In Alaska, the Map Precedes the Territory After All, After Oil

A moment of Baudrillardian irony appeared in the NY Times this morning. Jean Baudrillard is the French philosopher-critic whose concepts of the Hyperreal and Simulacra landed him many frequent flier miles during the late 1980s and 1990s.

Mistaken for a post-modernist, he’s actually more of a nostalgic and perhaps melancholic modernist, I think. His passage on the hyperreal was summarized in The Matrix by Morpheus in the oft-sampled: “Welcome to the Desert of the Real.”

Double irony here would be the connecting line Cheney-Baudrillard. Think about it, because not even Baudrillard could have invented this one. In Baudrillard’s version the conceptual “map” precedes the real. We have removed “the Real” from the equation and now live in a rarefied and disconnected set of simulations, plans, and strategies. In reality, it now appears, a map’s disappearance now precedes the disappearance of the Real. Beautiful. I love it so much I could cry.

“The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory–precession of simulacra–it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. it is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.” Jean Baudrillard

From the New York Times, today:

“Maps matter. They chronicle the struggles of empires and zoning boards. They chart political compromise. So it was natural for Republican Congressional aides, doing due diligence for what may be the last battle in the fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to ask for the legally binding 1978 map of the refuge and its coastal plain.

It was gone. No map, no copies, no digitized version.

The wall-size 1:250,000-scale map delineated the tundra in the biggest national land-use controversy of the last quarter-century, an area that environmentalists call America’s Serengeti and that oil enthusiasts see as America’s Oman.

The map had been stored behind a filing cabinet in a locked room in Arlington, Va. Late in 2002, it was there. In early 2003, it disappeared. There are just a few reflection-flecked photographs to remember it by.

All this may have real consequences. The United States Geological Survey drew up a new map. On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee passed a measure based on the new map that opened to drilling 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the refuge.

The missing map did not seem to include in the coastal plain tens of thousands of acres of Native Alaskans’ lands. On the new map, those lands were included, arguably making it easier to open them to energy development.”

Arctic Map Vanishes, and Oil Area Expands
Published: October 21, 2005

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