In his attempt to understand and envision the geography of his planet man has often made use of representations using animal and human figures, thus blurring the frontiers between reality and the imaginary. In another way, but maybe very much like in so called 'primitive societies', European societies who from the 16th century onwards started their sailing explo- rations and colonisations, were mixing two kind of realities: 'portelan maps' with strings of topographical names along the coasts as seafaring instruments and image maps with a combination of allegorical figures and geo- graphic features. An early 16th century European self-image of the continent shows a woman's figure (18) with the crowned head of Spain (centre of the Spanish empire) and the tripartite globe (a diagram of Europe, Asia and Africa with the Christian cross on top) in the 'hand' of Italy (a symbol of the rule of the Christian Pope over the world). The Dutch artist Adriaen Collaert made a series of copper engravings in the period 1595-1600 that showed the four known continents of that time as woman figures. Europe (19) sits on a world globe, has a crown and an armoured breast garment, holds a vine tendril and a sceptre while in the background fighting armies can be distinguished. Asia sits on a camel without a crown and sways an incense vessel that points to non-christian religions (20). Also here armies are fighting in the background, a flag with a halve moon shows that this are Turk soldiers. These allegorical figures, drawn, painted and sculptured, adorned books, atlases, churches and palaces during the Baroque and Rococo. It was a typical European art form. Although other cultures like Islam and Buddhism knew most of the continents and depicted them in maps, they did not represent them in any similar allegorical way.
The Asian continent as Pegasus (21), the winged horse of the Greek god Zeus, a map by Heinrich Bünting published in 1589 in Germany. Characterisation of geographical space by comparing it to something else. An old method that was also used by the Greek geographer and historian Strabo (64BC-23AD) who compared the whole inhabited world with a cloak and the Iberian peninsula with an ox-hide. This method survived till our days. Think of the popular comparison of Italy as a boot, Great Britain as a rowing boat or fortress, Florida as a penis on the body of the United States. A metamorphosis of contours of continents and country frontiers (states), first just an outline that is disengaged from its underlayer, afterwards becoming an autonomous sign in the geo-political alphabet. These country signs can then be associated with living beings and objects, that can be put on stage and interact in all imaginable ways.
America having a front in the east (where knowledge and intellect is concentrated), a back (west) and a bottom (south). The fear of being attacked from the back or bottom, where one is the most vulnerable, is expressed in language and imagery. Cuba turns into a communist shark(22) and threatens to bite the feet of the United States (Florida) in a cartoon of the early sixties. "A large part of the mythological view of the world () is nothing but psychology projected into the external world". This remark by Freud (1901) forms the basis for a specialist branch of science called 'psycho-geography' that tries to explain the fantasies and anxieties with which humans perceive of the world, themselves and other groups.
An example would be an analyses
of double identity: Americans as culprits and victims. In an left wing
cartoon of the seventies (23)
North America is not longer a vulnerable human being with
bare feet dangling in a scary sea, but turnes into a crocodile in the
form of a factory, that personifies the capitalist monster savouring
the inhabitants of the South of the American continent, pouring out
profit to the North.
A right wing cartoon of the mid sixties uses a similar all devouring beast (24) but now it is a communist monster that swallows North Americans.The picture is produced by an organisation called 'Mothers crusade for victory over communism'. Grave crosses of soldiers that died during their crusade in Korea and Vietnam are visible in the background. The notion of a crusade and the image of the monster directly point to stories in the christian Bible that speak of a primeval combat between God and the forces of evil that appear in the form of a dragon like creature, monster of chaos, named Leviathan. In the end God will punish the inhabitants of the world for their guilt and this act is symbolized by the killing of the dragon: "thus good will be established for all eternity" [Isaiah 27:1].
This image of God as the
master of the forces of evil inspired the philosopher Thomas Hobbes
who used the name of the monster for the title of his book in which
he defends the system of absolute monarchy, 'Leviathan' (published in
1651). For Hobbes men were quarrelsome and forever locked in a war of
all against all. In his opinion they needed to surrender their freedom
of action into the hands of an absolute ruler to obtain order and enjoy
the advantages of law and right. The famous picture on the frontispiece
of the book (25)
shows a landscape that merges with the body of the king, a body that
is made up of the masses of common people marching towards him. The
picture shows the ruler as the embodiment, incarnation, of the people
and the demarcated land, over which he holds his sword, becomes the
body of the state he reigns. Hobbes states that government rule should
be as ferocious as the monster Leviathan from the Bible: "who could
ever stand up to him?" [book of Job 41].
A photograph of a mass rally
in China to support 'the great helmsman' Mao (26),
probably taken during the fifties, is an almost exact enactment of the
picture in the book of Hobbes four centuries earlier. The people symbolize
'their unity' with 'their country' by displaying the portrait of 'their
leader', who is the incarnation of people, country and state. The iconography
created around political leaders form the basis for the best understood
form of political cartography: the modern satirical cartoon. Heads of state
figure as representation of political and geographical entities enabling
us to visualize the changes in relations and power structures of our 'mythical