[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Topographical Places (maps)/Topological Spaces (itineraries)

Part One: "From Structures to Actions, From Place to Space"

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Jay Bolter in Writing Space traces the history of writing from papyrus roll, to codex book, to print text, and finally to electronic text. The print text can be regarded as the last stage in the development of linear, hierarchical presentation of material. "Through printing, we have come more and more to anthropomorphize books, to regard each book as a little person with a name, a place (in the library), and a bibliographic life of its own" (Bolter 86). The rise of print text in Europe was accompanied by other developments in experience as well as representation of the world which reflected changed concepts of space and time. As David Harvey has shown in The Condition of Postmodernity, Renaissance perspectivism, depicting cold geometrical surfaces as seen by an outside eye, became the basis of the enlightenment project of conquering and rational ordering of space. The rational ordering of space which translated into mapping unknown territories and colonizing them was directly connected to wealth, money, and power. With the rise in scientific materialism, emphasis on individualism and the power of the western eye to map the world and bring it under control came to define the western world view where time was given precedence over space. In the forward movement of the arrow of time, the differences among peoples of the world and spaces they occupied were dissolved in the universalizing and homogenizing western metanarratives of progress.

The print text with its topographically fixed print, linear and hierarchical structure, became a perfect tool for propagating the universality of the western patriarchal narratives that did not have space for the articulation of differences of minority discourses. Just as "printing strengthened the impression of the book as a complete and closed verbal structure" (Bolter 86), the colonization of the world consolidated the descriptions of the Western masculine self as closed and centered, complete in himself. The voyages of discovery which were at the same time voyages of colonization depended on cartography, on mapping the world. Commenting on French expeditions to the Pacific in the 18th century, Bruno Latour shows how these traveling ships were equipped with marine clocks, quadrants, sextants, along with botanists, mineralogists naturalists, and artists, so that the newly encountered land could be accurately mapped and specimens collected. Latour comments on the cumulative nature of these expeditions which turned these lands and their cultures into mobile entities to be brought back, analyzed and catalogued, so that more fleets could be sent with a crew that had already seen these places at least once in London or Versailles as they poured over the maps, notebooks, or sketches of the earlier expeditions. Based on meticulously collected notes and figures, the European cartographers mapped unknown territories in their chart rooms. The earth in their chart rooms was "[no] bigger than an atlas the plates of which may be flattened, combined, reshuffled, superimposed, redrawn at will. What (was) the consequence of this change of scale? The cartographer dominated the world The balance of forces between the scientists and the earth (had) been reversed; cartography (had) entered the sure path of a science; a centre (Europe had) been constituted that (began) to make the rest of the world turn around itself" (Latour 224).

In postcolonial discourse, cartography is described as territorialized knowledge which deals with colonizing and mastering the unknown by setting the unknown as the other that must be appropriated in an attempt to make it known. And as the "sight/site" is known or made visible, it is subject to the colonizer's grid of power and knowledge. Territorialized knowledge involves fixing people and places into stable configurations where the interrelations among the individual constituents are already mapped out: the maps define, categorize, and immobilize the spaces in which people move. In postcolonial discourse the ethnographic portraits are exposed as part of the colonial project of commercial expansion of the new frontier to map the sites, define parameters, depopulate the landscape so that it can be appropriated, exploited and colonized. Pueblo Indian stories describe spatial practices of the people which turn topographical places into topological spaces where the geographical place is integrally linked to the experience of this place. Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life describes spatializing practices in terms of stories that people perform as they go around their business in urban centers. The stories as spatial trajectories "traverse and organize places; they select and link them together" (115). Analyzing spatializing practices moves the attention from structures to actions, from place to space. A place is constituted of elements with definite positions that are in topographically fixed relationship with one another. On the other hand, space is "composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities." De Certeau describes space as a 'practiced place', which is fluid and constantly transforming with the changing context (117). Whereas place is represented by a topographical map, space is represented by topological itinerary. With the ascendance of scientific discourse, de Certeau notes, itineraries were slowly replaced by maps, even though the former were "the condition of its possibilities" (120).

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes