Monday, October 12, 2009

blank spots on the cognitive map

Jameson calls for the process of cognitive mapping in order “to enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole” (The culture logic of late capitalism). This weeks reading on the suppression (or repression, as Foucault discusses) of knowledge within the nation immediately direct me to the issue of cognitive mapping. Jameson sees cognitive mapping as a way of “positioning” the individual who is a victim of “spatial…as well as…social confusion” in the global, postmodern system. But what Peglan and Galison assert is the inherent and naturalized social confusion of the—in these cases American—citizen of a nation in which more information is concealed than presented openly.

Peglan sets his mission, that of exposing the secret “black world” of America, as a geographical one. He locates the presence of secrets in the vast amounts of classified documents and traces the “blank spots” on released satellite maps to form a more cognitive map of the real “totality”, as Jameson says, that structures our nation as a whole. He describes his book as “a guide to the geography of the classified universe…and an examination of the secret state that has grown and matured as a shadow part of the American government” (5). In the Epilogue, however, he realized that it is not the actual secret information that is important, but the ways in which individuals cognitively map their own existence (or, “actively sculpt the geographies around them” (281).) in relation to whatever knowledge they have. The fact that classification exists in such high volume, or at all, is the important factor in the creation of a national cognitive map.

The blank spots, akin to Foucault’s description of the repression of sex, considered in conjunction with of that which is exposed make up the entire picture of the map. Foucault describes,
“Silence itself—the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers—is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within over-all strategies” (Foucault, 27)
Although Foucault is talking about the treatment of sex as discourse in society, it is comparable to the classification of official documents because both concern the dominance of bureaucracy and institution in shaping the minds of the public. Sex was highly discussed amongst the institutions as a matter of discourse in the eighteenth and nineteen centuries so as to keep it repressed and avoided by public society. The same goes for the process of classifying documents. As Peter Galison describes, there is a complex system within the bureaucratic state for categorizing classified and unclassified documents. The secret world is humongous, the amount of knowledge vast (with the actual size only known to select officials and only questioned within the educational institutions) compared to that which the public is allowed to access.
Peglan understands this vast, “black world” of knowledge and secret operations to be the “basis underlying much of the American economy”. With all the press surrounding unstable banking institutions and other causes leading to the current economic recession, I wonder if the real issue being outlined is the problem in the basis for our economy being an underground world of billions of spent dollars. What is at stake in concealing these expenditures from a nation united in the struggle for housing and social welfares?

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