Charting the Writing Mind — Maps of the Imagination:
The Writer as Cartographer
by Peter Turchi

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer

Maps of the Imagination:
The Writer as Cartographer

BY Peter Turchi
(Trinity University Press, 2004)

From the Publisher:

Maps of the Imagination takes us on a magic carpet ride over terrain both familiar and exotic. Using the map as metaphor, Peter Turchi considers writing as a combination of exploration and presentation … He compares the way a writer leads a reader through the imaginary world of a story, novel, or poem to the way a mapmaker charts the physical world. ‘To ask for a map,’ says Turchi, ‘is to say, ‘Tell me a story.’

…the author looks at how mapmakers and writers deal with blank space and the blank page; the conventions they use (both the ones readers recognize and those that often go unnoticed) or consciously disregard; the role of geometry in maps and the parallel role of form in writing; how both maps and writing serve to re-create an individual’s view of the world; and the artist’s delicate balance of intuition with intention.

The ancient Greeks, German globe makers, and British cartographers join forces with the Marx Brothers, NASA, and Roadrunner cartoons to shed light on the strategies of writers as diverse as Sappho, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, Don DeLillo, and Heather McHugh…”

Exploration and cartography metaphors are not new to discussions of writing. The writer is likened to a pioneer, trailblazing paths for readers and exploring new vistas and worlds, a map itself holding possibilities of journey and adventure. In the first chapter of Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, author Peter Turchi establishes and outlines the metaphor, a brief history of cartography, and the premise of the writer as a guide and creator. Injecting new energy and insight into what many readers will consider familiar ground, he refreshingly examines the process and production of writing through elements of memoir, academic analysis, art, history, and writing. This is a book that quickly begins to defy categorization, which is part of its charm. It is not a reflection on the writer as an actual cartographer, and leaves the reader contemplating new aspects of writing and fiction.

Like a mapmaker, the author must select and omit details, orient and move a reader, and navigate their own biases when writing.

Turchi devotes only a few pages of discussion about maps created by writers and includes almost none as illustrations. Instead, he masterfully links the process of writing to the practices of cartography and process of creation in general. Like a mapmaker, the author must select and omit details, orient and move a reader, and navigate their own biases when writing. Turchi uses the metaphor extensively to provide insight into the writing process. For example, while discussing the overwhelming amount of information and opportunities in writing, he notes, “This explains why it can be so difficult for beginning writers to embrace thorough revision — which is to say, fully embrace exploration. The desire to cling to that first path through the wilderness is both a celebration of initial discovery and fear of the vast unknown.”

The Pillars of Hercules
FROM Francis Bacon’s
Novum Organum

While Maps of the Imagination tackles academic and philosophical aspects of writing, Turchi balances these sections with memoir and personal reflection. He entertains with lively discussions of Chuck Jones’ Road Runner cartoons, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and humorous observations. For example, when discussing form and realism, Turchi writes, “We may want the world of our stories to be rich and complex, even (apparently) unpredictable, filled with surprise. But surprise depends on expectation. If we have no expectations, there are no surprises; that’s why it’s hard to tell jokes to dogs.” He couples these humorous insights with historical sketches and storytelling that make the book often read like a conversation.

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