- Space, Conrad and Modernity
In his essay "Geography and Some Explorers," Joseph Conrad famously outlines three phases of European geography in terms of cartography and exploration. First there was the "fabulous phase" of medieval cartography, the phase of "circumstantially extravagant speculation" (Last Essays 4, 30), where the blank spaces of the maps were crowded "with pictures of strange pageants, strange trees, strange beasts," and the maps themselves showed "theoretically conceived continents," "imaginary kingdoms" and regions "haunted by unicorns" or "inhabited by men with reversed feet, or eyes in the middle of their breasts" (3). This phase ended with the "discovery of the New World" (6). The Conquistadores introduced the second phase, the phase of "geography militant," "the geography of open spaces and wide horizons" (Last Essays 8, 18). Conrad presents this phase in terms of the "acquisitive spirit" gradually giving way to the "scientific" (14). The third phase, modern geography or "geography triumphant" (13), represents for Conrad something of a pyrrhic victory. It produces and contemplates the comprehensively mapped world. In his 1967 lecture, "Des espaces autres," Michel Foucault offered his own, similarly tripartite, brief history of space from the medieval space of emplacement through the post-Galileo space of extension to the modern world's concentration on site. Conrad and Foucault are the guides for Con Coroneos's wide-ranging investigation of the "redemption of space" (8): Conrad repeatedly provides the points of departure and Foucault the example of a new cartography.
In this provocative and deeply cogitated study, Coroneos addresses (and exemplifies) the spatial turn in late-twentieth-century thought. He notes that, over the centuries, "space has been many things—a container, a thing contained, a void, a plenum; a category of perception or its medium; the Cartesian res extensa and the Klein bottle or torus of Lacanian subjectivity." Now, in the "postmodern West," space has become "the cultural dominant" (5). For Coroneos, a key event in the history of space was the emergence of the idea of "closed space" at the end of the nineteenth century (15). Halford Mackinder, in what Coroneos presents as a moment of "cultural self-consciousness," first used the term in 1904 to refer to "a world in which all earthly space is charted, claimed, interconnected" (15). Conrad's "geography triumphant" encapsulates the same apprehension (Last Essays 13). Coroneos's version of Conrad's three phases of geography produces a history of space that moves from the heterogeneous space of "fabulous" cartography to the "undifferentiated abstract space" of "scientific" cartography, which will be replaced, in [End Page 218] turn, by "homogeneous, infinitely divisible" space, "regulated by cartographic convention" (28). However, by drawing on Alexander Koyre and Nicholas of Cusa, Coroneos then argues that the "undifferentiated abstract space" of Enlightenment science is also Pascal's vision of the universe as "an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere" (28, 35). As he puts it, "the sceptical, rational Cartesian subject inhabits a universe in which the God of the medieval mystics has become the space of epistemology" (35). Through Foucault's "Question of Geography," he then arrives at the space of the site as "the very condition of thought and the very figure of knowledge": "the whole epistemological and semantic issue of 'everywhere' has contracted to the self-regulating cosmos of language, and the 'space of discourse' has acquired certain characteristics of the abstract space of Enlightenment thought" (37).
The first part of the book deals with several versions of closed space in order to explore relations between geography, language, and interpretation. The second part focuses on the threshold, heterotopic spaces and the boundary. As we have seen, chapter 1 ends with the paradoxical juxtaposition of the medieval mystical notion of the "centre which is everywhere" to the postmodern "site that is nowhere" (38). Chapter 2, on "Heartless Modernism," takes off from the "shrunken, weak and diseased" hearts of modernism—the pathology of the heart in Ford's The Good Soldier (1915), for example, or Ransom's diseased heart in Conrad's The Shadow Line (1917)—to contemplate "the condition of problematic inwardness...