Sunday Reading


As an addendum to my remark about the impossibility of making a perfect system model, and also related to Rachel’s post about the agreeements we must make with our audience about the simplification of our model, I’d like to throw a couple of things that we mentioned in conversation this week up here, because they’re interesting.

The first is quite short, so I can put it on here in its entirety. It’s Borges’ (very) short story, 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

And the second is Umberto Eco’s reflection on that, On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1, from his book of essays How to Travel with a Salmon. You can read a scanned online copy here.

– Nathan

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