A City-based Model for Topographical Thinking

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping

[Submitted by Adam Foster]

This model has two direct influences, and those are Gilles Deleuze and Sim City 4.  Bridging the notions of space presented in these seemingly disparate sources offers the possibility for an exciting new model for engaging in criticism.

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze (and Guattari) argue for the binary of interiority and exteriority as a mode of thinking.  For Deleuze and Guattari, the interior represents the state and striated space (coded and given explicit and rigid meaning). In representing the state, it references a walled and highly developed (in terms of developing the land) society separated from that which lay outside its boundaries. The exterior, on the other hand, lay outside this society and is smooth; it has yet to be coded or molded and thus can be given any meaning – it is pure potential. The goal of nomadic thought is to move away from the interiority or centre and engage with the exteriority where new meaning can be found (or, in the model that I will propose, be built). Though Deleuze and Guattari use the example of the state and the nomad – and a political or social theorist would feel at home using this model to explore how a civilization is constituted – it need not refer specifically to the walled state; it is a way of thinking about absolutely anything; literature or scholarship included. When one begins to consider Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of interiority and exteriority in light of literary criticism, interiority isn’t necessarily a bad thing; whereas nomadic thought is meant to escape the authoritarian state philosophy of the interior, the interiority a primary text represents is not necessarily a beacon of oppression that we must move away from. If one wishes to study F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the novel is not really an authoritarian presence forcing the scholar to restrict all of his thinking to the confines of the book’s pages. This is what it would do if it were totally equated with Deleuze and Guattari’s state apparatus. However, in engaging with this primary text, it is still possible to engage in thought outside of the primary text, and one may be directed outside the primary text as we engage in thinking. Therefore, the model I wish to propose will be about developing both the interior – further understanding the primary text or subject – and also the exterior – which is to explore topics that lay outside of the confines of our point of departure.

In Sim City 4 you make cities. Period. You designate zones for residential, industrial, and commercial development. You build roads and add utilities, such as water and electricity. You invest in police stations, hospitals, and fire stations. You make a city, which is in essence a settlement comprised of – not just people – but different entities connected through infrastructure. What makes Sim City 4 so unique over its predecessors is that it allows you to make multiple cities, which can be interconnected as well; a road can traverse two towns, airports and seaports exist, you  can engage in inter city trade, and so forth.

Here is thus the model I propose: When one begins to engage in scholarship, they approach the act with a question or topic in mind. In drawing out the model, I will use as my starting point F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Foster_4_fig_1

Figure 1. The undeveloped plot of land/text

This box represents the text prior to any interpretation of work; it is an un-plotted piece of land viewed from above. As we begin to work through the text, this piece of land becomes plotted and developed and becomes a city. It is a city in so far that it is occupied by structures.

The developed plot. Red represents post-WWI, green represents the American dream, blue represents themes of decay and despair.

Figure 2. The developed plot. Red represents post-WWI, green represents the American dream, blue represents themes of decay and despair.

This is a crude representation of the critical construction that are established within the interiority of a literary text. The red represents interpretation of the novel in light of its themes of post-WWI history, the green represents the American dream, and the blue represents themes of decay and despair. This model is 3-dimensional, and therefore, we are able to gauge the occurrence of the theme by these blocks – or buildings – in terms of their height.

Figure 3. Height represents popularity/number of sources cited in the scholar's argument.

Figure 3. Height represents popularity/number of sources cited in the scholar’s argument.

Differing importance of the different themes or structures – despite (or even in spite ) of their popularity – is represented by the geographical space (opposed to vertical space) they take up. Readings and roles of a text can change as we continue to engage in criticism, and thus buildings may be in flux, coming and going – just like the real world. These cities are individual constructs, and thus a building may end up being demolished if it proves to no longer be relevant to the scholar’s model. When a building is placed, it is also possible that similar buildings will emerge around it. In an actual city, the arrival of a factory may attract other factories to the area, residential zones to house its workers, and so forth. In terms of our model, if someone brings in a certain particular theme – say feminism – to the text-land this may inspire other similar ideas or concepts which will be plotted around the building that represents feminist ideas. Of course, certain concepts or themes are inherently related to one another – these connections are represented as streets, which serve the same purpose as the lines that connect nodes in a mind map.

Figure 4. Size represents importance of a notion to the argument within the text-land, and roads act as connective edges between the thematic edifices.

Figure 4. Size represents importance of a notion to the argument within the text-land, and roads act as connective edges between the thematic edifices.

It is at this point that exteriority comes into play. The following question must be asked: what if one aspect of a text’s study relates to, or advances knowledge in another text, field, or subject? This is where the notion of interconnected cities – or intertextuality – comes into play; we create another box, which represents a city (which, again, represents a particular text or subject) with a shared border. The borders of the box represent the peripheries and borders of the individual city. Using the example of The Great Gatsby again, the novel will be linked to T.S Eliot’s the Wasteland through shared notions of decay (as seen early in the novel).

Figure 5. Another text-block plugged into the primary text, here represented as linking The Wasteland to The Great Gatsby through the notion of decay (both squares in the respective cities-as-blocks, connected by the road, represent this notion of decay).

Figure 5. Another text-block plugged into the primary text, here represented as linking The Wasteland to The Great Gatsby through the notion of decay (both squares in the respective cities-as-blocks, connected by the road, represent this notion of decay).

As we continue to do this, the geographical landscape of scholarly cities continues to grow, and may look something like this (the white blocks each represent a unique city/text)

Foster_4_fig_6

Creating a tool that allows us to visualize scholarship in this manner allows us to turn inwards to the text and perform the close, detailed analysis that allows for greater understanding of a specific text or subject (instead of “expanding one’s horizons” one might think of it as continuing to add minute details and refining), but also allows one to think outside of the peripheries of the text and engage with thinking as a whole. The downside? This model cannot capture the rhizome. The rhizome by its very nature cannot be captured. Its structure is by its very nature unorganized and illegible. Once one tries to make sense of it, they impose structure and organization upon it and it becomes a tree. To me, there is no debate – scholarship and criticism are rhizomatic; the connections between points and units are so wide and diverse that the relations simply cannot be mapped out in this manner. However, the same can be said of any model. The rhizome simply cannot be captured, even though it represents the actuality of criticism (a notion addressed in the INKE blog “Rhizomes, New Radial, and the Problem of Cartographies”). Take the block that stretches the lowest and the block that stretches the highest on my map as an example. Say, as they engage in thought, a scholar realizes that these two blocks are connected. When they were originally plotting out their map, this connection was not conceived of. How could one connect them? It’s impossible with the given layout, and this represents the emergence of the rhizomatic nature – that is, multifaceted connections – and demonstrates the limitations of the model (while not completely invalidating its usefulness or necessity). I am hesitant to say that the answer is to create a “refresh” button similar to that of Zotero. That is, in Zotero, one can simply hit refresh and update their bibliography and citations as things are added. To do this in my model would imply writing out the connections and then having a program generate them. And I do not like this, as it strips the act of modelling and creating the connections from the hands of the scholar. Instead, I think the model should be built around the act of settling the space and building civilization – just like in Sim City, the task of building the city should be put in the scholar’s hands and not be something generated by an algorithm of listed connections.

On a positive note, though the rhizome cannot be captured, what can be captured is what parts of the rhizome, and what connections, the scholar uses. This model offers a way of doing this while resisting the arborescent schema. In plotting our world in this model, there is no reason why the primary text must be the centre of the map, or even the largest plot of space; perhaps there will be no centre or largest block. The possibility is there. The possibility or ability to create any hierarchical or non-hierarchical map of thinking lay in the hands of the scholar. This allows the scholar to craft an argument, while moving away from the long-form narrative that haunts the current model of engaging in scholarship.

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