Monday, October 22, 2007

- remobilizing the map

Most of the trouble I have with Jamesons theory of cognitive mapping is the problematic socialist politics that underlie the purported need for visualizing a global totality. The beginning of his lecture says it all – in a room full of left leaning cultural critics, he brazenly claims to be one of the ″few Marxists left.″ And clearly Jamesons vision of cognitive mapping, as well as the supposed necessity for such an innovation in aesthetic practice, is all about re-achieving the prominence of socialist activism and revolutionary potential: ″Cognitive mapping is an integral part of any socialist political project. ″ And because I see Jamesons critical impulse towards socialist reform as signifying a kind of regressive nostalgia for a more simple world, do I more critically view this cognitive mapping project. Don’t get me wrong, I think the need for economic and social reform (on a multi-national scale) is there, I just think visualizing global totality counteractively adopts the totalizing influence of capital, and would really do nothing to effectively change the inequalities and injustices that occur continually on a very local scale. So some questions I have – why does an activist or even revolutionary movement have to operate on the same global scale as capital? Why cant capital be mobilized for social reform? Why cant the map endure as a productive forum for quantifying space, place, population, and movement (why cognition instead of sustaining representation)? Why cant the correlation between politics and space be revitalized and mobilized to effect social change?
″Million Dollar Blocks″ is an activist project based in New York that productively engages all of these questions – questions of representation, politics and space, the need for social reform - and provides us a way out from Jamesons vague-eries and misplaced alliances. ″Million Dollar Blocks″ lets maps (actual maps) speak for themselves: the project assembles incarceration rates from New York City neighborhoods - a color-coded map of the five-boroughs represents the results. Blocks that cost the state over $1 Million to imprison former residents bleed a deep red. By representing the fiscal cost of incarceration as locally contained and identifiable, the map suggests forms of investment that might effect such in a more proactive way (what would the same million bucks do if invested here, in this single block?). The project has had real influence on prison policy within New York and other States, a testement to the beneficial effects of activist movements that refuse to reject and as essential elements of all social justice projects. Project Manager R. Cadora says he hopes that these maps ″would help envision solutions rather than just critiques.″ This optimism, and this proactive spirit is really commendable – Jameson should stop his vague theorizing, his hopes for something he cant even imagine, and start thinking to effect actual change by exploiting the mechanisms of representation that have proven so transformative.

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