From attempts to chart Odysseus' trip to Borges' commentary on map-making in On Exactitude in Science (where the only suitable map is in reality as huge as the land it portrays), fictions and maps have had a tangled and intertwined connection for a long time. While the correct map may have a particular resonance with a literary work, there is an evident tension in this resonance: a fear that the map could demystify or oversimplify a tale, or worse, impose a single, reductive perspective on something that should be free and unbounded.
Mapping Fiction, a new show at the Huntington, explores this dynamic while also tracing how the link between maps and literature has altered through time and across genres. The exhibition, which draws on the Huntington's rare literary text archives, begins with texts like The Pilgrim's Progress and Journey to the Center of the Earth (not Jules Verne's version, but a 1741 book written by Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg), and continues up to the present day with mappings of Octavia Butler's life and works and artist David Lilburn's 2006 mapping of James Joyce's Ulysses.
According to exhibition director Karla Nielsen, "this exhibition explores the question of what is augmented or diminished by reading a narrative with a map." "Do the text and map compete or complement each other?" Do the maps obstruct or aid the construction of the world? ”
Nielsen's wish to commemorate the centenary of James Joyce's Ulysses, which was originally published in full in 1922 by Sylvia Beach in Paris, inspired Mapping Fiction. According to Nielsen, the book has had a delicate relationship with attempts to map both its physical terrain and its imagined regions throughout the years.
After years of pirated reprints and court disputes over the text's alleged obscenity, Random House finally published the first legal American edition of Ulysses in 1934. Random House sought to add in its edition explanatory elements that would map out the book, making it simpler to read for its first readers, knowing the work's reputation for being very tough.
Joyce objected vehemently, resulting in a heated confrontation. Random House eventually reached an agreement, producing a banner with a map of Dublin, tips on how to enjoy Ulysses, and guarantees that the book made sense.
With that background in mind, Nielsen saw a "opportunity to contextualize that moment and the ways Ulysses has been put into book form and mapped," and so Mapping Fiction was born. Although the show focuses on Joyce's masterwork, it also contains works from many literary genres going back to the 16th century, as well as art and ephemera, all of which are centered on the subject of how maps interact with the literary texts that inspired them.
"I wanted to think about how the way maps could be put into books changed as technology changed," Nielsen remarked. "For example, publishers started to consider what you might do with a book cover if you could put a map on it in the nineteenth century.
People started to be able to put maps into many locations in a book as time went on. These are issues about the materiality of story and literature, as well as how the book as a medium has managed to physically arrange narrative."
While Joyce was an outspoken opponent of maps, other writers included in Mapping Fiction, such as fellow high modernist William Faulkner, had a different viewpoint. When Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! was released by Random House, it was a huge hit.
The publisher, concerned that Faulkner's work would be too difficult to understand, requested a map of Yoknapatawpha county and a genealogy of his characters soon after Joyce's Ulysses. The outgoing southerner was more than willing to help.
Later, for Viking Press's publication of The Portable Faulkner, he created a map of Yoknapatawpha county that plotted out his many works, sweetly referring to himself as the county's "sole owner and proprietor."
Mapping Fiction also includes novels in which the writers specifically requested that maps be included. When the publisher of Robert Lewis Stevenson's book Kidnapped tried to publish it without the author's map, Stevenson was furious.
"Kidnapped didn't function the way Stevenson wanted it to without the map," Nielsen said. "He was very keen for readers to comprehend how this kidnapped character was being moved around."
As a reader, having that geographical knowledge gives you authority over the tale that the protagonist does not."
Nielsen's display provides an excellent chance to reflect on how maps and novels may either work together or get in the way of one another. Both may be considered as techniques to structure tales and generate reality interpretations, and each has its unique approach to accomplishing these objectives.
They're at their finest when each of them utilizes their unique perspectives to help the other develop worlds and study our shared environment. Knowing what facts to provide and which to leave out is critical in this delicate balance.
"It's something to do with how fictional narratives work," Nielsen said. "It's only a part of it."
You may not receive detailed character descriptions, but it doesn't mean you don't get a complete picture of the character. Maps are similar in that they do not include all of the information. Both must respond to comparable formal questions, such as how much information to provide."
Visitors to Mapping Fiction may observe firsthand how writers and publishers dealt with these issues within the confines of form and technology capabilities at the time. The exhibition shows how, as various novelistic techniques, genres, and production processes have gained popularity, they have permitted their own unique manner of generating imaginary landscapes.
As a result, our impressions of the locations we live have been molded by these fictitious universes.
Nielsen said, "Our realities are world-building projects." "We create the world through our perceptions and categorizations." Maps and books, for example, satisfied a curiosity in the larger world of goods and other people's movements in the 18th century.
Through Mark Twain's records of his life narrative, many readers in the nineteenth century saw westward expansion. Through inventive narration, we were able to get a better knowledge of these locations."
It's a process that's still going on. Visitors may test out two maps at Mapping Fiction: one of the Huntington's Chinese garden, which places many crucial events from Chinese history in space, and one of Octavia Butler's Pasadena, which is a short drive from the Huntington.
It also includes recent works such as Karen Tei Yamashita's 1997 book Tropic of Orange, which Nielsen describes as providing a "blimp's-eye view of Los Angeles."
"I think it's also important to put out contemporary books," Nielsen said, "so people can come in and say, 'Wow, I have that book!'"