Maps of the imagination. Known territory.

I picked up a copy of Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (by Peter Turchi) a couple of days ago in St. Louis, and I have to say that it’s a pretty good book. Unfortunately, I was already familiar with many of the ideas in it. Maps, to some extent, do define the territory. What we see is largely influenced by what a map tells us is there. Even though some maps have blank spots, even those blanks lend credence to those elements known well enough not to be left blank. Maps as a metaphor for understanding narrativity, and narrative offering a frame toward understanding maps. And so on. I don’t want to spoil the book if you haven’t read it.

When I bought the book, I thought it was going to talk more generally about the ways writers might conceptualize a project as a map. I’m just getting started trying to organize and focus my reading practices toward my exams and dissertation next year, so I thought it would be helpful. The book didn’t offer what I had hoped. Not a flaw; just not Turchi’s project.

So I guess I’ll just work through what I hoped to find in it. I figure that an intellectual project like a dissertation, a journal article, or a book needs a few structural elements if it’s eventually going to succeed. Maybe these elements are elementary to everyone else, but I’m really just working through them to see them in print before me. Maybe these elements are simply what I think I would need to complete an intellectual project.

First there needs to be a certain kind of investment. I need to care about the discourse surrounding a certain subject or topic and have an articulated reason for that investment. Second, I would need to have an unanswered question. A curiosity. A reason to keep reading. Third, I would need to have the confidence that the answer to that question is not only achievable, but potentially useful to someone else in my discipline. Fourth, I would need to have a plan.

It’s this plan that I’m not sure I really have right now. I have the first three steps. (I’m going to have to look back at my first blog entry and the title description to see if I’ve revealed those to you yet.) But I’m still not sure about what the best way to go about this might be. I think I’m going to try to forward the metaphor of a map rather literally. I’ll explain that with tomorrow’s entry. (I’m not trying to build any dramatic anticipation. I’m just too tired to write any more tonight, and I promised myself I would try to keep these entries between 300-500 words. Stay linked.)

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