A question of scale? Lazlo Almasy's desert mapping and its postcolonial rewriting

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Date: Spring 2011
From: Journal of Romance Studies(Vol. 11, Issue 1)
Publisher: Liverpool University Press (UK)
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,717 words

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Abstract :

In the wake of postcolonial studies, questions of power and space have gained pivotal significance and geography has become a powerful tool in cultural analysis. However, the simple and metaphorical use of spatial metaphors, such as the cultural appropriation of mapping and cartography, is problematic in so far as it presumes that space is not complex. The understanding of scale in this article thus does not pretend to be either simple or metaphorical, but rather it signifies a 'circulatory site', both a ratio used in cartographic practice and a useful tool to discuss the circulation of meaning among imperial and postcolonial discursive practices. Lazlo Almasy was romanticized in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient as a love-driven idealist against the backdrop of the somewhat blurred movement of imperial cartographic practice. By looking at Almasy's 1930s narratives of desert cartography (Schwimmer in der Wuste [Swimmer in the Desert] and Mit Rommels Armee in Libyen [With Rommel's Army in Libya]), particularly the quest for the Oasis Zarzura, as well as at the articles published by the Geographical Journal of the Royal Geographical Society from 1933 to 1952, a clear-cut image of a power-driven imperial cartography arises that clashes with Ondaatje's naive depiction. The article draws on the contradictory constellations of desert cartography to discuss the following themes: 1. the very notion of fluidity in the literary and cultural appropriation of cartography, that allows for a problematic blur between hegemony and emergence; and 2. 'scale' as a possible and useful analytical tool for the mediation between these two seemingly incompatible positions. Keywords: geomodernity; scale; mapping; Almasy; Ondaatje

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A256457124