A Critique of Cartographic Reason
People rely on reason to think about and navigate the abstract world of human relations in much the same way they rely on maps to study and traverse the physical world. Starting from that simple observation, renowned geographer Gunnar Olsson offers in Abysmal an astonishingly erudite critique of the way human thought and action have become deeply immersed in the rhetoric of cartography and how this cartographic reasoning allows the powerful to map out other people’s lives.
A spectacular reading of Western philosophy, religion, and mythology that draws on early maps and atlases, Plato, Kant, and Wittgenstein, Thomas Pynchon, Gilgamesh, and Marcel Duchamp, Abysmal is itself a minimalist guide to the terrain of Western culture. Olsson roams widely but always returns to the problems inherent in reason, to question the outdated assumptions and fixed ideas that thinking cartographically entails. A work of ambition, scope, and sharp wit, Abysmal will appeal to an eclectic audience—to geographers and cartographers, but also to anyone interested in the history of ideas, culture, and art.
Mappae mundi medievalis
“The appearance of a new book by Gunnar Olsson is a matter of considerable intellectual excitement, and here we have the culmination of his decades-long exploration of the deep structure—the grammar—of human thought and action. The result is a compelling and inspiring analysis of cartographic reason and its limits, of how maps and mapping serve as forms of reasoning which contain within them all the fixed points and taken for granted assumptions about what it means to be human. With Abysmal Olsson has sketched an atlas of the human condition—it is a quite remarkable work, vast in scope and ambition.”