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making the break

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#1
margaret

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In the preface to his book "The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film," Stanley Cavell asks himself "what broke my natural relation to film?" by which he means, at what point did his natural relation to film (enthusiastic moviegoer) become this other, total intellectual absorption in film? What event / movie / moment made that break?

Reading this made me wonder the same thing about cartography.

Everybody loves maps--the world is absolutely stuffed with map enthusiasts. Some of those people, at some point, break their natural relation to maps (to use Cavell's words) and cross the line into complete and total absorption.

So I ask you, CartoTalk, what broke your natural relation?

#2
frax

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for me, the natural relation is not broken... yet! I don't see it as some major absorption, I am interested and it is my job, but not much more than that.
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#3
EcoGraphic

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Hmm.... interesting question. For me it is landscape architecture to be sure. Maps are a very powerful tool for the communication of spatial concepts to a multitude of readers/viewers from a huge variety of backgrounds. You shouldn't have to be an expert to be able to read a map. To wade through tons of technical jargon in a planning document however is another story.

I also tend to see patterns in design problems. Landscape Architecture design problems tend to have many layers of information which exist and change over time. Maps help to both aid in the understanding of, and revealing of solutions to complex design problems.
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#4
Matthew Hampton

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A very provocative question...

This initial reply is without the benefit of prolonged conjecture - but for me it was an outgrowth of a previous job as a mountain/river guide that relied on maps for navigational and representational uses.

As I became more knowledgable at looking at the land and understanding the features of the landscape, I was able to more easily sythesize the paper representation of reality (maps) with the existential environment. I then became (meta) aware of the ability to understand my surroundings and to characterize it as a reflection of reality through maps. My leanings toward creative software coupled with foundation in science inevitably led me down the rabbit hole of cartography.

Everybody loves maps, but I think for different reasons. I love helping people see and understand their surroundings better.

co-cartographic creator of boringmaps.com


#5
mdenil

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Any 'natural relationship' one could have with a map is one that resides only within the map reader, evoked by something the reader has read into the map. The usual intention of the map maker is to evoke a recognition by the map reader (user) of a 'relationship' with the map by various means that have become, for that potential user, hallmarks of a conventionalized object called a 'map'. That is to say, each potential user subscribes to some definition of what a map is, of what it is to be a map, and recognizes at least some part of the attributes of map-icty in the encountered object (if not, then the user/reader never suspects the object to be a map). The relationship one has with a map is NEVER natural: it is ALWAYS negotiated in the intersection of what the reader recognizes as legitimate and readable (as a map), and what the map maker has prepared in anticipation of that encounter.

Of course, the map always pretends to be only what it 'is', and insists upon its natural existence: that is the ontology of the map (the map's mythology of legitimate existence).

One can approach maps (or a map), however, on any particular level, simultaneously or in parallel: one is not restricted to any particular reading (although what one takes to be a map maker intended reading is always one legitimate reading that is useful to explore). This openness of the map as a text is an important aspect: that open-ness is what allows each reading of a map by each reader (or multiple readings by a single user) to be a performance.

Most people do not consider these facets of maps. Instead, they buy into what Jean-Paul Sartre referred to as the "naive metaphysics of the image"; the notion that, for instance, a photograph is a non-problematic capture of reality.

So, in answer to the question, I would question margaret's (and everyone's) understanding of terms like "natural relation" "cross the line" and "total absorption". To my mind, it is question of an informed verses a naive understanding. While this is NOT to privilege one understanding over the other (I am NOT saying I know better than everyone else), it IS rather to point out that any number of levels of engagement can be made. We all know, I think, that it is one thing to 'love maps' and another thing to navigate treacherous water with one; it is one thing to read a map and another to compose a complex map graphic that is clear and readable; and so on. One WILLINGLY uses understandings I identify as naive at some point. It is exactly the same naivety as when one believes (for a time) that Wallace Shawn is Uncle Vanya, AND an actor named Wally Shawn playing Uncle Vanya, when we know all along he is an actor playing an actor playing a part in a play; ALL WHILE WATCHING THE PLAY. [Vanya on 42nd Street, 1994].

My only question (purely rhetorical, and addressed to no one here) is: if all this was not endlessly fascinating, then why would one do it?

#6
David T

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Wow, good question. I may have to ponder this, and come up with a thoughtful response in the next couple of days. But, here was my gut reaction:

I've loved maps for as long as I can remember. My mother tells the story of when I was three years old, and had a map puzzle. I would put it together, and take it apart, over and over again.

When I was about 10 years old, we would take some car trips, I would take out a Thomas Guide, and follow the roads, all over the place. How far did a road travel? What did it connect to?

When I started community college, I was an Accounting major. I took a Physical Geography class, and enjoyed it. I ended up taking all of the Geography courses at that community college. When I transfered to University, I decided after one semester that I didn't like the business classes, but I did like the Geography classes.

It was when I started taking Geography classes, and, as a part of that, cartography classes, that I discovered that I wanted to make maps for a living. But, that wasn't until my final year of University.

So, where is that point for me? I'm not sure if it's those road trips as a 10 year old, or my final year in University.
David Toney, GISP
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#7
Nick Springer

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I have to echo David to some degree. I'm not really sure when it happened. As a kid I too poured over maps and atlases. I would read an atlas like a book - not looking up specific places, just going page by page, looking at place names, shapes of the land and wonder why.

I never connected this love of maps with fields of cartography until much later. In high school a discovered a talent for technical and architectural drawing. For college I applied specifically to 5-year architecture programs, and was accepted at Syracuse. After a semester of the cloistered world of 1st year architecture studio, I decided I really wanted a broader education (I was only allowed 1 non-architecture class per semester), so I dropped out of the program.

After floating around at Syracuse I began to take some geography classes and rediscovered my love for maps. It was then that I realized my visual design and technical drawing talents were a good fit for cartography something I had honestly never considered before. I got a job working in the Cart Lab at Syracuse, and the rest - as they say - was history.

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#8
Derek Tonn

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For me I guess it happened when I was in my early 20s. I have LOVED maps (and making maps) my whole life, but I never honestly considered it as a career/profession until after I got out of college and started working in special events and conferencing at a college. We would have meeting planners by the dozen asking "Do you have a good map of campus that I could share with the individuals who will be attending my event?" or "Are there good interior diagrams of the buildings we will be using for our conference so I can help people figure out where they are going?"

The answer was always "no" until I had a "eureka" moment back in 1993: "No we don't have good maps/diagrams to share with you...yet. However, I'll be happy to make one for you!" :-) My boss then let me "moonlight" making maps and diagrams for our institution and, after other colleges started seeing the types of resources we were making available, word spread. Once I started to have more hobby-job hours than I could handle and I decided to make a go of this map-making thing full-time, I think I offically jumped off the cliff and into "obsession" or "absorption" territory...... :lol:

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#9
Hans van der Maarel

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I had always been interested in maps, something that was apparently encouraged by my father and his father (though neither of them have any background in maps or cartography). So when I was in high school and I was about to choose my exam-subjects, I looked around and found that there really was just one place in The Netherlands where you could study cartography full-time. Went to an information day, saw the big tables with the maps and was hooked.

Can't say that I can pin down a time where it went from just an interest to what it is now, it has always felt very natural to me.
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#10
melon_mapper

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I never knew what Cartography was until I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a high schooler I enjoyed looking at maps and while working in my dad's gas station, people would come ask directions and once they left, I kept looking at the map.

I stated at Wisconsin as a business major and once I found the "real requirements" not the published requirements to get into the School of Business, I looked through the College of Letters and Science and came across Cartography and was really interested and amazed that this was offered.

#11
mdenil

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It is interesting that most responses in this thread center on personal histories; all with strong Romanticist overtones. It is the mysterious call of the sublime, a 19th Century idea that most late 20th - early 21st people have lost the vocabulary to describe (although, obviously, they still recognize as legitimately powerful), that seems to have wafted the majority of these posters into the activity.

It would seem that the 'natural relationship' (as mentioned in the opening post) is interpreted by most of the posters as shorthand for that elusive sublime state of being.

We tell our stories, but most boil down to 'mapping found me...'

I have not read Cavell, but I wonder what he could have meant by 'natural relationship'; is it the same thing Margaret understood? Does Cavell nowadays ONLY see film stock choice, lens selection, camera tracking paths, and credits typography when he sees a film? What does he see? How could he be 'totally intellectually absorbed' if he has abandoned some part of his relationship? ESPECILLY if it was the 'natural' part?

#12
David T

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I've done some additional thinking, and I really relate this back to my childhood. Upon further reflection, I remember the thrill of getting my first globe. And how fascinated I was with it. I remember my first atlas, and how I would pour over it, over and over again.

I remember challenging a grade school teacher, when she said "the letter 'q' is always followed by the letter 'u'", and replying that it wasn't the case with 'Iraq'.

As a teenager, I played role playing games, being encouraged to have a good imagination. But, it wasn't enough for me to just imagine it in my mind's eye. I wanted to see where we were going in that fantasy land. So I can remember drawing maps at that age of these fantasy places.

I also remember writing, for my own edification, reports about continents and countries of the world. The physical, cultural, and human geography of each place.

As a young adult (and even to today), I have always enjoyed playing the computer game SimCity. I even remember playing my own version of SimCity as a 10 year old, though, with a sheet of paper and a pencil.

And, when I attended my 10 year high school reunion, I was crowned 'guy with the coolest job' for being a cartographer.

The more I think about it, I naturally gravitated to maps. I don't know that I would say that maps found me, or that I found maps. We just always seemed to go together. It just seems natural that I would be a cartographer. The only other thing I did as a 5 year old was play with Star Wars figures. So, I suppose it was either maps or design action figures. :P

(Is this a lesson to parents? Note what your kids are doing at an early age. Perhaps that's what they will be doing as an adult?)
David Toney, GISP
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#13
DaveB

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I'm not sure I've "made the break" (I'm not even sure I understand the terms "total intellectual absorption" or "natural relationship" or "making the break"). I wouldn't call my love of maps "total intellectual absorption". I can enjoy looking at maps just for the fun of exploring the content and the art, and even do so without necessarily critiquing the map. So it's not just "intellectual". I have other interests outside of cartography and maps, so it's not "total". I can get absorbed in looking at maps, so I guess "absorption" can apply part of the time.

If it's asking what I think it's asking I think this kind of question assumes an epiphany of sorts, that incident or point in time or something you can point to and say "There, that's when it happened". But I don't think it happens that way sometimes. For me maps are something I've had an interest in for as long as I can remember. Maybe the interest grows stronger as I learn more about maps and mapping or maybe it's just a more informed interest.

Does this mean I have to give up my "I'm a huge map geek" badge? :unsure:
Dave Barnes
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