Mapping fiction: the complicated relationship between authors and literary maps

에프rom efforts to map Odysseus’s journey to Borges’s commentary on map-making in On Exactitude in Science (where the only sufficient map is in fact as large as the territory it depicts), fictions and maps have long maintained a complicated, entwined relationship. While the right map can uniquely resonate with a literary text, this resonance exists amid an undeniable tension: a concern that the map might demystify or oversimplify a story, at worst imposing a single, reductive viewpoint on something that should be open and unbounded.

Exploring this tension, while also charting the ways that the relationship between maps and literature has changed through eras and genres, the Huntington’s new exhibit Mapping Fiction brings together literary maps from hundreds of years of literary history. Drawing from the Huntington’s archives of rare literary texts, the exhibition goes back to the early days of modern literature with texts like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Journey to the Center of the Earth (not Jules Verne’s version but rather a 1741 book written by Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg), continuing up to the contemporary era with mappings of Octavia Butler’s life and works and artist David Lilburn’s 2006 mapping of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

“This exhibition explores the question of what is augmented or diminished by reading a narrative with a map,” said exhibition curator Karla Nielsen to the Guardian. “Are the text and the map competing or complementary? Do the maps interfere with the world being built, or do they help?”

Mapping Fiction grew out of Nielsen’s desire to celebrate the centennial of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was first published in full in 1922 by Sylvia Beach in Paris. As Nielsen explained, over the years the novel has had its own complicated relationship with efforts to map both its physical topography and its imaginative realms.

One flashpoint occurred in 1934, 언제, after years of pirated editions and court battles over the text’s supposed obscenity, Random House at last brought out the first legal American edition of Ulysses. Knowing the reputation of this notably difficult novel, Random House wanted to include in its edition explanatory materials that would map out the novel, making it an easier lift for its first readers. Joyce adamantly resisted, leading to a tense standoff. Eventually they compromised, with Random House releasing a poster that included a map of Dublin, explanations as to how to enjoy Ulysses, and reassurances that the novel made sense.

Aware of that history, Nielsen saw an “opportunity to contextualize that moment and the ways Ulysses has been put into book form and mapped”, and thus the seed of Mapping Fiction was planted. Although the exhibition centers around Joyce’s masterpiece, it includes works of various literary genres dating back as far back as the 16th century, as well as various works of art and ephemera, all based on the question of how maps interact with the literary texts that have inspired them.

“I wanted to think about how, as the technology changed, the way maps could be put into books changed,” said Nielsen. “For instance, it was in the 19th century that publishers began to think about what you could do with a book cover, if you could put a map on it. As time passed, people began being able to insert maps into multiple places in a book. These sorts of questions are concerned with the materiality of narrative and literature, how the book as a form has managed to organize narrative spatially.”

While Joyce was firmly anti-map, other authors shown in Mapping Fiction, including fellow high modernist apostle William Faulkner, had a different perspective. When Random House published Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! shortly after Joyce’s Ulysses, the publisher worried that the novel would be too hard to follow and asked Faulkner for a map of Yoknapatawpha county and a genealogy of his characters. The gregarious southerner was more than happy to oblige. He also later made a map of Yoknapatawpha county that charted out his various novels for Viking Press’s edition of The Portable Faulkner, charmingly referring to himself in the map of the county as its “sole owner and proprietor”.

Mapping Fiction also features books whose authors downright demanded that maps be included. When Robert Lewis Stevenson’s publisher attempted to bring out his 1886 novel Kidnapped without the author’s map, Stevenson was outraged. “Without the map, Kidnapped didn’t function the way Stevenson wanted it to,” Nielsen said. “He really wanted readers to be able to understand how this kidnapped character was being moved around. Having that topographic awareness as a reader gives you a level of control over the story that the protagonist doesn’t have.”

Nielsen’s exhibition offers an intriguing opportunity to meditate on how maps and novels can either function in harmony or get in one another’s way. Both can be seen as ways to organize narratives and make interpretations of reality, and each has its own particular way of achieving these goals. They are at their best when each uses its particular way of seeing to augment the other’s capacity to build worlds and examine our common milieu. In this careful balance, knowing what details to include and which to leave out is crucial.

“That’s something about how fictional narrative works,” said Nielsen. “It’s partial. You may not get minute explanations of characters, but that doesn’t mean you don’t experience the character as full. 지도 are similar in that they don’t include everything. Both have to answer similar formal questions, like how much detail to include.”

Visitors to Mapping Fiction can see for themselves how authors and their publishers have managed these questions within the constraints of form and the technological possibilities of the time. The exhibition provides insight on how, as different novelistic styles, genres and methods of production have risen to prominence, they have enabled their own particular way of creating fictional terrain. These fictional worlds have, 차례로, shaped our perceptions of the places we inhabit.

“Our realities are world-building projects,” said Nielsen. “We make the world out of our perceptions and the categories we build. In the 18th century, 예를 들어, maps and novels were fulfilling a curiosity about the bigger world of things and other people’s movements. In the 19th, many readers experienced westward expansion through Mark Twain’s chronicles of his life story. Emerging understandings of these places were enabled through imaginative narrative.”

It’s a process that continues to this day. Mapping Fiction includes two maps that visitors can try out for themselves: one of the Huntington’s Chinese garden, which puts into space many important moments from Chinese history, and one of Octavia Butler’s Pasadena, which is a short drive from the Huntington. It also features contemporary works like Karen Tei Yamashita’s 1997 novel Tropic of Orange, which Nielsen says gives a “blimp’s-eye view of Los Angeles.”

“I think it’s important to put out contemporary books too,” said Nielsen, “so people can come in and say, ‘oh wow, I have that book!'”

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