restricted access Conclusion: Moritz’s Inner-Worldly Critique of Modernity
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Conclusion Moritz’s Inner-Worldly Critique of Modernity The topographical projects of the Enlightenment tend to totalize. This tendency characterizes, for instance, the work of one the most renowned German geographers of the second half of the eighteenth century, Anton Friedrich Büsching , the director of the Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster in Berlin where Moritz was a teacher until 1786. By the time of his death in 1793 (the same year as Moritz ’s), he had completed eleven volumes of his Neue Erdbeschreibung (New Description of the Earth, 1754–92). Though it barely advances beyond a description of the European continent, its ambitions are global in reach: Büsching aspires to nothing less than a comprehensive survey of both the natural and the political geographies of the known world.1 To do so, he not only undertakes an exhaustive review of the extant geographical literature but, even more significantly, mobilizes a vast network of correspondents, many of whose reports he makes available in the twenty-two volumes of his Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie (Magazine for the New History and Geography, 1767–88).2 Büsching’s ambitious project is representative of the practice of Enlightenment geography more generally, which 1. Büsching makes this clear in the preface to the first edition of the first volume (1754): “My aim with this work is to deliver a description of the known world that is as correct and useful as possible, by means and according to the criteria of the best resources available” (Neue Erdbeschreibung, 2). 2. Büsching describes this procedure in the preface to the sixth edition of the first volume (1770) of his Neue Erdbeschreibung (iii–vi). Conclusion 155 3. Edney, “Reconsidering Enlightenment Geography,” 171. was oriented toward the ideal of “a universal geographical archive” that would “form a coherent whole” from all the individual descriptions of the world.3 Each volume of his Magazin features a title-page engraving that suggests a vision of just such an archive (see fig. 8). Composed in central perspective, such that a spacious aisle lined with massive, symmetrical bookshelves appears to extend toward the viewer, this engraving presents just a portion of the envisioned archive. However, one senses that if, like the two gentlemen conversing near the center of the picture ’s foreground, one were to traverse this rigorously ordered space, one could eventually attain an overview of the whole. The totalizing imperative of the Enlightenment is nowhere more evident than in what Robert Darnton has called its “supreme text” (Great Cat Massacre, 191), the Encyclopédie, Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts Et Des Métiers (Encyclopaedia , or Classified Dictionary of Sciences, Arts, and Trades, 1751–72), edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert and encompassing seventeen volumes of text and eleven volumes of plates. The guiding metaphor for this project is the mappemond, or world map. As described by d’Alembert in his Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot (1751), the encyclopedic project “consists of collecting knowledge into the smallest area possible and of placing the philosopher at a vantage point, so to speak, high above this vast labyrinth, whence he can perceive the Figure 8. Title-page engraving in Anton Friedrich Büsching’s Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie. University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center. 156 The Topography of Modernity principal sciences and the arts simultaneously....It is a kind of world map which is to show the principal countries, their position and their mutual dependence, the road that leads directly from one to the other” (47). The Encyclopédie, then, offers a unifying perspective from which the interconnections among the various branches of knowledge become apparent. The tree of knowledge with which d’Alembert and Diderot preface their encyclopedia maps out these interconnections so that they are available at a glance. However, as Darnton has noted, “epistemological Angst” permeates this comprehensive encyclopedic project (Great Cat Massacre, 195). It finds expression in the Preliminary Discourse immediately following d’Alembert’s evocation of the mappemonde: But, as in the case of the general maps of the globe we inhabit, objects will be near or far and will have different appearances according to the vantage point at which the eye is placed by the geographer constructing the map, likewise the form of the encyclopedic tree will depend on the vantage point one assumes in viewing the universe of letters. Thus one can create as many different systems...


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