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The body and geography.

TRADITIONALLY," which is to say in most times and places prior to the "New Geography" of early modern Europe, the tie between the body and geography ("description of the earth") has been primordial, intimate, and manifold. According to modern phenomenology, the body is made for earthly space, as--in an immediate sense--earthly space becomes manifest through the perceiving and feeling body. Bodies not only perceive space or things-in-space through any combination of their five senses, but their very design--their "handedness," their slightly uneven bifurcatedness--orientates or situates them qualitatively within space and fits them to manipulate things-in-space. Bipedalism not only equips the body to move through space but propels it as well.

Little wonder, then, if traditional geographies or pictures of the earth are deeply imprinted by the body. One primordial entail of the body is "the practice of dividing the circle of the horizon into four cardinal directions," which (as a historian of religion writes) "is almost universal." Only with the development of a concept of azimuth (whereby one point was fixed on the horizon) did this directional scheme become "more abstract and useful." Azimuth itself, however, is also keyed to the body; to the felt value of one direction over (and indeed against) another. East is sacralized in Jewish and Christian tradition ("and, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came by the way of the East," Numbers 2.2.3). West and north are ominous. However, as east is (roughly) the direction of the rising sun, it tended to be sacralized by other religions as well. For this reason, and because of the growing importance of Jerusalem, the Jewish (and the traditional Christian) geographies tended to be keyed to Jerusalem as to a sacred center rather than to the sacred direction. As such, they resembled other omphalos- (or navel) centered cosmographies, such as ancient Greek and Chinese. In such cosmographies, geographic boundaries are equally valorized if somewhat paradoxical. Conceding that there is indeed earth beyond the boundaries of the earth, such boundaries assert the limits of the properly human or habitable. Beyond the limits of the Greek oikumene (or "house-world") are wild beasts, monstrous bodies, impassible deserts, mountains, ocean, insufferable heat or cold. Even within the oikumene, the rooms (continents) were of variable quality. Following Herodotus, the Hippocratic treatise Airs Waters Places pronounces that Europeans "will be well nourished, of very fine physique and very tall," because Europe is "situated midway between the heat and the cold [and] is very fruitful ... very mild." Asiatics, on the other hand, are "less homogeneous ... because of the changes of the seasons and the character of the region." If human races tend to be geographically imprinted in traditional geographies, so too the geographic image--the imago mundi--fairly glows with affect. (To the Beowulf poet, the earth is "wlite-beorhtne wang, swa waeter bebugeth" or "a gleaming plain girdled with waters.") From late Roman thought (primarily Macrobius) into the Renaissance, it was commonplace to think of the world as a macrocosm in which the human body was recapitulated as microcosm. Again, the "world of earth" (Orbis Terrarum) was astrologically predicated by the environing spheres.

In all these contexts, the primary fact about early modern geography is the emptying of the body from the world picture. The so-called "New Geography" can be thought of as an amalgam of the new geographic discoveries (vast new lands and oceans) with the dramatic developments in cartographic science that had made these discoveries possible. In none of the three standard narratives of the New Geography is the body a real player. For the post-Baconian, scientistic narrative, the key development is an "objective" spatial awareness predicated on a mathematical "graticule" (keyed to itself alone) from which precisely the bodily "geography of myth and dogma" is absent. For the deconstructive and materialist critique of this narrative stemming from Henri Lefebvre's Production of Space, the new cartography is seen as a Faustian demiurge, actively producing the regimented spaces of an emergent capitalist order in the service of which traditional spaces are consigned to the trash-heaps of history, myth, and legend. (For Lefebvre, it is axiomatic that the "space of the inhabitant" and of tradition alike is as helpless as Goethe's Philemon and Baucis before Faust's stupendous conversion of their pastoral retreat into a heavy-industry park.) In a third and phenomenologically keyed narrative, the new cartography decisively entrenches the relatively plastic and neutral concept of "space" at the expense of the innately human, value-laden (and body-bound) category of "place."

These differing narratives of the New Geography all concur in one thing: the relegation of the body from the new world picture. This does not mean that archaic, body-related habits of thought do not persist. (The ancient Hebrew formulation of "the ends of the earth" remains current, as does the idea of monstrous races.) But it does mean that body and map stand in a new relation to each other. Maps are still handled by bodies and thus retain their tops and bottoms and sides, but the top of the map is now "north" and no longer coincident with a sacred direction. There are no sacred directions in the post-Ortelian world map (even though a certain directional bias and meaning is unconsciously asserted). The body is no longer overtly figured in the map. There is no omphalos, no point of geographic convergence, no navel linking earth to heaven. Even though bodies abound in the margins of the ornate Carte a Figures, they are just that: marginal. Nor is there any technical provision for "privileging" simply remarkable places. (The "Red Sea" is no longer necessarily red, as on medieval maps.) Color itself is no longer a core aspect of geographic signification, but optional, decorative, parergonal. (Coloring was done after the stage of engraving, which itself followed a long way after the cartography proper.) The map no longer glows with affect.

In one account, the loss of bodily authority had frightening consequences. Unmirrored in the map, the body was lost, disoriented, fragmented. Donne's Anniversaries testify to the panic of a body unable to recognise an oikos (an answerable architecture) in the heavens. In the geographic counterpart to these poems, "Hymn to God my God in my Sickness," Donne attempts to anthropomorphize an Ortelian world map in the image of his own dying body--searching it for a navel, a sacred cord between this world and the next, but finding only disintegration or at best a sonorous nostalgia for the placial hospitality of the old geography. There is of course a more upbeat account (one indulged by Donne himself as erotic cartographer) in which the map promises the body more and better room than it has ever known. While the body may not be in the map, it enlarges itself thereby--treating the map as a plastic space for the projection or extension of desire. Like Tamburlaine's sword, the map is now a kind of mental hand-prop, an organ of imaginative prehension.

The new partnership of body and map is staged in an early modern topos, most familiar today in the Marlovian and Shakespearean phrase "great riches in a little room" or Donne's "one little room" that is "an everywhere," but in fact the invention of geographers--such as William Cunningham, who praises maps for their convenience in contracting the wide world within "a warme & pleasant house, without the perill of the raging Seas: danger of enemies: losse of time: spending of substaunce: werines of body or anguishe of minde." It is as if the interior is that much cozier for the presence of a map: the beguiling image rather than the overwhelming substance of lands and seas, the goal of travel without the pains of travel. Far from disturbing the body, the contemplation of cartographized exteriority actually intensifies the body's sense of housedness, of cocoonment. The burning and frigid zones collapse into the comfort zone as into a overstuffed armchair.

In view of Gail Kern Paster's argument that early modern ideas of "the passions" presupposed a body directly impacted upon and interpenetrated by the natural world, what might have been the consequences of such cocoonment for the body's powers of affect? Sheltered from the perils of travel, Cunningham's cartographer is alike preserved from the vicissitudes of passion ("anguishe of minde"). The scene of cartography has but one actor, one character. With no love interest (outside of the protagonist himself) and no antagonist, there is no agon, no storm of passion such as imagined in strikingly geographic imagery by Thomas Wright: "wee may compare the soule without passions, to a calme sea ... but the passionate to a raging gulfe swelling with waues, surging by tempests, minacing the stony rockes, and endeuoring to ouerthrow mountaines" (The Passions of the Minde [1601], 100). Somewhat like Cunningham, who opposes the terrors of voyaging to the pleasures of map-reading, Wright opposes a Thalassically liquid passion to the calibrated certainties of intellect. The wise man maps his passions, determining their whereabouts by reference to the stars: "An angry man raiseth brawles ... men had neede of an Astrolabe alwayes, to see in what height or eleuation his affections are" (10). Just as he never gets his feet wet or his hands dirty, so cartographic man avoids getting hot under the collar.

Visual forms of the scene of cartography can be found in Vermeer's bourgeois interiors, where maps constantly feature as backdrops to the mundane domesticities enacted before them. Two almost academic variants of the topos are found in "The Geographer" and "The Astronomer"--each posed by the same stylishly begowned model, each figure poring over maps or globes within the privacy of his study. A phenomenological reading these paintings might suggest that the "far sphere" (the space of the eye) is brought within the ambit of the "near sphere" (the Kernwelt or space of touch). One notes the "distant" gaze of "The Geographer" in particular. Focusing neither on the map on the table below him nor on the window behind, he gazes into an indeterminate mental distance between both. (There is evidence that at an earlier stage of this composition the head had been down and the gaze fixed upon the map.)

How different is this cartographic mise en scene from that figured by the medieval TO map. Such a map was either hung in a church (itself "oriented" towards the sacred direction) to inspire recognition of the redemptive plan inscribed within its geographic content, or routinely figured in the plataea of the Mystery plays as the literal mise en scene of earthly existence. The pull of the TO map was centrifugal rather than centripetal, invoking the pilgrim rather than the voyager (return to origin rather than far horizon), and perambulation rather than sedentary scheming. Redemption rather than romance was the narrative key; the journey was not to "California" but the foot of the cross.

The difference between the respective "scenes" of the old and new geographies is epitomised in the shift (over a corresponding period) in the meaning of the word "room." The "little room" that Marlowe and Shakespeare imagine as the site of "great riches" represents a substantial narrowing of an earlier spectrum of meanings associated with this word. Old and Middle English "rum" is not necessarily or even primarily an "interior portion of a building." In Old English, "rum" is more often an adjective or adverb than a noun (and when a noun, as in Judith, signifies "opportunity"). In Beowulf, a grieving father finds his fields and dwelling ("wongas and wic-stede") all too large ("eall to rum") now that his son is dead. "Rum" here evidently means something like "spacious"--a roominess rather than a "littleness"--intimately tied to bodily percept and affectivity. A rift opens up between "rum" and the body in the Middle English usage of "a particular portion of space." Finally, from 1457, the word takes on the sense of "an interior portion of a building."

Considered within the scene of cartography, "room" can be said to have withdrawn from "rum" 's archaically vague and yet bodybound claim to "spaciousness." In addition to being "little," "room" is now an interior and a noun. It is an object rather than a precept, a static shell rather than a supple and body-following adjective or adverb. For its part, "space" now seems immensely large once contrasted with "room" (rather than coextensive with "rum"). "Space" had been held back by "rum." Even in its extensive form, "rum" was never the equal of "space." Where space was and is, "continuous, unbounded or unlimited extension in every direction," "rum"--because of its necessary tie to the body--could never be bigger than "enough." With no anchorage in the body, "space" could be infinite ("I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams"). Equally, space was untextured, unfelt, colorless, and potentially monstrous ("O indistinguished space of womens' will"). There was no space for "rum" in the maps of the New Geography. (By contrast, "rum" was the only kind of space on the TO map.) So unqualitied, indeed, was the space of the New Cartography, that it was not necessarily or even primarily geographic. In early modern anatomy textbooks, the body itself becomes the object of the cartographic gaze (the body as Korpor studied by the body as Lieb, the dead mapped by the living).

In terms of the body, the early modern "scene of cartography" is a paradox. Having withdrawn from the "space" of the map--as from its own primordially vague claims pon spaciousness--the "room" was nevertheless fundamental to the cultural image of the map, particularly that of the world map. It is as if the cartographer's room had become the unconscious equivalent of the ancient omphalos, the link between the map and the human world, the human body. In the "scene of cartography," "room" complements "space" precisely because represented as its opposite. The exterior contracts into the map, and the body within the room. Neither is the other. But together, they are going places.

JOHN GILLIES is Professor in Literature at the University of Essex. He has written extensively on early modern theater and spatial poetics.
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Author:Gillies, John
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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