Friday, August 10, 2007

The Carte Blanche Atlas of Uncharted Territories and Other Useful Reference Works

I just discovered Craig Conley's The Carte Blanche Atlas of Uncharted Territories. The CBA is a total delight: it is an Atlas collecting 75 noteworthy blank maps.

Isn't a blank map just a blank page? Not at all, writes Conley:
There are crucial differences between a blank map and a blank page. Unlike a blank page, a blank map:
  • is designed by a cartographer
  • is a frame
  • represents a space or “territory”
  • has orientation
  • is readable
  • has accuracy
  • suggests scale (though may sacrifice exactitude in favor of visual utility)
  • is informative (unavailability of data does not equal nonexistence of data)
  • is something unexpected
In practical terms, what Conley has done is to collect 75 blank maps from literature (at times pulling just a sentence out of a long work), including the relevant text and images, along with a brief description of his own.

Thus Conley includes the "Sleeping Beauties" of Forgetfulness from Nabokov's memoir Speak, Memory (and if you have forgotten that bit of the book (as I certainlly had), click the link!), and the map of Uberwald from Terry Pratchett's novel The Fifth Elephant (which is also a map of the future). For personal reasons, one of my favorites is the Bellman's map from Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark" (that's the text; this is a link to the image, on the next page).

And on and on -- who knew that the blank map was such a venerable notion in world literature! How wonderful of Conley to dig all these up!

As of this writing, 52 pages of Conley's book are available online; more are promised soon. Check it out -- it's quite wonderful.

Nor, it turns out, is this Conley's only such work. There's an entire page called Strange & Unusual References which has descriptions of (and in some cases links to onine copies of) Conley's various works. Thus Conley's latest work is a dictionary of one-letter words -- which, alas, is not online. This is not, apparently, just a 26-line joke, however: Conley has dug up dozens of meanings that various letters can have each standing on their own -- 50 for "a", 34 for "g", and so on.

But others of his works are online: his dictionary of all-consonant words; his dictionary of all-vowel words and his Field Guide to Identifying Unicorns by Sound. Apart from his Atlas, I've just begun to explore Conley's work; but it all seems to be marked by humor, a broad iterary erudiction and a marvelous sense of the absurd.

So check out his work -- especially his marvelous atlas, good for navigation anywhere you want to go.

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