Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Target: Map -> Action (Proposal)

"…In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless… In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars…"

Human Rights activism has a narrative problem that is two-fold. First, as Thomas Keenan writes, "there is more than enough light [shining on human rights violators], and yet its subjects exhibit themselves shamelessly, brazenly, and openly." This failure to "mobilize shame" can be attributed to several things; the failure to create a universal rational subject, the existence of different systems of logic (one that reaches the conclusion that one should not be ashamed of violence and destruction), the assumption that human rights is in fact a correct logical conclusion; all of which seem unsatisfying and far too totalizing. The second issue is that, in attempting to shine light on the dark spaces created by violence and rights violations, NGOs can shock the viewer into a state of paralysis; such is Lisa Parks' complaint concerning the Crisis in Darfur layer in Google Earth, whose method of providing data and dates transforms the genocide into something that has happened as opposed to is happening. An addition (yet closely related) issue concerns the location of the U.S. in all of this (and not just the U.S. of the Bush years); "There a serious defect in the soul of Americans where we can’t rise to something new. Every nation has its peccadilloes, faults, and guilt. But that is in the past. Can’t we say that this is a new age, and the United States, especially after the collapse of Communism, has a whole new moral role?" (Robert Drinan, quoted from http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/838.html) The use of "guilt" in this quote is rather remarkable, as is his assumption that, for American, these faults (evident in such acts as the overthrowing of El Salvador's Democratic government in the name of business interests, or the participation in Operation Ajax) can be overcome by the promise of the new. But what shape can that "new" take, especially when it seems as if the sorts of "shaming" the U.S. tries to accomplish in the international arena often serve as justification for military actions (Somali and Iraq being the two most obvious examples)?

The question outlined by these issues is this: how can abstract notions of human rights be actualized globally and justly? What sort of agency do we (the citizens/persons so important to the language of human rights) have to act for justice across the globe, or, if this global scope is impossible, locally? My attempt at outlining a method for solving these questions will examine the map, and the ways in which the totalizing map of Google Earth, whose use for matching, point for point, those injustices which have occurred (and, implicitly, have ended), has proved Useless, can be used to create a clear space, a need, for action. This involves both a bit of graph theory and the idea of a map that contains its own actualization, whose metadata (the geometry etched across the surface of the "natural" portion of the map) is continually updating and, instead of presenting a target that has already been "hit," presents a delineated field which can be acted upon through the insertion of the viewing subject. The ExtrACT project will provide impetus for the theory, serving as a test case whose various successes and failings can provide inspiration.

I will, of course, be drawing from Keenan, Parks, de Certeau, and Jameson; Appadurai, Tsing and LiPuma might make brief appearances, but will not play central roles, nor will their appearances entail exact mapping of their theories onto my project.

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