Alan Sondheim

Geography begins with substance, defined as contiguity; contiguity leads to space in relation to the body. The body appears in the subjective aspect of geography, in which the breast, through transitional objects and fecality, leads to object relations , held within the skein of fusion-locales. I consider a fusion-locale to be a mythologized lived environment in which local geographic features are interconnected with stabilized cultural discourses such as ritual, song, and so forth. The fusion-locale is a memory of the traditional neighborhood; this, too, dissolves in contemporary culture, leading to locales in general suburban transplants, for example.

These body-penetrated spaces are the basis of classical geographic description (Herodotus, Strabo, etc.). Eventually, travelogue and historical narrative form the textual framework. The historical narrative possesses temporal contiguity; the travelogue is both spatially and temporally continuous. The return to this geography, in which the geographer himself or herself is nomadic, appears in the contemporary problematic of the body and its (interior and exterior) spatiality.

The spatial substructure is formalized in Euclid, Archimedes, and others; this occurs as the (crudely) objective aspect of geography. Formally, geography first occurs within a Euclidean structure defined in terms of relationships (line, plane, point), Such a structure occasions surveying and the first topographic meshes. The mesh becomes a grid when an origin is chosen and numerical values assigned to orthogonal (or other) axes.

Through large-scale computation, it is possible to construct a highly-sophisticated primitive geographic information system (GIS), the spatial archive and interchange format (SAIF), which is object-oriented. It is based on topological considerations. G eographic information systems in general are dependent upon a theoretically perfect grid; hark back to Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, and avail themselves of both Hertzian mechanics and a logical substructure of the world related to Carnaps construct ions. With SAIF, grid and measurement are higher level than in other GIS.

All GIS have two things in common, a classical and unproblematized notion of truth (i.e., truth within fuzzy set systems, for example), and gatekeepers. The latter refers to the editorializing armature of any GIS, the decision to include or exclude cer tain features, to operate within a certain tolerance bandwidth, and so forth. Gatekeepers also decide the potential software outputs of the system even the potential users. The gatekeepers manage the data flow (lower level) which translates into flux-kno wledge (higher-level). Flux-knowledge is the organized information stream which passes for traditional knowledge; in general it is too large and unwieldy for an individual to fully know even a small section of it. In postmodernism, knowledge translates in to flux-knowledge, and knowing into managing. The gatekeepers are the primary managers in postmodernism.

Note that geography is both rooted in the intimacy of a particular site (fusion-locale for example) on one hand, and the intermeshing of that site vis-a-vis formal theories and axiomatics on the other. Although similar divisions occur everywhere in hum an activity, in geography, the split is extreme. The geographic features of the planet, for example, are a given; they are specific lived data, tacit knowledge.

GIS and geographic fusion phenomena ultimately depend upon the signifier. In Flauberts St-Antoine, Anthony flees the myriad buzzing of the earths substance, ultimately taking refuge in the image of the sun and Christianity. This flight into signifier is also flight into institution; the formalized community of Christianity replaces the decay of visions. Geography likewise is dependent upon a formalized community; beyond fusion and mesh, a third term appears, the professionalism of geography itself, wi th AAG (Association of American Geographers) meetings, specialized vocabularies and so forth.

Through the feminist cartography of the body (Wittig, Irigaray, Kristeva, etc.), a critique of analysis itself has been developing, particularly in France and the United States. A return to the body and the problematic of the body in relation to flesh , gender, and culture becomes essential. The logic of the body is ultimately a transgressive one; specifically, it employs non-distributive non-Aristotelian logics in its activities. Such logics are the origin of gesture.

While the body treated classically has become irrelevant for geography, the body is also the center of postmodern intensifications. Worldwide increases in populations, diseases, migrations, and nomadicisms couple with the destabilization of classical n ation-states and frontiers. Political geography slightly detaches itself from specific sites as communicative structures must be taken more and more into account. The phenomenology of classical space-time breaks down formally through the appearance of new physical theories, and informally through both the transgressive modalities of uprooted populations and the overloaded rush of new communications media. Everything combines to both marginalize the body (against, for example, the proliferation of cable te levision channels) and emphasize it (the increasing sexualization of television; the social order becomes represented within the discourse of perversion.

All of this leads on one hand to noise culture, composed of dislocations, and on the other, to postmodernisms emphasizing constructivism, not essentialism. Noise culture refers to both the waywardness of everyday goals battered by detours and defaultin g, and the somewhat nomadicized subcultures that arise to stabilize individuals within the flux-knowledge empire. Stabilization implies gate keeping associated in this instance with ritual and an emphasis on a local knowledge that transcends traditional g eographic boundaries. These subcultures include survivalist groups, punk groups, zine communities, mail and xerox artists (the two overlap), short-wave monitors, radio and television amateurs and pirates, and hackers. The last often challenge flux-knowled ge at the heart, crashing the gate, if not the gatekeepers. Noise culture also implies a realm of sleaziness and bricolage; it exists within the frontiers of night and the the underground. It also includes border creatures, such as nightclubbers, addict s ubcultures, etc.

Postmodernism invade and interpenetrate the body; they are the result of an enormous confluence of interrelated phenomena, such as micr-electronics, fluid technologies, and media, flux-knowledge itself, the transformation from heavy industry (with its classical geographic site) to service industry (with its spread of classical but fuzzy sites) to information economy (with its occupation of new sites upon various electronic or optical bandwidths). The heart of postmodernism is that it is always from els ewhere, that it is always communication, and that it is always in formation. Postmodernism leads immediately to new information states and economies, and within flux-knowledge, production-value becomes of paramount importance. Production-value refers to t he look of representation a look which becomes, invades, content. Flux-knowledge takes on a sheen; mechanism disappears behind the blank screen made of new space-age materials. Everything ultimately occurs in this world by remote control.

One can only agree with Lyotard that the grand narratives of modernism the large-scale narrative subtexts of everyday life have disappeared, in favor of micro-narratives. The latter may ultimately owe their existence to the database; in any case, they again challence classical notions of spacetime.

Together, noise culture and postmodernism (single or plural makes no difference here) imply a broken phenomenology of communcations systems and their conduits. Everywhere, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) comes problematically, politically, into play . The EMS bandwidth is fixed in two ways: first, electrical or optical cables have specific carrying-capacities; and second, the broadcast spectrum is limited by station and other interferences of all sorts. The latter leads to a geography of bandwidth wh ich is most important, a geography operating within and set apart from the classical geography of sites.

There are at least five geographies at work here: the traditional geography of features, landforms and usages, cartographies, urban demographics, etc.; a second geography of the body and its perverse representations; a third of nomadicism and literally mobile populations; a fourth of noise culture, flux-knowledge, and gatekeeping; and a fifth of EMS allocations. These divide into two groups: geographies of the site and mesh; and nomadic geographies.

The situation becomes even more interesting with the advent of neural networking and virtual realities (VR). The former refers to non-linear networks of model neurodes (any term will do) which can imitate organic berhavior in highly sophisticated ways. The mesh or grid is replaced by the flow; neurodes operate in competition or consort, not only as gates within passive fixed networks. VR, which may employ neural networking, develops new imaginary geographies; at the same time imaginary itself becomes p roblematic. Both VR and networks are modeled on huge super-computers, including the Cray, Connection Machine, and so forth. As compression techniques become more refined and available, modeling will occur on smaller machines; experimentation and VR will b e within the range of anyone.

Thus video, merging with the computer, leads to new spatialities new spacings as well as new spaces. Eventually, video representation (including morphing the production or transformation of anyone or anything) and information structures will be as re al as material or physical objects. Again, geography becomes transformed. And all of these transformations lead to a final and most basic problematic that of classical truth and truth-values. For truth itself becomes a mode of representation, once cut lo ose from the physical site. In this sense, geography will ultimately deconstruct and reconstruct itself, taking both everything and nothing for granted.

Already simulacra-art, challenging the basis of truth, has appeared as a fundamental operation within noise-culture. Smile magazine appears in several versions from several locations, all intermixed; one of the major authors is Karen Eliot who can be a nyone. In a playful way, authorship (the classical geographic site of the writer) is deconstructed. And within the EMS, noise is coming more and more to the fore; one can speak of the spectral mother, the EMS as a great territory of birthing whose speech is almost always inchoate, but always present. In the large-scale exhibition at the Pompidou Center, 1985, Lyotard and Chaput assembled collections and gestures towards some of these phenomena under the rubric Les ImmatÄrial. Earlier, Lucy Lippard had edited Six Years: The Dematerialization of Art, referring to conceptual concerns of the 1960s and 70s artists. Both of these portend the new geographies described above.

Finally, it should be remembered that geography is, above all, geographers and their institutions. It is this that continues the importance of geography; as Mike Davis City of Quartz itself illustrates, it will never lose itself in the rhetoric of nois e culture, postmodernism, nomadicism. At least part will remain bound to both GIS and the imminent site. And it is here, within the site, and through the information produced by GIS, that political action conservationist, ecological can occur. Geography can never wander too far astray. . .

Inchoate World

Inchoate World: slough and degris of the swamp, nematode habitats, microbial associations these are layered at the bottom, within the ooze totalized by geography. Elsewhere grid, totality, mathematization: SAIF [Spatial Archive and Interchange Format] is based on a unifying, mathematical architecture. This helps make it cohesive on one hand, yet modular and extensible on the other. It also means that the model can readily be represented in a computer language or database management system.. . . Fundamental to SAIF is the idea of a geographic object. A geographic object is a real or artificially defined entity above, on or within the earth, which can be referenced through a coordiante system. Canada is a geographic object, as is a fire hydrant, an aqui fer, and a fleet of trucks. (Mark Sondheim, Canada considers SAIF Specification in GIS World, June 1991.) SAIF is used within peer to peer connectivity domains; it is hardware to their software. The hardware of the data pool is as remote (but far less co mplex) than the earth itself. The hardware depends on coherency and well-ordering; the earth depends on both resiliency and redundancy.

The domain of the tacit knowledge produced by SAIF is that of the visual and the abstract. Interpretations may ultimately revert to video within spread-sheet windows, but the interplay and flow of numbers, like any speech-stream, need not depend on imm inent visualization. Instead, the user may ride the flow, an activity in which the visual imagination is secondary at best. (The less visuality, the greater the conservation of knowledge-energy.)

SAIF penetrates the mobile geography of postmodernism; indeed, it is defined as flux. Peripherals may be anywhere. The noise of the urban environment parallels that of the swamp; its representation splinters and regroups (police, tax base, military eva cuation, etc.). The university itself, home of BMS (data-base management systems), is a ruralized fortress or enclave whose business is primarily verbal or abstract.

Whatever is geography. Recorded transformation are dependent upon information gathering agencies with their own political economies and agenda. Recording, like semiotics itself, tends toward closure towards inscriptive surfaces. The best recorders hav e a lag-time. The Vienna Circle has come full circle; logicism is now fluid, the necessary foundation of any data-base a foundation within the domain of naive set theory, heuristic axiomatics, and an a priori notion of relevance and truth. Thus in terms of fuzzy data, Many of the phenomena being studied are not completely accessible to the researcher, so that the size and orientation of an object or duration of an event cannot be established. Furthermore, the continuity and orientation of the boundaries of the geographic Object cannot always be discreetly quantified. The boundaries are modelled quantities requiring that a statistical error be identified and associated with the geographic object. (SAIF Conquering Space and Time, H. A. Kucera and Mark Sondheim.) But what is the nature of this association? At theis point the grid fissures and absorbs the observer; this introjection is inverted, projected back into the mechanism itself in the form of additional quantification. Truth is therefore recuperate d; fuzzy truth is truth nonetheless. The neo-Kantianism (also implied in the quasi-militarism of the title metaphor) is evident; within and against the database, catefories remain inviolate. But returning to the slime, see Scientific American 4/92, The P lankton Stalkers (M. Hollaway): This [video plankton recorder or VPR] view of plankton is not available from other technologies. Nets smear samples as well as picking up and mixing together creatures from different levels of the water column. Nets also o bscure densities; everything caught becomes one messy mass. Even a more refined net system that is opened and closed electronically [. . . ] destroys fragile animals. Nonetheless, with the VPR we saw lots of organisms we couldnt identify. However, creatures are not caught, so they cannot be examined later with this technology. Indeed, microbial and submicrobial life become an information substance with local intensifications not resistance to analysis, but overloading analysis (as in the examination, on a macroscopic level, of insect speciation).

With human cultural economy, noise increases within the fine tuning of urban representation; data bases transform under the pressure of street-bricolage, and territories are deeply inchoate. Knowledge flows are imminent and intersecting; sectors (stree t-gangs, prostitutes, business people, actors) are both totalized and interpenetrated. No problems and no solutions emerge out of this; because the world is closed, there are no satisfactory boundaries. Consider the fast-forward toppling of geograhpic ob jects, a data base choked with contradictory flickering information. Finally, the lights go out; language reverts to cries and whimpers, stutterings; unknown symbols appear and disappear. Meanwhile, within the rural or fortress university, life goes on, b ack-ups automatically turn on and take control, data-bases shudder, struggle back to the semblance of form and artifact, begin all over again. . .

Slurry Geography

The geographic presents and ignores the seething mass beneath the surface; no wonder enormous fungi permeating acres of forest were discovered only at the end of the twentieth century! Spectacular formations what else are we to call the presence of the l arger ungulates or trees, for example! The stuttering or fissuring of slurry! The earth is awash with molecular particulate, a continuous shower threatening to break apart any momentary homeostasis. (At what cost stability!) Nothing remains for too long; wear is the condition of the world; everything conspires to collapse the spectacle itself. The spectacle bursts out!

The air becomes a contrary or wayward vacuum remaining on remote. The theoretical core of the world disconnects. Radical disconnection characterizes this universe; as Simon says, we are witness to almost decomposable domains in which anything might occur (and usually does!).

in which characteristic dominions assert themselves. Nothing is exchanged in these transactions verified from inconceivable distances. (Nothing usuable.)

The ordinary or useless are called weeds. This is a political distinction; from without, geography is contaminated by the spectacle itself. Bush, brush, desert-scrub. The spectacle is the sight of things.

What constitutes a path? Lines cross and recross themselves, defined by fissures, animal inscriptions, occlusions; maps are constituted. The map alone takes the line from one place to another. The map is the deposit.

The map is a token, laminar or abstracted data, a form of salvage extruding the spectacle, always a rearrangement.

The measurement of a line is its crossing. It is measured against topography and typification. It talks, measurement always talks. The measurement is discourse. What it knows is the construct between true and false. It knows difference within a degree of tolerance. It is intolerant.

The difference is leaky, leaks all over the place. The difference is fuzzy, always on the verge of collapse. People speak and speak. The difference is the only speech there is. It is a token, laminar or abstracted data, a form of salvage excluding the slu rry, always an effacement.

The effacement is real, never contracted, never a keyword or moment of reversal. This is the deafness of inaudible supplication. The world is never given speech; speech is never taken from it. The world is spoken-for.

Fungus, nematode, swamp, clay, marsh, mire, mud, wetland, bog, puddle, fumarole, molecule, slime mold, spore, insect cast, protozoan, virus, annelid, comb jelly, ribbon worm, sponge, hydra, flatworm, mite, fluke, lichen, algae, fan worm, beard worm, mold, yeast spore, pollen nomadic geography: slurry.

The geography of the slurry of the world.


How far have things moved in the analog city? How are things moved? There are wheels and clean streets, surfaces of indescribable smoothness, wired surfaces in yellow, green, and blue. White against blue, blue-white. White, in analog city. Cylinders thrust themselves forward in equivalent ellipsoids, vehicular gliding on unused streets. The hubs of the wheels are ellipses spanning double foci. Pillars are trees. Surfaces are burnished, glint. The grittiness beyond it all lies implacably ben eath the surface. Everything awaits an audience.

Everythings in abeyance, on the verge. The verge is the hinge of broken structure. The verge remembers; the language of chaotic theory waits in the wings. The oracle straddles a hill of swollen dirt. Theres no smart way to say this.

Nothing holds fast to the grains of the hill. The grains are dark tan, almost impenetrable. Im seized with an unutterable melancholy.

Sadness becomes only itself. It shudders, casts off the remnant of flesh, cloak of warmth or darkness. Thats the destiny of all human life: the cloak of warmth, cloak of darkness.

With the obvious truism that history ends with the present, comes another that every moment spells its death.

Blank building, white, blue, green, yellow, windows cut through the surface. In analog city, surface always cuts into surface; city begins with surface, with the cutting of the surface. light above, dark below. The perspective of the analog city. Destiny! My destiny!

. . . the geography of the operational space of a large computer in a noisy and abject environment. Noise is calculable, set against structured backgrounds; abjection attacks the backgrounds themselves. The circumscription of noise is a classical inscript ion; abjection fissures both the sememe and its ebodiment. The description is sublimated as affect.

Does a machine comprehend stumbling around? Stumbling thrusts the state-space of the program against its horizon or limitations; the result is a chaotic echo effect, data and parsing churning within.

Can its virtual space (topological, geometrical) production defeat its sentience constructs ocurring in fast feed-forward time, never mind the details? So that virtual travel neuroticizes, reaches a point of hysteria in which repression is transformed in to the symptomatic dysfunctionality of the body.

Destiny! My destiny! - I use the rhetoric of the (fictional) past as the protocol for the origin of language, the protocol for the site of speech. I dont give myself to the site, give myself over to the site. I dont believe in it. Without the rhetoric, the re would be no necessary resonance. Words would connect, disconnect, within virtual space. The rhetorical space I employ is leaky; you know that. Its the virtue of space. It gives you something to read.