is closed but un­lim­ited which means, above all, not only that there is no longer a dis­tance ex­cept the dif­fer­ence be­tween sub­ject and ob­ject but that every per­cep­tion of the world is, pre­cisely and solely like that of the land­scape, an in­formed im­age of Hum­boldt’s “sen­si­tive­in­fin­ity”, of the in­evitably in­com­plete na­ture of what we see, the struc­turally un­fin­ished na­ture of what we know and the pro­gram­mat­i­cally par­ti­san (also when tend­ing to­wards to­tal­ity) na­ture of what we do.

Franco Farinelli (Or­tona, 1948) is the di­rec­tor of the De­part­ment of Phi­los­o­phy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Univer­sity of Bologna. His most re­cent publi­ca­tions in­clude L’in­ven­zione della Terra, Sel­le­rio ed­i­tore, Palermo 2016.

This spread: Pas­sage of Quindiu, in the Cordillera of the An­des. Drawing by Koch. En­grav­ing. Next spread: Rope Bridge over the Chambo River at Penipe, Ecuador. En­grav­ing. Both from Vues des cordil­lières et mon­u­mens des pe­u­ples in­digènes de l’Amérique, by Alexan­der von Hum­boldt with Aimé Bon­pland, F. Schoell, Paris 1810

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