A map of the world that does not include utopia
is not even worth glancing sat.
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of man under Socialism
At the exact the centre of the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the 13th century map of the known world, is a small hole. Around that hole is a birds-eye view of Jerusalem, the ‘navel’ of the inhabited earth. Orientated to the top of the map is the east, and right on that eastern edge, as though at the dawn of time, is Paradise.
In contemporary maps, we stand at the centre. Aided by the ‘Current Location’ geo-location feature on our smart phones, and a plethora of geo-positioning satellites orbiting the earth.
With the dawn of the Renaissance had come a shift in thought; from the transcendental, to the ephemeral. The Christiocentric cartography of the mappae
mundi had become the egocentric geographical information system of Google Maps. This sort of mapping consists of a simplified hyper real digital realm in which no place has been allowed for the Paradise of the mappae
mundi. So what has happened to this locatable, but inaccessible Other place within our own world?
My basic argument is that even though our concept of what Paradise is has altered across the years, our response, and desire for its existence has gone unwavered. Though it may not be where we now expect it to be. I believe that to the every day observer Paradise is located in a misinterpreted canny commodification and consumerism palm lined beach of pleasure. But in reality, it is more apparent in our uncanny disillusionment and shame of our exile from the very centre of our being.
The medieval notions of Paradise, generally focused within mapping, were reflective of the socio-political conditions of the day and the power of the Church which enabled its existence. It’s representation in cartography served as a reminder of our origins, the circumstances of our place in the world, and a prophetic view of our life after death. But as objects, the maps were subjective culturals texts, full of authorial intent and the gaze of the viewer.
After the strong image of a Paradise of original innocence in the middle ages, the concept changed. Advances in metaphysical thought and ‘western philosophical tradition’ drove Paradise from maps. But the idea never diappeared due to the indesputable knowledge of the mans own existance, and the ability for man to take hold of his own happiness through a virtuous life, guided by rational morality.
Even after the certainly mans own existence was questioned, and the familiarity of prenence and centre were subverted into the uncanny, the desire for Paradise survived.
Even once our know world had become mapped in such hyper-real detail, we turned to the new cyber realities where we could control our desires, and even our own existence, albeit virtual. We hid our fear of exile in a conterfeit Paradise hoping to satisfy our pleasures.
My aim is to explore whether our modern notion of Paradise is misinterpreted as ‘pleasure’; and is in fact a subversion of our shame and fear of exile in our own uncanny subconcious
Origins of Paradise
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden,
in the east, and there he put the man
whom he had formed.
Saint Augustine’s 4th century De Genesi ad Litteram (On the literal meaning of Genesis) grounded the thinking of Christianity into an interpretation of the book of Genesis that would dominate the Church for centuries after. The elucidation would set out a notion for the existence of an earthly Garden of Eden. A definable place in the world. This planted the belief in a locatable paradise which later led to the placement of Eden on medieval maps.
A defining feature of Christian thought during the middle ages, was the Church’s influence on the “contemplation of the true faith”, over natural science. The world could be explained within its historical, Christian context rather than its physical, natural context. As Nikolaus Pevsner explains on churches in his Outline of European Architecture; “The prime function of the medieval church had been to lead the faithful to the alter… Man is… pressing forward to reach a transcendental goal”. This reverie for the ‘transcendental goal’ was reflected in maps, introducing Alessandro Scafi’s motif that “Mapping paradise on earth may be considered as one of the most powerful expressions of the fundamental tension between the locative and utopian tendencies in Christianity.” From this we can perceive the literal location of paradise as a force to anchor christian rhetoric into objective reality.
There are very few examples of medieval maps. This is due, in part, to way-finding in the middle ages being generally expressed though textual cartography, rather than cartographic image. This textual cartography consisted of a descriptive list of landmarks and directions along a given route, and would therefore help guide a traveller. These texts often jotted down on a scrap of paper would most probably be discarded, once a journey was complete, leaving very few surviving examples.
The majority of medieval cartographic image are the mappae mundi, meaning cloth of the world (or given portions thereof). The Hereford Mappa Mundi, is one of the best surviving examples of medieval world maps,and was produced around 1285.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi
The mappae mundi world maps of the middle ages took form of an orbis
terrarum or ‘circle of the world’. Originating the word ‘orientation’, the world was set with the Orient at the top of the map. The three continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia would be separated by a ’T’ shaped profile of water for the Mediterranean, and the rivers of Paradise. All was set within a circular wall marking the edge of the known world.
In the Hereford Mappa Mundi above the world, in the apex of the cloth is the depiction of the heavenly second coming of Christ. Placed just within the orbis
terrarum, at the most easterly point is the gated Garden of Eden, the earthly Paradise. Within the Garden of Eden can be seen Adam eating the forbidden fruit, and covering his genitalia with his left.
Then the eyes of both were opened,
an they knew that they were naked.
And they sewed fig leaves together and
made themselves loincloths.
Along side Adam stands Eve accepting fruit from the mouth of the serpent, while also covering her genitalia. Signalling the loss of their innocence, a theme which enshrouds the story of the exile from the Garden of Eden.
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden,
and I was afraid, because I was naked,
and I hid myself.”
Outside the terrestrial paradise a second Adam and Eve leave to the south, banished by god; the gates of Eden guarded by the cherubim permanently prohibiting re-entry with a flaming sward, his left hand “points straight ahead in the direction of exile”.
This is the point at which we first see the Garden of Eden, or Paradise, as being dominated by its new concept of Exile. The knowledge of good and evil.
For God knows that when you eat of it
your eyes will be opened,
and you will be like God,
knowing good and evil.
Heading down the map due west and forward through time, we cross the crucifixion of Christ as we approach Jerusalem. Reflecting the Christiocentric view of the world in the middle ages, the holy city of Jerusalem was placed in the centre, as the “navel of the Earth”. The city is represented as a crenelated circular wall, imagined as though the viewer was an all-seeing eye gazing down into the map.
At the centre of Jerusalem is the puncture mark of the compass used by the map maker to set out the city and the orbis
terrarum. A reminder that we are subservient to the cartographers subjectivity. “Our concern is redirected to a history and anthropology of the image, and we learn to recognize the narrative qualities of cartographic representation as well as its claim to provide a synchronous picture of the world.” We cannot be sure of the authorial intent, or of what has been omitted from reality, but we can only be sure of what the author, the cartographer has chosen to include. Weaving the narative myth of history across the surface of the map.
Inversely, as we reach the far western limits of the Earth, a suggestion that we cannot entirely “hold an ‘author’ completely responsible for the reception, interpretation, and appropriation of his/her texts.” Anticipating the end of the world, is ‘Anglia’, with the city of Hereford clearly marked, yet rubbed out with centuries of pilgrims probing fingers, declaring their geo-identity. Is this the first ever trace of the action of a finger pressing to determine ones ‘Current Location’?
The heart of the Hereford Mappa Mundi lies in the progression of time through space from east to west’s a “historical process and not a static facsimile of the earth”, as Scafi puts it. “Mappae
mundi combined time and space to present an overview of human history dynamically open to the future. In portraying paradise on the eastern edge of Asia (to mark the beginning of time) and simultaneously showing the main sites of God’s intervention in the course of human history, the maps were anticipating the end of that history.”
Around the earthly walls the word ‘mors’, Latin for ‘death’ is spelled out in each quadrant. Off the western edge of the world we see a robed horseman departing his earthly life, and a dispatched soul to the only permanent dwelling. Heaven. These would have acted as another reminder to the viewer of the transience of life, and the certainty of death.
Set you mind on things that are above,
Not on things that are on Earth.
The narative of the map maker was to tell of the development of man “from original innocence through the “fall of man” to a final redemption” for the pilgrims of St. Thomas Cantilupe whithin who’s shrine it was located at Hereford Cathedral.
Renaissance changes in paradise
Even though Paradise was conceived to be cartographically locatable, it was not necessarily believed to be physically findable, or even if it could be found, it was not penetrable.
He drove out the man,
and at the east of the garden of Eden
he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword
that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
In myth it was said that Alexander the Great, once located paradise, and stood in front of its gates, but he “came to understand the vanity of his ambition and thus ended his otherwise never-ending journey”. There are few other, if any documented attempts during the middle ages to locate the earthly paradise.
This lack of quest for Paradise seems to have continued as the middle ages passed into the renaissance, Christopher Columbus said:
Not that I believe that to the summit of the extreme point
is navigable, … or that it is possible to ascend therefor
I believe that the earthly paradise is there and to it, save
by the will of God, no man can come.
Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus, II 1933, p34
In the modern west, the notion of Paradise has changed considerably. Though it retains it retains its picturesqe setting of harmonic happiness, where the woes of the real world cease to matter; this Paradise is made accessible though buying it. It is an experiential Paradise. Just a short plane ride away to a tropical beach of bliss. Paradise has been tightly packaged up given a make over, and commodified. This Paradise can be accessible to anyone [with the right amount of money], any time. It has become the right of those who have been successful in the capitalist world; and stayed the dream of those less fortunate.
But as we will see, every Paradise comes with its own form of Exile.
Changes in Cartography
From 1500, virtually no map featured a locatable earthly paradise. This coincided with the emergence of Europe out of the middle ages and into the renaissance. Signalling a change in metaphysical, philosophical, and scientific thought and attitude towards the church with relation to the notion of the self. Drawing influence from classical antiquity, and consequently the ‘rediscovery’ of Ptolemic cartography. The model of which “became the basis of modern cartography”.
In 1435 Johannes Gmunden produced detailed tables with the locations of landmarks by longitude and latitude. The first item on the list was Paradise at 0º North, 180º East. Based on the Ptolemic moden, he was defining time in a critically different way.
On the Ptolemic map the use of time was used in a completely different way. Time was released from its historical context, and became mathematically defined. Ptolemy’s Geographia, from the 2nd Century A.D. introduced the idea of projection mapping. The concept of a spherical world was widely accepted in Ancient Greece, and the projection map divided up the sphere into a grid of longitude and latitude expressed in lengths of time based on the summer solstice. So these maps, produced to give an “illusion of a projection or a graphic perspective”, expressed the “temporal dimension” in a notably different way from the medieval mappae
mundi without historical context. Paradise could no longer be located within history, so needed allocation within real-time.
As Ptolemic cartography became convention in renaissance map making; advances in mathematics, and the standardisation on measurement brought the dawn of the travel age. It became increasingly difficult to physically locate a place which had an ‘unknown’ location when more and more of the world was becoming accurately recorded.
Mathematical & Objective Cartography
It is widely accepted in critical discourse that the notion of the ‘text’ does not specifically apply to literary works alone, but also to musical scores, and architectural structures. Therefore I think it can be comfortably adopted for cartographic texts. As J.B Harley says: “By accepting their textuality we are able to embrace a number of different interpretative possibilities”. Rather than solely concerning our critique on scientific mark making, we can begin to read between the lines (of authorial intent) We can begin to break down the metaphorical semiotics of myth and narrative.
In Harley’s essay Deconstructing the Map he explores several different motifs about the origins of cartography, their basis in mathematical, scientific objectivity; and their socio-political forces of Power.
He suggests that cartographic facts are only facts with a “specific cultural perspective”, and are therefore subjective to the cartographer, and the viewer. They are “a particular human way of looking at the world”. He goes on to say that even philosophers “have tended to categorize maps as a type of congruent diagram—as analogues, models, or ‘equivalents’ creating a similitude of reality” with the key foundations based on standardisation and measurement. This lead to a strong rejection of the maps of the past. Maps which were “inaccurate, heretical, subjective, valuative, and ideologically distorted images.” Signalling the movement to Ptolemic maps from medieval mappae
mundi. Objects within maps became products of mathematically measurable, and systematically observed realities. There became no space for the mythical beasts and creatures of the medieval maps. Which moved the map away from cartographic authorship.
By presenting a series of predetermined metaphorical signs and signifiers, maps can become carriers of defined social ideas. Maps can imbue politics and their agendas. Daniel Birkholz suggests that when maps move away from “cartographic authorship”, they move “towards cartographic transaction”, further explained as: “the map is the territory”. It is a material object itself as much as it is an object defining geographic possession. This sort of map “promises its holders a privileged geo-identity”: Their own sense of self. “A mapless society, though we may take the map for granted, would now be politically unimaginable.”
Cartography vs. GIS
As technological measuring, and data gathering becomes more advanced, automated, and multidimensional the distinction between scientific geographical information, and the artistic cartography of maps becomes further distinguished. The journal The American Cartographer has been re-branded the journal of Cartography and Geographical Information Science to give equal presence to “the science and technology of analysing and interpreting geographic relationships”
In contrast to the Christiocentric view of the world, if we look at the modern day map, Google Maps, we each stand at the centre of our own map. With the help of ‘Current Location’, we the individual user, the ego, become the central ‘all-seeing’ focus, gazing into and personalising our own geo-identity.
Simon Garfield suggests about his book On the Map that Google Maps signals an end of the nostalgic, quirky, cartographic map maker. Our reliance rests on a clinical, geographically accurate, collection of signified objects which has no allowance for cartographic catastrophes. But when such an occurrence of “digital dunderheadedness”, does make its way onto the screen of our smart phones, such as the adjacent duplication of the disputed Japanese/Chinese Senkaku Islands on Apple Maps, we leave no room for excitement in our interpretation of the map. Garfield says: “Apple Maps stands at the end of a long line of cartographic catastrophes... the enchanting era of geographic gaffes is coming to a close”. We attempt to take our own power but become sub-servant to the collective power of the spacial panopticon.
Harley disdussed Power and Maps in Deconstructing the Map:
Power comes from the map and it traverses the way maps are
made. The key to this internal power is thus
cartographic process. By this I mean the way maps are
compiled and the categories of information selected; the
way they are generalized, a set of rules for the abstraction
of the landscape; the way the elements in the landscape
are formed into hierarchies; and the way various rhetorical
styles that also reproduce power are employed to
represent the landscape
To catalogue the world is to appropriate it, so that all
these technical processes represent acts of control
over its image which extend beyond the professed uses
of cartography. The world is disciplined. The world is
normalized. We are prisoners in its spatial matrix. For
cartography as much as other forms of knowledge... in
the map, nature is reduced to a graphic formula. The
power of the map-maker was not generally exercised
over individuals but over the knowledge of the world
made available to people in general... The map is a silent
arbiter of power.
For Harley, political power, and the power embued in the hyper-real realm of modern maps cannot be separated from eachother. By offering the viewer a glimps of what it is to hold that Power, the Map begins to control that which is trying to control it.
Reason and Morality
To arrive at the modern notion of Paradise, there has to have been a fundamental change in our relation to it. The pursuit of paradise becomes the pursuit of happiness.
The reemergence of classical cartographic methods came hand-in-hand with the return of metaphysical thought to classical notions of the self and ones place within the world. These were the first inklings of the rejection of the medieval, gothic, Church for the hunger of knowledge. In 1486 Pico della Mirandola published his Oration on the Dignity of Man, commonly known as the Manifesto of the Renaissance, detailing the human quest for knowledge though god. Subsequently, in circa. 1513, Machiavelli’s De Principatibus (The Prince) was circulated in academia. The Prince was intended “to glorify the power of Man’s will, and set it as the prime moving force against the powers of religion that had up to his time interfered with practical thought”. Though each were at opposing ends of philosophical thought, both held man’s ability to define his own nature, and virtue as their foundation.
These lines of thought take their defining inspiration from Aristotle. According to Aristotle ethics should be “treated as a practical guide that enables a man to achieve eudaimonia. He suggests that “man has an essence: there is something definite and worthwhile that it is to be a human being. Eudaemonia, which is most commonly translated as ‘happiness’, but is more closely translated as ‘human flourishing’ consists in the living of this potentially noble life to the fuller possible extent.” Aristotle sees man as a free agent to develop, basing the nobility of his life on his ability to live to his highest virtue.
Immanuel Kant, widely considered as a central figure in modern philosophy developed on Machiavellian and Aristotelian ethics with the conception of man as a rationally free agent, and explained the relationship between reason and human experience in his Critique of Reason. Kant believed that our experience of space and time is ‘phenomenologically’ derived through our senses. But, as our senses are purely subjective we cannot truly rely on the authenticity of our experience. Therefore our actions should be based on rational thought, over empirical knowledge. Building on Descartes idea of Cogito Ergo Sum, (I think therefore I am). The only thing we can truly rely upon is our own existence, or being.
Kant therefore argues that reason, can be the only basis for morality “from rationality alone can one be motivated to act”, but also that “morality should bind an agent solely in so far as he is rational”. He says that this cannot reflect on any desires we subjectively have, and as such morality must be clearly defined from happiness.
For Aristotle, the pursuit of happiness must be clearly defined from the desire for pleasure. “Though many mistakenly suppose that in pursuing pleasure they pursue happiness.”
“Why should we not call happy the man who exercises
his abilities according to the highest standards of virtue
and excellence in a context which affords him sufficient
resources and not merely for a brief moment but
throughout his life?”
Jonathan Lear says that the answer cannot be “ ‘Because a man’s happiness depends upon the satisfaction of his desires which may or may not bear any relation to his living a virtuous life’… In devoting themselves to pleasure, they act slavishly towards their desires”. “Eudaimonia... is not based on the satisfaction of desires that an agent may or may not possess”
The satisfaction of those desires relating to pleasure, is equatable to the desire for lust and subsequent loss of innocence which led to the exile from the Garden of Eden. To be readmitted, would be to regain innocence. By no longer desiring short term pleasure, we can perhaps achieve happiness. Eudaimonia.
These ideas of reason and the pursuit of happiness all rely on presence. The indisputable knowledge of the self. Cogito Ergo Sum; the self is the centre and the foundation, and this forms the very basis of ‘western philosophic tradition’.
Martin Heidegger rejects pure rationalism but argues that the question of human existence is central to the pursuit of the question of being in the world. He questions the foundations of ‘western philosophic tradition’. He writes: “Ethōs means abode, dwelling place. The word names the open region in which man dwells. The open region of this abode allows what pertains to man’s essence.”
This concept of being Heidegger calls Dasein, directly translated as ‘there-being’, but commonly translated as ‘existence’. Surrounding the ethōs of dasein, we are surrounded by death, das nicht, the nothing; In-existance, the opposite of life. We live briefly against the background of nothingness. But we as humans, have a tendency to hide from the confrontation of being. Escaping into the warm folds of daily life. This is what he calls ‘chatter’, das gerede. It seeks to reassure us, that trivia actually matters. But we need to be more authentic by removing das gerede, and live with the awareness of death.
Richard J. Bernstein suggests in his essay Serious Play: The Ethical-Political Horizon of Derrida: “any reflection on ethōs does - directly, or indirectly bear on the question of our dwelling and ethōs raises the theme of the heimlich and the unheimlich”. The unheimlich is Freudian ideas on the uncanny, and familiarity. The uncanny (German unheimlich ’not at home’) is both familiar, yet alien at the same time.
Heidegger’s theory of our need to surround ourselves with das gerede to protect us from the confrontation of being reflects the notion of the unheimlich. We try to focus on what is familiar and canny.
Not Present on Maps
Derrida denies the possibility of presence. He says that western philosophers rely on the certainty of the notion of presence. The foundation on which they can base theory. The foundation of ‘western philosophic tradition’. He denies the possibility of presence by denying that there is a ‘now’ or maintenant. Utilising Saussurean semiotics, Derrida says a signified can never be independent from a signifier, because indication can never be successfully removed from expression. No sign can ever be regarded as being consisted of a single signifier and single signified, therefore we cannot ever escape the system of the signification. Therefore Derrida states that these conclusions imply that there can be “no unqualified presence”.
Derrida is suggesting that it is the deepest desire of ‘western philosophic tradition’ to locate this centre. To be at home in the world. But, “we are always threatened by the uncanniness of what is canny; we are always in exile - even from ourselves. We may long and dream of being at home in our world, to find a “proper” centre, but we never achieve this form of presence or self-presence.” We can pertain to, but never reach the centre.
The traditional notion of the centre, the centre of the sign, allows for an end of meaning. It gives play to meaning without being part of that meaning itself, therefore it gives rise to structure without being part of that structure itself. The centre is located elsewhere outside that structure. This centre or origin is seen as a transcendental signified in traditional thought, but, Derrida discovers that, when the transcendental signified is searched for, it does not exist, it only becomes another signifier for other ‘transcendental’ signifieds. Bernstein says that “this is true not only of the Western metaphysical tradition but also of the theological tradition that construes the narrative of history as a “development” from original innocence through the “fall of man” to a final redemption.”
Following this motif of exile, Derrida uses the concepts of binary opposition in the “relation of the exile to that from which it is exiled”.
Within a Binary opposition, there are a two opposing terms concerning culture, philosophy, sex, literature, religion etc, traditionally one of the two oppositions will be preferential, a “privileged entity, the better state”, will be hierarchised against the other, this term adheres to myth and bourgeois ideology and focuses on a teleological end. The opposing terms, while attempting to secure boundaries, mutually implicate each other. “So not only is the ‘position’ of the exile dependant on that from
which it is exiled, but the exile as a ‘parasite’ lives on and in its ‘host’ “. The two are mutually exclusive.
In an attempt to break down these binary opposites Derrida establishes deconstruction. The new Semiological idea is not to demystify the sign, but to dismantle the very notion of that sign, Deconstruction. To deconstruct these oppositions is not to simply dismantle and remove their hierarchy, but to dismantle the tradition at its very centre in order to “demonstrate that the tradition is always infected,” pure meaning has “always been contaminated”. “Deconstruction gains all its force by challenging the very values of harmony, unity, and stability, and proposing instead a different view”
The true meaning Paradise has become contaminated with western theological, and philosophic traditional values of Paradise.
It was these ideas of deconstruction that lead Harley into his essay on Deconstructing the Map - to remove the “ social context within which map knowledge is fashioned”
The unheimlich that was once an essential componenet in our connection with maps has been replaced by a false, panoptic sense of das gerede.”Digital maps are the enemies of wonder. They suppress our urge to experiment and (usually) steer us from error—but what could be more irrepressibly human than those very things?” says Harley.
Deconstruction “allows us to challenge the epistemological myth (created by cartographers) of the cumulative progress of an objective science always producing better delineations of reality. Also, deconstructionist argument allows us to redefine the historical importance of maps.”
It is in the Post-modern era that we are offered a challenge to read maps in ways that could enrich the reading of ourselves. Leading us to question the reason we find ourselfes cast out into Exile.
The notion of Binary Opposition, necessary for deconstruction, is inherent in our perception of paradise. The Orient, and the Occident form two key binary oppositions, giving rise to Orientalism.
The ‘Orient’, defined as a binary opposite, originates its etymology in the Latin word to describe the rising sun: oriens, the ‘East’. This ‘East’ is constructed as an ‘Other’, an opposite state to that of this world, the West. The Orient as an Other of the Occident, although being everything East of the West, was more specifically defined by what is now known as the ‘Middle East’. The Islamic nations, then moving with time and the spread of trade further towards the Far East. This Orient was almost a European invention. Since antiquity it has been “a place of Romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences”, not to mention a dichotomy of conflict and war. It is important to realise that these constructs originate in an objective reality, a separation of two areas that have basic similarities, in terms of topology and human habitation. But, this ontology has been completely destabilized by history, “each is made up of human effort, affirmation, partly identification of the other”.
The word ‘Occident’ derives from the Latin word occidere, meaning ‘to fall’ or ‘to set’, with reference to the setting of the sun, the land where the sun sets, i.e. ‘the West’. The West, as an entity, hallmarks itself with the values of “freedom, law, rationality, science, progress, intellectual curiosity, and the spirit of invention, adventure and enterprise”.
Orientalism is a distinction, between the Orient and the Occident, manifested through academia. It can also be rightly said that Orientalism is and was a form of Western dominance over the East. In his book Orientalism, Edward Said suggests that the beginning of the modern notion of Orientalism started in the eighteenth and nineteenth century with the rapid growth of Western colonialism and imperialism. Therefore Orientalism is built upon that “executive” attitude for “dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” . It is also Said’s contention that it would be impossible to manage this authority over the Orient unless it was studied as a discourse, to “produce – the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively” without “filtering the Orient into Western consciousness”.
That Paradise was always placed in the Orient, the inferior binary opposition. It was always seen as an Other. A subject distinctly definable from this world, the West. So it can be seen that Paradise is perhaps more a Western geopolitical and theoretical construct than simply a European fantasy. In this sense Orientalism is more telling of the Western consciousness than of Eastern sensibility.
The Virtue of Selfishness
In the 1940’s and 50’s a new small socio-political philosophy, a new ‘code of morality’ was forming. Called Objectivism it was headed by the Russian-American, Ayn Rand. She claimed her ideas to be of her own mind, “with a sole acknowledgement of a debt to Aristotle”. She had a vision of a new utopia, based on an ideology of rationality being the highest human virtue. Mankind must “free themselves of all forms of political and religious control, and live their lives guided only by their selfish desires. If they did this they would become heroic figures.”
If man wants to live on earth, his highest moral purpose
is the achievement of his own happiness, and that he
must not force other people, nor accept their right to
force him, that each man must live in an end in himself
and follow his own rational self interest.
Ayn Rand, 1959
By 1991, a decade after the death of Rand, a Library of Congress survey named her book, detailing her objectivist philosophy, Atlas Shrugged as the second most influential Book in America. The first, was the Bible. Adam Curtis suggests in his documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace that the group most influenced were the “new-entrepreneurs of silicone valley” they thought that “if human beings were linked by webs of computers, then together they could create their own kind of order… a self stabilising system. The world would be stable, yet everyone would be heroic Randian beings, completely free to follow their desires.”
The Californian Ideaology
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron defined this “heterogeneous orthodoxy” as ‘The Californian Ideology’ in their critique of Dotcom neoliberalism. The Californian Ideology was a place “where all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace… Their utopian vision of California depends upon a wilful blindness towards the other – much less positive – features of life on the West Coast: racism, poverty and environmental degradation.”
Technology was seen to empower individual freedom, dramatically reducing the power of the state which would be replaced by “unfettered interactions between autonomous individuals and their software”. It was even suggested by the more radical visionaries that this new cybernetic reality would “inevitably lead to the emergence of the post-human: a bio-technological manifestation of the social privileges of the virtual class… where digital artisans discover their individual self-fulfilment.” The leader of this cyber network would be individual; a consolidation of two Binary opposites - the Bobo, a portmanteau of Bourgeois, Bohemian. A fusion of capitalist enterprise, and liberal counter-culture values.
Humbug and Pandora’s Vox
This was an enormous shift of power from government. Not to the individual, as the new visionaries believed, but to the corporations who controlled the systems. In 1994 a fierce criticism of cyberspace came from the inside, written by one of the early believers in the cybernetic reality, under the online name ‘Humdog’.
It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some
kind of _island of the blessed_ where people are free to
indulge and express their Individuality. some people write
about cyberspace as though it were a 60′s utopia. in
reality, this is not true.
I have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did
so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified
myself. commodification means that you turn something
into a product which has a money-value. in the nineteenth
century, commodities were made in factories, which karl
marx called “the means of production.” capitalists
were people who owned the means of production, and
the commodities were made by workers who were mostly
exploited. i created my interior thoughts as a means of
production for the corporation that owned the board i
was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to
other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment.
Pandora's Vox, Humdog , 1994
Humdog’s real name was Carmen Homosillo. She had perceived a false paradise, a place to indulge your deepest desires, and had become completely disillusioned with the promise of utopia. Online users were not only commodifying themselves, but were allowing their emotions to be come immortalised. ”Their inner personal lives would remain product for the platform owners long after they had passed on.”
The debate about freedom of expression exists only
in terms of whether or not you can say fuck or look at
sexually explicit pictures. i have a quaint view that makes
me think that discussing the ability to write “fuck” or
worrying about the ability to look at pictures of sexual
acts constitutes The Least Of Our Problems surrounding
freedom of expression.
Pandora’s Vox, Humdog , 1994
Carmen had touched on one of the very points which the new visionaries had taken from Randian ethics. “The only rational base of individualism as an ethical principle is the requirements of man’s survival qua man, one man cannot claim the moral right to violate the rights of another”.
Those who are self-proclaimed individualists, professing freedom of expression, “originate or create nothing; they are profoundly selfless — and they struggle to fill the void of the egos they do not possess, by the means of the only form of “self-assertiveness” they recognise: defiance for the sake of defiance, irrationality for the sake of irrationality, destruction for the sake of destruction, whims for the sake of whims.” This equation of individualism to subjectivism is the total opposition of Objectivism, the very thing which had given birth to cybernetic reality.
Years after she posts her attack on cyberspace, Carmen Homecillo could be found in Second Life. “The largest-ever 3D virtual world created entirely by its users.” An visual online virtual world. Users are given the power to create whatever ‘physical’ content they desire. They could terraform anything from virtual land, and towns, to items of clothing. Carmen built a medieval French city on her virtual island, her very own version of Paradise. Within Second Life users could also form virtual connections, friendships, and relationships with other cyber based users. They could play out their deepest, desires and fantasies enshrouded by their das gerede avatars.
Within Second Life there exists over 300 private islands devoted to an online role-play community called Gor. Originating from a fictional place in a series of novels entitled The Slaves of Gor by the science fiction author John Norman. The novels centre around a fictional planet where there is “institutionalised sexual slavery”. In Second Life “Gorean masters take slaves who are to serve them sexually (in this case via cybersex). The Second Life slaves are attired in I-dream-of-Genie attire, and kneel at their masters feet until such time as they are asked to speak or otherwise service their masters.”
In Second Life Humdog had met another avatar called Riz. After meeting on a Gorean island, and the became deeply involved both in the virtual and real worlds. One day, “at the end of the list of his requests/orders/desires, he added “and you will wear my kol’lar…” … Putting on a kol’lar is a statement of transfer of personal power and control from the person wearing the kol’lar to the person who has given the kol’lar.”
Dominance/submission (D/s) is called a “power exchange”
because it is a kind of relationship between consenting
adults that is difficult to describe. I mean if you know
absolutely nothing about it, you can describe it for sure.
You can say oh yeah, D/s is like, He/She says “do this”
and she/he does it and its exploitative and all that…
obviously, you have missed the point if you say stuff like
that, and nothing shines like ignorance.
Confessions of a Gorean Slave,
Carmen Homecillo, 2006
Within the cybernetic web, users can be sure of reality in its virtual state as they have created and control this reality. They can control their pleasures; they can even control their own existence, or presence. By incorrectly identifying the satisfaction of their desires in a quest for pleasure as happiness; they have created a perverse subversion of Derrida’s off-centering of the transcendental signified. We attempt to take our own power but become subservient to our own desire.
On the 8th August, two weeks after being rejected by Riz in her virtual world, Carmen Homecillo deleted her online accounts, stopped taking her heart medication, and passed away in her Californian home.
Even after the death of the author, Carmen’s Second Life still lives on. Her medieval island is maintained by friends, and her writings and postings survive in chat logs. The irony would not be lost on her, and “her story continues to draw eyeballs to online sites, even in her death.” Immortalising her emotions, even in das
nicht. Except perhaps that as Ayn Rand says:
I will not die, it is the world that will end.
Ayn Rand, 1979
The act of dismantling the original, transcendental, motif of Paradise has served in offering up an illuminated pathway of Paradise through the centuries.
Initially to gave question to the role of the Cartographer in offering a subjective view of the world, and also its viewer in placing them self into that view of the world. That the cartographer could use the power invested in the map, the illusion of omnipotence, to guide the viewer through the selective narrative of history towards the ultimate dwelling. The re-admittance of innocence.
Through time and as philosophical thought awoke to the notion of the rational self, so did the maps which once contained the earthly Paradise. These maps had become detailed to such an extreme, that there was no place left for the original earthly Garden of Eden. Not by the Cartographers, and not by the users.
As the virtues of the Ego were established, Paradise was sought in happiness, but distanced and defined from pleasure. Man was misinterpreting desire as happiness, but was ironically acting slavishly towards the very thing for which he had been exiled. To achieve his authentic being, he needed to throw off the comfort of the canny, and come to terms with the uncanniness of death.
Whether or not mans being could be proved with certainty. Mans ‘being’ lies at the heart of locating Paradise. If existance was not assured, then Humans may perhaps be pertaining towards what is never achievable. Though the western philosophc tradition was denied, Paradise still remained a distinguishable Other. We
are in Exile, and as such are bound like a parasite to that which we are exiled from.
Though perhaps, if though the virtue of our own selfish ego, we can subvert the power that lies with the nation state, and sits deep within the map. There is a posibility of a utopian world, based in a cybernetic virtual reality, where we can take control, and ultimately power. We can be sure of our ultimate existance, and therefore find our centre which has always been denied us, releaving us from exile. But that is only if we can be certain of the existance of that reality. Perhaps the alternative is das night.