Where You Are: A Review of Denis Wood’s Latest Book

When Denis Wood sends us a message here at VanDam Maps, we push back from our digital desks and take notice. Wood is a maverick, a visionary, a provocateur when the subject of maps and cartography arises. Artist, author and cartographer and former professor of Design at North Carolina State University, Wood has published several far-reaching books, that have challenged us to think critically…and differently about maps. His 1992 “The Power of Maps” convinced us that maps are not facts about reality but rather they are socially constructed arguments and ideas. They are visual proposals which hide the fact that they are arguments. Or as the post-modernists like to say, semiotic codes.

Wood just sent us a url for an e-book called “Where You Are. 16 Artists, Writers, Thinkers. 16 Personal Maps.” A Book of maps that will leave you completely lost.” The British publisher Visual.Editions has created an interactive web version that includes a button to order a physical copy.

It’s no secret that we are partial to the segment by Wood. Called “Paper Routes” it is a digression of non-linear storytelling about an empire of paper routes that Dennis had as a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, along with his personal hand-drawn “maps” of his routes, the routes of his brother and buddies who helped him. They are mental maps of what signified for a teenager and his kingdom. He began the project as he was entering grad school in Worcester, Massachusetts. When he sent his sketched maps to his brother for verification, the brother challenged them and drew his own map. That’s included as well.

In the story Wood tells here, he explains what got him hooked on cartography in grad school was John Kirkland Wright’s idea of geosophy: “the study of geographical knowledge from many and all points of view.” Famously Wright introduced the notion that subjectivity, the mind and the imagination were all part of the fields of geography and cartography. Wood quotes Wright “that (geosophy) covers the geographical ideas, both true and false, of all manner of people – not only geographers, but farmers and fishermen, business executives and poets, novelists and painters, Bedouins and Hottentots – and for this reason it necessarily has to do in large degree with subjective conceptions. Indeed, even those parts of it that deal with scientific geography must reckon with human desires, motives, and prejudices.”

So, Wood asks, “Why not my point of view?

“The paper routes got entangled in our lives, in the emotional lives of who were, after all almost invariably teenage boys, teenage boys growing up in the 1960s, if that matters. I think it does – it must – but how much of any of this can I squeeze onto a map?”

Wright’s articulation of geosophy and Wood’s question – “Why not my point of view?” — function as an organizing principle for the collection. All entries are different, all a bit daffy, all to provoke your thinking about Where You Are.



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