01 April 2014

[maps] Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Only Map We Need For The Only War We've Got

Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of my favorite novels. It is a book I've read again and again; Its atmosphere nonpareil; the world of Airstrip One, despite mostly being descriptive writing and very little dialogue, is incredibly real as told by Orwell.

Or maybe it's because of the overhwelming amount of exposition. I was struck hard by the fact that this book dealt very little in dialogue between people. Orwell was a masterful writer, no doubt about it; the paragraph-on-paragraph of exploration of the perceptions of and inner dialogue of Oceanian Everyman Winston Smith have the eventual effect of leaving you alone in this world with him, and since you identify with him, you are eventually alone in Oceania with yourself.

Of the many perceptions of life under INGSOC we eventually adopt is the political-cultural geography of the then-world-of-the future. Smith hears of it as he works in the Ministry of Truth, relentlessly revising The Times; he is illuminated more upon reading The Book … Emmanuel Goldstein's Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, of course. The world of his time is populated by three great superstates and two large disputed regions.

Each of the superstates has its own proof against conquest from without: Eurasia, its vast interior land spaces (as someone once said, never get involved in a land war in Asia); Eastasia, the industriousness and fertility of its overwhelming population, and Oceania, its vast sea reaches. The disputed lands are the grim sandboxen in which the three play war amongst each other.

They are described very functionally and schematically in The Book  and most cartographers tend to take the descriptions fairly literally. The boundaries between the three powers are, while largely stable, locally fuzzy, and not-necessarily clearly defined. The modern cartographic renderer, in their quest for exactitude, tends to draw the boundaries clearly. What I've stumbled upon is a display that makes much more sense.

This map I found at the map gallery at Chris Mullen's vast intellectual playground, The Visual Telling of Stories. Go there when you have time to waste; it will gulp it all down and ask if you have more. The thing to remember is that in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, you have three superstates constantly at each other's throats, and, when convenient, ally swaps one-to-one for enemy, with the mass media wiping and rewriting the mass memory pretty much at will.

At a pivotal point in the story, June 21st/22nd 1984, Oceania's 'glorious ally', Eastasia, and its 'age-old enemy', Eurasia, swap places. Winston and his rewrite crew are called in for a week-long gluttony of overwork, and banners, posters, and even a speech being hectored in a public square are changed, literally, on the fly. The map would be useful to an Oceanian if it weren't for the fact that the Oceanian citizen had to be totally non-cognizant of any other alignment than the extant one ever being extant (this awareness, never more than vague and constantly doubted by Smith himself being one of the chief causes of his ongoing bemusment).

The two legends make the map doubly-illustrated. They are keyed such that the proper hatching matches the proper legend depending on how the map is viewed. Viewed in landscape, Eurasia is the ally. Viewed in portrait, Eastasia has become Oceania's friend.

Taken as a piece, it's two maps in one, and actually rather aptly demonstrates the Newspeak concept of doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory truths in mind and accepting both … and in acknowledging them both, crimethink. 

The research stations in the remotest areas on Earth and the two disputed areas are represented suitably-amoebically, and the interface between Eastasia and Eurasia is, while evident, still vaugely-defined in a way.

This, therefore, is the perfect world map for this world, and the only one one ever needs.

The map itself is from a book by R.C.Churchill, A Short History of the Future, published 1955. The illustrator is credited asJ osef-Jan Szostak.

Via Strange Maps, whose article is also a nice exploration of the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four for the non-familiar.

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