A Paradoxical Map
Considered from the extremes, the structural deficiency of media forms can be compensated for in two ways: if mediation becomes superfluous due to a direct presence of the immediate, or if there is no apparent difference between the mediating element and the mediated. In the Middle Ages, as we have seen, both these possibilities feature. In certain circumstances the divine is thought of as being immediately present. At the same time, mediations are so heavily invested with immediacy that the mediated and the immediate seem (momentarily) to become indistinguishable. If our impression is correct, the paradox inherent in such practices was initially thematized more as a rhetorical or theological paradox than as a medial one. In medieval faculties of arts, paradoxical sentences were used for training in dialectics. The Scholastics developed a real ars disserendi. Mysticism, following in the wake of negative theology, revolved around the possibility of saying the unsayable.
It was not until the (early) modern period, when scholars studied paradoxes in order to clarify their own systems of knowledge, that they began to focus on the impossible possibility of representing the world. The following brief text refers to this:
In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
This short text first appeared in 1946 in the Anales de Buenos Aires (no. 3:53), in a section entitled “Museo,” purportedly the work of a certain B. Lynch Davis.