Terra Incognita

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“When we storm forward and climb out of the trenches, we see the empty, unknown land in front of us where death goes about its business […] it appears as if a new dimension has opened up to us. Then we suddenly see up close, […] what awaits us in the land of the dead: the enemy. That is an unforgettable moment.” – Ernst Jünger (Kittler, 132)

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3 types/moments/stages of inscription in the search for unknown land (terra incognita)

-map (rational) (ordered)

-sea (irrational) (fleeting)

-gaze (relationship) (authoring)

The Unknown (Hic Sunt Dracones)

The acquisition of knowledge and the need to know has been a main reason for expeditions in search of unknown land in history. The map used to be something that was in flux, there were still bodies of land to be discovered and rendered back onto the map. The map as evidence of rationality and legibility exhibited gaps and lacunaes of unknown spaces. Expeditions sought to fill in all of the missing spaces and complete and solidify the scientific reason proposed by the map and reassert its legitimacy. The gaps undermine the authority of maps and name it as something unstable. Myth says that maps used to be marked with the phrase hic sunt dracones or “here be dragons” on unknown areas, emphasizing the fear and intrigue induced by the unknown not to mention its presence as a threat, a threat to knowledge, rationality, and authority. The unknown destabilizes the archive and the ability to have an archive and to file.

The Sublime

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longinus - sublime is power and transports you

Kant's dynamic sublime – overhwlmed by the infinity of nature

Mise en abyme?

The sea insofar as it is the sublime is blackboxed, allowing one to experience it only through its projected surface interface, therefore one can only stand at the threshold or edge of the sublime. One can not enter into the sublime because it would result in death or complete madness. The sublime is blackboxed through and through, entering it wouldn’t unlock it as blackbox, it would continue to be lux, the impenetrable and opaque body of light. The threshold of the sublime then is like an event horizon, the position of the self at the interface of one’s own potential obliteration by the immense engulfing threat of nature.

The sea also denies writing. It is an unstable writing surface and acts as liquid erase, as each trace the ship leaves in the water vanishes in the moment it appears, it is swallowed and buried. The ship is not permitted to leave a trail or to mark on the water. In this sense it functions like a mystic writing pad that strikes back where the writer cannot control the erasure of writing, but rather it is immediately subsumed into the unconscious and the act of writing becomes synonymous with the act of erasing.

Regime of Vision


The male gaze of the explorer acts as a stylus

Vision synonymous with writing, authoring the land as a blank page before embarking onto the land

Impass of the moment – in seeing the unknown land

it is no longer unknown, power of vision transforms it, can no longer be held as the romantic unknown, no longer exists as pure Other (echoes the master/slave impass)

Is this the land writing back on the gaze?

Encounter with the Unknown

Lacan and the Other

Edward Said, Orientalism

Always causes a split/fracture in the subject, destabilizes the subject, changes consciousness

Recognition of the self in the Other

Problematic because self can be seen in the unknown, part of the self has a relationship to the unknown, how can this be? Black box of the self

Disembodied experience? How can it be experience?

Does the disembodiment/fracture effect the authority of the gaze, the validity of the gaze?