“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)
The term terra cognita meaning “unknown land” in Latin, was created during the Age of Exploration in the mid 15th century lasting through the 19th century. Francaviglia writes, “The use of Latin as a universal language for knowledge was endorsed at the end of the Middle Ages, and so the term terra incognita perfectly captured both the spirit of the times and the character of unknown places” (Francaviglia 25). Latin becomes a signifier for knowledge and legitimation, revealing exploration as above all else the search for knowledge.
The search for terra incognita involves three stages of inscription, beginning with the map as rational inscription, the sea as irrational and fleeting, and culminating with the gaze as relational and authoring.
Mapping the Unknown (Hic Sunt Dracones)
The acquisition of knowledge and the need to know has been the main fuel for exploration. World maps during the Age of Exploration were in flux, mirroring the age itself, since there were still bodies of land to be discovered and rendered onto the map. The map as evidence of rationality and legibility also exhibited gaps of unknown spaces pointing to its own limitations and lack. Expeditions sought to fill in all of the missing spaces to 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. These unknown spaces were often marked with the phrase terra incognita, although there is also account of some displaying the phrase hic sunt dracones or “here be dragons,” emphasizing the fear and intrigue induced by the unknown as well as its presence as a threat to knowledge, rationality, and authority. The unknown, then, destabilizes the logic of the map as archive.
State sponsored expeditions, acquiring knowledge as emphasizing state power
Ship becomes extension of state, state prosthetic
ship also as crypt and sea becomes crypt carrier (coffin traveling along the water) - danger and death was a huge part of these explorations. ship doubles as home and crypt, doubles again as the state and state crypt
map used to be a palimpsest, written over, rewritten, making additions
The Sublime as Blackbox and Erasure
longinus - sublime is power and transports you
Kant's dynamic sublime – overhwlmed by the infinity of nature
“But in what we are wont to call sublime in nature there is such an absence of anything leading to particular objective principles and corresponding forms of nature that it is rther in its chaos, or in its wildest and most irregular disorder and desolation, provided it gives signs of magnitude and power, that nature chiefly excites the ideas of the sublime.” (Kant 70)
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?
since the ship is symbolic of state power and the body of the state, so to the gaze can be seen as that of the state
Afterimages as Possession
remediating the land/Other through metaphoric afterimage, re-present the Other
afterimage is impression of the unknown land which is carried by the explorer and can be evoked at the desire and will of the explorer (image becomes detached from actual land, detaching the signifier)
image becomes a possession that can be kept after leaving the land
unknown land remains under visual possession in the home state
afterimage becomes an extension/prosthetic of the land (copy/photograph), double that gives birth to the first (Plato/Derrida)
gaze is the inscribing, writing of the self onto and into the land, gaze as already implicating the self in the space
The Spyglass and the War Machine
telescope as dioptric
frames and borders the image, excludes periphery
land becomes a target (Kittler, photography and targeting)
Vision is enhanced via a prosthetic (spyglass/telescope)
cuts into the landscape, reforming and reorganizing the land (Walter Benjamin - surgeon/cameraman?) dissects and reshapes the subject
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?
“The war machine makes spaces into objects of knowledge well before they are occupied, partitioned, and demarcated by the state. The knowledge produced by intelligence is thus fundamentally connected to spaces that are traversed and reconnoitered[…]. The space that intelligence sxplores is, by definition, opaque and inaccessible. The task of intelligence is thus to penetrate into the forbidden and protected space, cross borders, and investigate the enemy’s territory. This space is by definition an uncharted, secret-filled, necessarily dangerous zone (Horn 73)
Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Boston: MIT Press, 1992.
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987.
Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Francaviglia, Richard V. Mapping and Imagination in the Great Basin: a Cartographic History. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2005.