Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Map and the Territory

In the 80's, I was bombarded with all sorts of art slogans in college, some of whose lineages I learned later in life, and some I didn't, but today, since we have the internet, all one has to do is pop in the given slogan, and voila! So just like Michel Houellebecq did, I suppose, on some subject, I popped in "The Map is not the Territory." and out this came:

The expression "the map is not the territory" first appeared in print in a paper that Alfred Korzybski gave at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1931:

A) A map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory... B) A map is not the territory. Korzybski's dictum "the map is not the territory" is also cited as an underlying principle used in neuro-linguistic programming, where it is used to signify that individual people in fact do not in general have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality. So it is considered important to be aware that people's beliefs about reality and their awareness of things (the "map") are not reality itself or everything they could be aware of ("the territory").

The originators of NLP have been explicit that they owe this insight to General semantics. A reproduction of "The Treachery of Images," René Magritte’s 1928–29 painting The Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte illustrated the concept of "perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves"[4] in a number of paintings including a famous work entitled The Treachery of Images, which consists of a drawing of a pipe with the caption, Ceci n'est pas une pipe ("This is not a pipe").

In those halcyon years I also made a video piece, using various images of history's villains, and which flashed the slogan, "Your perception is my disease." So maybe I was predisposed to what Michel H. had to say in The Map and the Territory. What I liked about the novel, well there are a lot of things I liked, was I guess, what you might call its 'skewed personableness', the story of Jed Martin, and the sort of doppelganger-like or map and territory relation between Jed and Michel, but right there I elided something, and it is that something that strangely enough forms the crux of what fascinates me about the text itself of this novel. Instead of territory, I at first (forst) wrote Terrortoy. [Spoiler Alert]. If you've read the book, you know that the fictional Michel himself becomes a 'terror toy' when the serial killer insect / art collector gets hold of him. There are hints like this all through the book about the method of its construction. It is my belief that in some part, this novel flowed out of looking at words themselves as characters.

It is easy to talk about novels like, "This is a novel about the art world." "This is a novel about failed theories of social construction." etc.. but it is a little more difficult to see how a collective reading of the word "Martin", and an irronic reading of the term Djed might give you an insight into the work. After reading the book I could see something like a picture of a book painted by Magritte called "The Treachery of Novels," but one in which the slogan said something like "This is not a self-portrait." But then in your mind the echo might form which said "poor traits of self". Like any novel, there are plenty of bits of dialogue which are more or less stilted, and bear various levels of detail about this or that idea or theme, or add more or less to the flow of the supposed plot (ploy).. So then, without going into too much detail, one can say pretty definitively, that the entire attitude of Jed Martin's character comes out of a historical reading of the word "Martin", and it works for things like Saint Martin, Martinet, etc.. Now I could belabor this, but like Houellebecq, it feels more fun to just say this is so and go with it. It might be a bit of a stretch, but think Saint Martin as an Island, and H's ouevre, and there starts to be a road into the coarse reflexivity. For Jed, I think it is the 'character' of Jed's boiler, or heater in his old apartment, that comes closest to putting directly the ancient Egyptian image of the Djed into the mind, A sturdy column, so sturdy, yet clunky, that it starts to look like a metaphor for the self, a hint about the Houellebecquian Magritte painting called "This is a self-portrait." The fact that the Djed has radiator like heat fins at the top, and like the letter I all at once, or rather a letter I whose grapheme is modified to illustrate the Deleuzian concept of plateaus, a proliferation of which comes at the level of the head emphasizing a multiplicity of vertical levels, or a hierarchy, as in Masonic, or even esoterically as in oracular utterances, so that depending on what level, or what plateau you invoke, there are differences in reality. For instance, if you look at Jed as a version of Michel, then that becomes a method of producing a sort of map of what a novel as self-portrait might look like, or rather, there is a way of entering this work that makes it possible to consider culture itself as a meditation on self as collective self-portait, etc. There is also the ambiguity of the djed's actual structural etym, some scholars say it is based on a reading of the sacrum bone, and others have a vegetable idea, etc. Jed is concise (martinet), but drunk on concision to the point of being facile (Martin-drunk). He's odd, and his life has made him odd, and his perceptions are odd, but it is these very odd perceptions and behaviours which allow him to succeed in life, to remain sturdy, and upright, so to speak, like an erection, of say Sauvagesia erecta, or Saint Martin's herb. Houelebecq, as a character goes through what we might call a Martin-drunk, ie, his character 'drinks himself sober' in some sense, or rather, there is a strange set of notices, after H. is killed, that secretly he had been baptised, or earlier that he mentions he doesn't drink as much as people say, the flip-flopping charcuterie thing.. etc.. There is a passage which talks about Jed's father wanting to build bird houses, and another about MH wanting to write a poem about birds, but which he can't, and so writes one about his dog. There is also this idea of sham associated with Martin chaines, and with costume jewelry dealers in London in the parish of St. Martin le Grande.. The plot itself seems fairly like a sham, and more or less snaps in two at the end when Michel is abruptly killed off. Art as a theme is treated more or less like a sham, and the vicissitudes of the market something as quixotic as human personality itself, and finally, tied in an ironic sense, so that commodity fetishism is directly related to pathological fetishism, though Jed himself proves to be a figure of certain temperance. And there was an odd echo last night to Jed when I was rewatching some of the HBO mini-series John Adams, and Ben Franklin said that he was an "extreme moderate", and that all those not expressing moderation should be hanged or some such.. There was a sort of extreme moderation theme inherent in Jed's presented aesthetics.

Well, anyway, you can enter the text a number of ways, but more or less, I thought it was a jolly good read, and I really thought in a way, that Houellebecq is sort of being really cheeky, or maybe even sort of nasty, like in a way, the whole novel could be read as a sort of jibe against low brow novel readers, the constant bringing up of obscure literary references, but I think he could have done even more with that, like why didn't he mention someone like Elisee Reclus. That seems an apt figure. At any rate, the book IS a fun read, and I will probably read all these novels of his as in a way, I kind of identified with Jed, but not exactly, Jed seems in a way, to enact the sense of desire of the reader himself, reading is sort of reclusive like Jed. Well, I never remember liking say a Don Delillo novel. Never. Don Delillo is just well very boring as a writer. Just like Pynchon is well, a little too proud of himself, a bit too self indulgent, after say V.. I mean you can read it, but this, you can read easily, it's a trashy novel that really doesn't hide the fact, and in fact sort of says, hey, I'm a trashy novel full of bed heads, but then, there are some great things, and you can actually go and find places in Paris  on google maps from this book, strange places.. I thought it was a fun read, and not at all what one might expect. And there are oddities beneath the surface of this, just like the serial killer's automated gladiatorial insect light-table Colosseum. Good work Michel! And the novel is funny, a good dry light chablis! The sacred bone sits right next to "the sperm bag"..

(That kind of thing, humorous proximalitease..)

Elisee as Jed as an old man of the book..
(This is not a bad place to read!)

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Irrony Observes The Earthing.