Category Archives: geography

Risible-Numinous

Some of my most off-the-wall thinking happens as I’m waking up. A few days ago Therianthropes guard the bridge between the risible and the numinous bubbled to the surface and I managed to write it down before it went off into the stratosphere. This morning it occurred to me that there was a map to be drawn of the territory of the Risible and the Numinous, on either side of the Ot River (think: Buda and Pest…), having squares and streets and buildings associated with people and movements. The Surrealists surely inhabit the land of the Risible; William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg and Charles Peirce hang out in Numinous territory, along with Leonardo and Michelangelo (despite the questionable proclivities of the latter pair). Most Cubists are denizens of Risible (though Picasso has moved back and forth), and cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Kliban and Gahan Wilson are to be found in especially disreputable parts of Risible territory, where the tattoo parlors are and punk musicians hang. Some of my photographs definitely belong in one or the other:


3ii1812crop 1i1872adj
are obviously Risible, and

6xi1812 Wass066trac
might make it to Numinous. And what of
numinous2
(the lattermost from Roger Caillois’ collection)?

I think these might be guardian therianthropes on the bridge:

Saltus beach hands up

So I’m starting to gather up waypoints and toponyms for this possible map, along the lines of (but of course less glorious than) maps of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork:

Look on the works, ye mighty

My recent trip to the west coast and back (see my photostream) didn’t disclose anything so glorious as what Doc Searls seems to capture effortlessly (well, probably not without considerable effort, in fact…) with his crisscrossings of the continent. Here’s one from his latest:

2012_06_12_bos-ewr-lax_342

and you can read some exegesis here. This comes along, providentially, as I’m enjoying Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter The Long Earth . Doc is one of my Heroes, for sure. Wish I could be half so clear and consistent in my use of this medium, and he just has it right about photography and Ideas and, obviously, Cluetrain. Over the years his blog has educated me gently and surprisingly.

meteorological drama

It’s been like this for several hours: howling snowstorm outside, band of sleet just off shore, rain out to sea. Hard to say how much is on the ground, what with the drifting.
weather now

Nice big heaps of logs by the stoves, and the plow will arrive sometime in the morning. No worries.

Mapping Afghan Ethnicities

I have a long-running fascination with spatial distribution of, well, pretty much anything and everything. One of the slipperiest things to map is ethnic identity, but that hasn’t deterred legions of cartographers (though in fact the cartographers are mostly hired help, assisting anthropologists, demographers, census-takers, colonial masters, the military…). One of my favorite examples of the pitfalls of ethnic mapping is George Peter Murdock’s effort to define the territories of peoples in Africa:

[adapted from Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (1959)]
Pretty much everything is wrong with this map, starting with the very notion of a clear boundary (a line) to define where a “tribe” (ooooh, hateful word…) starts and stops (ethnic plurality and complex interdigitation is much more common than ethnic homogeneity, for all sorts of very good and highly location-specific reasons). At best, one might say that ethnicities have foci (perhaps hearths would be a better characterization) and force-fields that (seem to) emanate from a sort-of cultural identity centroid… but then there’s the problem of defining an ethnicity (does a person get only ONE?) and comprehending what its earmarks and contents might be (just what is “culture” anyway? –a problem that vexes anthropologists permanently). Sort of a long runup to a pointer to Ghost of Alexander’s “Fun with Ethnic Maps”, which showcases 7 versions of the ethnic territories of Afghanistan. The message here isn’t that one shouldn’t attempt to map slippery concepts, but rather that any map is a starting point for discussion and elaboration, and not an authority, and especially not a permanent authority. Pretty much any phenomenon worth mapping is likely to squirm around over time, and we’re just beginning to have the wherewithal to construct and distribute dynamic maps. Fascinating times, these.