Nov 14, 2008

Exclamation cerebral cities

In Christopher Nolan’s 2001 film, Memento, a man who has lost the capacity for short-term memory has the basic facts of his history tattooed onto his body, his skin stretching the ink-stained blueprints of this memory palace. One curiosity of the film is that, despite remembering nothing else as he begins each day, this character somehow always knows where to go.
In this small logical lacuna lies a metaphor for the way we make our way in the world: less by a process of memory – a chain of remembered routes, places and directions – than by an instinctual drive present in all humans, even amnesiacs. Most of us live our daily lives without recourse to a map. Even those who are ‘bad with directions’ know the particulars of their environs. We internalize the map; the map is us. But the map is crude, even incorrect, analogy for understanding how we interpret and remember the space, since the map is just a story told by someone else. After all, any given space (Main street, a shopping mall, France, the Western hemisphere) could yield a million different maps. […]
Maps are informed by our experience, location and condition. My personal map of New York (being based in Brooklyn) would probably be quite different from that someone living in Washington Heights. Though today this observation may seem blandly intuitive, it was a novel stuff in 1960 when cartographer Kevin Lynch wrote, in his now classic book, The Image of the City:
“The creation of the environmental image is a two-way process between observer and observed. What he sees is based on exterior form, but how he interprets and organizes this, and how he directs his attention, in its turn affects what he sees. The human organism is highly adaptable and flexible , and different groups may have widely different images of the same outer reality.”
Tom Vanderbilt in Else/Where: Mapping, (pp. 176/178)