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  • Burroughs’s Phantasmic Maps
  • Mario Vrbančić (bio)

The cartographer's dream is that of a perfect map, the mapthat would perfectly represent a territory, a dream of divineknowledge: a map that has haunted the ideology of representation throughout history: a map so detailed that it coincides with real space. Until very recently the map was considered a mirror of nature, a mirror of the landscape. However, postmodern culture with its omnipresent fragmentation of the whole that scatters the sensory spaces of dogma and anxieties calls the map with its geometrized lines into question. In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explore and propose different concepts of mapping—a rhizome, in an attempt to make connections between widely different spaces without imposing hierarchy. The map, as they argue, is not an instrument of reproduction but rather one of construction. It does not trace something larger but constantly captures and inflects from outside itself, so that it is not clearly distinguishable from "the surveyed landscape." Its functions are multiple, intersecting several different discourses at once. A rhizome presents a new form of thought, a politics of establishing nonsystematic connections, an antisystem that would not be trapped in the rigid formations of the state, the unconscious, or language. It traverses the territory without ever anchoring in one of the discursive formations, like the navigator who in one trajectory uses the metro, the bus, and foot in combination. The flexible, nomadic thought constantly forms connections between different systems of discursive practices: it is a cartography of living, the new version of a map, the guild of cartographers experimenting with the multiplicity of equations between a map and a territory.

The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing. The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp; it forms a map with the wasp, in a rhizome. What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself, it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a [End Page 313] plane of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome. The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation.1

My intention in this essay is to evoke a vivid tapestry of a lateral antihierarchical map in William Burroughs's Cities of the Red Night. To map Burroughs's universe is extremely hard, confusing, and even dangerous. Whether the vast incessant intertextual flow leads us to new, undiscovered territories, not yet charted, or whether any impulse of seeking meaning stays frustratingly unresolved, and we find only piles of garbage-words. Nonsense. No maps, no territories.

Kathryn Hume claims that "mapping is a principal function of Burroughs's work. On several occasions he has called himself 'a map maker, a cosmonaut of inner space.'"2 Yet to chart space "it is necessary to travel. It is not necessary to live": "To travel in space you must leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, country talk, mother talk, love talk, part talk. You must learn to exist with no religion no country no allies. You must learn to live alone in silence. Anyone who prays in space is not there. The last frontier is being closed to youth. However there are many roads to space. To achieve complete freedom from past conditioning is to be in space."3 Burroughs's rebellion against language, and the invocation of space as the only possible means of freeing oneself from constraints of unhealthy multilayered inhibitions imposed by civilization, are similar to Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus project.4 Rejection of "mother talk, country talk" dramatizes language as the mechanism of repression...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 313-326
Launched on MUSE
2005-07-18
Open Access
No
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