Blog post

When a Map is More than a Map

In this interview extract Giuliana Bruno thinks beyond conventional cartography to present a narrative guide to the imagination, from medieval emotional mapping to Situationist psychogeography.

Giuliana Bruno 7 August 2018

'The Naked City', Guy Debord, 1957

Marquard Smith: Turning to Atlas of Emotion, I was going to ask you a question about cultural cartography, and what it means to you. You’ve touched on it already, every now and then. Atlas of Emotion is absolutely the work of a cultural cartographer – whatever that might mean. It just struck me that you were talking about being able to move, or be moved, between time and space, between different historical moments and geographical places, possibilities. I marvel at how in the book you manage to somehow be in a seventeenth-century cartographical landscape and at the same time very much in the twenty-first century. You write and embody and enact the nature of the project at one and the same time, which is quite incredible! It has something to do with taking charge of the material. I’m picturing Atlas of Emotion next to these assemblages, and it’s not an assemblage in the same kind of way as Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, or Richter’s Atlas, or Benjamin’s Arcades Project. I mean, it is like them, and of them, in terms of its sensibility, but at the same time there’s a different sense of ... I keep wanting to use the word ‘ownership’? That can’t be the right word ... but there’s a kind of ownership that Atlas of Emotion has of itself: that it gives itself up to things, but at the same time it also makes a decision about how to tell a story. Maybe that is the thing about the cultural cartographer, that they both give themselves up to things, to the shape and nature of things, and at the same time have to navigate a path through such environments?

Giuliana Bruno: My work is very much about navigation; it is about routes, and process. And that is why the image of the map, which has sometimes been terribly demonized, is dear to me: because it offers your inner senses an instrument of guiding, which can take both the author and the reader through rugged and ruined terrains. The book was written as a kind of journey of palimpsest-like assemblages. There is a trajectory there, so it is not a random accumulation of things. As I moved through different layers of material, often I wondered, ‘Am I all over the map? In which ways? How do I keep this navigation going?’ The method of the navigation is important to me, and I prefer the kind of charts that one takes on a journey with oneself, that unravel as you go on the journey so that they are part of the voyage. And this journey is also a narrative itinerary, for I am concerned that a book tells a story, a specific kind of story.

Narration is historically part of cartography, which, after all, concerns the story of a place and has at times even embraced fictional forms of representation. In the seventeenth century, for example, the art of mapping was an imaginary cartography – it was not simply a charting of real places, although real places were portrayed, but it understood the relation between a real place and an imaginary one. In my type of cultural cartography, I touch upon that form of liminal connection that is so deeply important to the visual arts and to film, which do address reality but also dress it in fantastic forms. When you write about visual culture, you have to be able to navigate this story, the relation between the inner imagination and the outer expression, and move in between these two forms.

The map that most inspired Atlas of Emotion and its ‘journeys in art, architecture, and film’ was la Carte du pays de Tendre, literally the map of the land of tenderness, designed way back in 1654 by Madeleine de Scudéry. This map of the land of affects is interesting because it is a very open map. Like a film it has a frame, but things keep falling off screen. At the edge, the sea would flow on the one side, the river on the other. This is a map of a specific place but also represents the place of imagination. And it is a map that wants you to navigate it, that needs somebody to actually enter the territory and move through it rather than form a single image of a place. You would constantly work on the border, around edges, to try and imagine what was behind the boundary of the frame, and your curiosity would pull you towards some terrae incognitae. So this was an important model to me in the creation of this kaleidoscope of different cultural sites and in thinking of how space becomes this repository in which I could move in time but also across different kinds of media.

This map was also important because of how it visualized affects and how it represented an itinerary of emotions, specifically, in the form of a landscape. In Scudéry’s map there was a vast terrain punctuated by little towns, and one was supposed to move from one to the other, and that motion provoked an emotion. This mode of representation became a guide in my way of theorizing the relation between motion and emotion in the visual and spatial arts, and especially in writing about film’s own emotion pictures. This map allowed me actually to visualize how within space itself there are different materials, textures, and fabrics that form the various itineraries you follow as a critic, and that includes the affects.

Speaking of other cultural cartographers, it is significant that the Situationists were inspired by Scudéry’s map, which was reprinted in the Internationale situationniste in 1959. This form of mapping becomes, in a way, the model for the kind of psychogeography that rethinks spaces in relation to fluid assemblages, and to psychic montage. In this cartography, for instance, you can connect places in a city or on a cultural map not by way of real distances but by way of events that have been experienced in the imagination and in the reality of the people who have lived through them in the space. You can see motion in culture as deeply related to living space and lived temporality. And you can also understand that emotion itself is a movement, and then movement is something that touches a person, touches something profoundly deep within the person, which enables a deeper social transformation. In this way you can understand the work of affects beyond physiognomy, and emotion not just as one single image or state of mind but as the possibility of moving across different states of mind, creating diverse, mobile forms of connections to the world.

This is an edited excerpt from “Cultural Cartography, Materiality, and the Fashioning of Emotion. Interview with Giuliana Bruno,” in Marquard Smith ed., Visual Culture Studies: Interviews with Key Thinkers (London: Sage, 2008, pp. 144-165).

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Atlas of Emotion
Atlas of Emotion is a highly original endeavour to map a cultural history of spatio-visual arts. In an evocative montage of words and pictures, emphasises that “sight” and “site” but also “motion” ...