Reading as Mapping

Authored by: Christina Ljungberg

The Routledge Handbook of Literature and Space

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138816350
eBook ISBN: 9781315745978
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315745978-9

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Abstract

Maps and literature are both about orienting ourselves in the world. While a map serves to orient ourselves in real space, a literary text serves to orient us in a fictional space. However, maps may also be read without the purpose of finding any real places, as Miguel de Cervantes suggests when he has his protagonist Don Quixote praise the possibility to“[j]ourney over all the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue of traveling, without suffering the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst” (Cervantes, Ch.6, Bk III). What makes this quotation from Cervantes particularly poignant here is that the protagonist compares reading with travelling in the map, that is, inside it in a space defined by borders. The affinity of reading a map in this way and reading a literary text is apparent when we consider that Susan Sontag uses the metaphor of the novel as a “world with borders” (2009: 13). What is reading a literary text when not mapping oneself onto and into a textual world? And which map does not need a context and a narrative, can even be said to present a narrative of its own? However, whereas Susan Sontag’s metaphor of the novel as “a world with borders” reminds us that the novel is an artifact, a work of art that is bounded and conceived, Cervantes’s map celebrates the expansive potential of a map to immerse us in a fictional landscape. “Journey[ing] all over the universe in a map” even harbors the risk of getting lost in the fictional world, of blurring the line between art and life, as Cervantes has his “quixotic” protagonist do in his work of metafiction avant la lettre (cf. Tally 2013: 37).

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