“steinberg’s perspectival view presents the world without europe, yet does this essentially as a european construction, for the notion of the ‘even covering of the field’ is a european construction. it begins with the perspectival view as a frame, with the map as a tool, with the description as reality.” – kersten geers [1]

12/08/2011 § Leave a comment

saul steinberg, view of the world from 9th avenue (1975)

 

for one of the covers of the new yorker, saul steinberg offered an image of the world as seen from the perspective of new york.  it is a view through the eyes of an immigrated european: he looks west.  most prominent and tangible is new york, there at his feet, with its blown-up european warehouses, its blocks and buildings of different kinds; there are no towering structures.  then there is the hudson river (a watershed), new jersey and the american plains, which are filled with some sporadic objects, half surrealist fake nature, half human sculpture… then we see texas, las vegas and los angeles, followed by the pacific ocean, japan, china, and russia.  each of the planes is depicted in a parallel fashion, on a different scale and with a different sense of depth, but treated equally as patches of a larger whole.

when steinberg’s new yorker cover hits the stands, the date is 29 march 1976.  what at first glance looks like a revisitation (or reinterpretation) of the renaissance’s emblematic linear perspective and its attempt to control the world through its depiction actually presents itself as its opposite: it is a phantasmagoric image of the different shades and scales of reality in a tour de force that points to its resistance to description.

if the linear perspective of the renaissance implies hierarchy (as seen through the eyes of the prince) and (the representation of) power through its presentation of a particular viewpoint and overview, its sense of space is nonetheless limited, for it presents a view from a spot out there; at most, it shows what is within eyesight.

if one has to look for its counterpart, the short film powers of ten (1968 and 1977) by ray and charles eames could be a good candidate.  this survey of the universe in steps of ten is a fractal overview of sameness in all scales and, by implication, a truly modernist representation of the equality of man and his perception.  powers of ten introduced “deep space” as an alternative to the space we actually perceive in an attempt to explode the hierarchy implicit in imagery applying linear perspective.  the universe appears always more complex and detailed when presented on a new scale.  it is scientific par excellence.  the space presented is deep but not wide; in other words, there is no ‘field’.

steinberg’s perspective shows a much more challenging (and fertile) view of the world because he combines these two different kinds of space.  the perspectival view he produced for the new yorker does not represent the different scales of reality; rather, it presents the reality as a field.  the field presented in the image is evenly covered; it is entirely occupied.  here steinberg manages to represent each mode of occupation simultaneously: there is no depth except that of perspective.  there is only a field of things – small things, big things, traces of things and representations of things.  steinberg subjects them all to his design by focusing on some aspects and omitting others.

in redefining reality by representing it, the perspectival view dispenses with the complexity of the world as an organism (in contrast with powers of ten) in favour of a flattened field of conditions.  he understands that the only possible way to deal with the world is to simplify it by introducing a sense of perspective.  simplification is presented as a strategy for acquisition and ultimately – for domination.  napoleon understood this very well when he and his scientists recorded their survey of egypt, the description de l’egypte.  although the survey consist of a wide variety of drawn documents, the description’s most emblematic product is the foreshortened perspectives of the nile displaying only monuments.  here, by simplifying places, positions, relative distances and complexities, napoleon’s egypt became at once as constructed and tangible as a 19th-century fairy tale.

 

whose map is it?

a young hare

 

 

notes:

[text]     Geers, Kersten. “Everything and Nothing.” San Rocco: The Even Covering of the Field 2 (2011): 124-29. Print.

[image]     saul steinberg, view of the world from 9th avenue (1975)

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You are currently reading “steinberg’s perspectival view presents the world without europe, yet does this essentially as a european construction, for the notion of the ‘even covering of the field’ is a european construction. it begins with the perspectival view as a frame, with the map as a tool, with the description as reality.” – kersten geers [1] at a young hare.

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