while thinking about representation in ethnography…

cities, culture, writing

…I often think of Borges’ Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. Manohla Dargis, in viewing Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, is reminded of Borges’ On Exactitude of Science. Here:

…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men ( 1658 ) by J. A. Suarez Miranda

Borges, J.L. 1999. Collected Fictions. Trans. A.H. Hurley. New York: Penguin.



Haruki Murakami’s fiction is filled with dark sewers and tunnels, revelations and horrors. His nonfiction text, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, is an amazing mosaic of urban life under strain. The sarin gas attack, in a fashion, is what Hitchcock called a ‘MacGuffin‘ (hat tip to Rich Lloyd on using Hitch as an explanitory device in his ethnographic work). The attack is the plot device through which the stories of urbanites lives collide. Which reminds me, I’ve been mesmerized by The Works, which offers up lush visual representations of data. Only some of it has been directly applicable to our urban sociology course in the fashion that Underground has.