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Beyond the Archive: Bit Mapping
Wolfgang Ernst


Let me get right to the point. A «spatial turn» has recently been announced in Cultural Studies: privileging mapping. [1] There is a difference between the culturalogical notion of «mapping,» which refers to cartography, and the technological and mathematical use of the term, which means «mapping one content on another.» Do the respective media in which mapping takes place make a difference for the notion of mapping? In digital operations, «space» is nothing but a metaphor. There is space in the physical world, but a map is just a model of space, not space itself. And this model itself is not spatial, but logistical: anaesthetic; not for physical experience, but for cognition, for our mental computing. Why then is there such an abundance of metaphorical representation in cyber‹space›? This is for users, i. e. human use, because the human capacity for data navigation is bound to spatio-temporal metaphors, whereas communication between computers, operating in discrete states, does not need mapping metaphors at all.


I want to insist: the term «cyberspace,» coined by


William Gibson in his novel «Neuromancer» in 1984, is less about ‹space› (which is a metaphorical term here) than about cybernetics (the fact that the prefix «cyber-» is derived from Norbert Wiener's «Cybernetics» is a kind of forgotten media-cultural fact today). Cyberspace is not spatial but topological; let us refer to it instead as «cybertope» (analogous to Michael Bachtin's neologism of «chronotope»). Cyberspace is not cartographic but mathematical, e.g. n-dimensional; each 3D navigation on interfaces reduces the n-dimensional potentiality to spatial metaphors. Maps always occur on flat surfaces, depending on their material support for inscription; the crucial quality of digital calculation though is its potential n-dimensionality. The mapping metaphor is seductive but misleading when it comes to computing. And let us remind ourselves: mapping was not invented for aesthetic, but for military and agricultural (that is literally: culturalogical) reasons. Cybernetics, on the other hand, is actually opposed to spatial, cartographic metaphors, since it is linked to shipping. The ancient Greek «kybernetes» (governor) does not steer vehicles on territorial ground, but rather a vessel on the liquid

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