Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Forerunners in the Analysis of 19th Century Exploration

David Livingstone extensive works remain a key element to the consideration of how our relationship with space, exploration, and empire changed over the course of the nineteenth-century. The two links below are the culmination of a large and dedicated research team working tirelessly to provide everyone with free open access to Livingstone’s diaries, letters, and manuscripts. Hats off…


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The Ghost in the Machine Ensemble: Generating the Industrial Supernatural in Mugby Junction (1866)

Critical commentary has tended to focus on the domestic setting as the location of haunting. The haunted house is a stock figure in nineteenth century literature. As Steven Conner notes, ‘ghost stories which multiplied from the 1850s onward most frequently take place in the bounded space of the home.’[1] But surprisingly, the representation of haunting in the railway network has gone relatively unremarked. Even though, as the illustrated periodical Once a Week remarked in 1862, ‘Ruined castles have given place to railway stations … and ghosts in armour are as much out of fashion as mail-coaches.’[2] The association between ghosts and trains has a rich history. Many thought that there was something supernatural about the performance of a steam engine. The Victorian invention of the fairground Ghost Train is a suggestive legacy of this. It can be read as a symbolic reminder of how Victorian society reacted to the rapid expansion of the railway. Mugby Junction can be read in a similar sort of way. The text was published in December 1866 as a special Christmas collection of short stories by the magazine All the Year Round. The first story in the collection sold 250,000 copies in its first week.[3] In the same month that the collection was published a parody named ‘Jugby Junction’ was concocted by Fun magazine.[4] The railway stories about Mugby Junction, then, seem to have struck a nerve in the 1860s. This kind of popularity authenticates the text as an exemplary marker through which to ask specific questions about ghostliness in the representation of the railway network in the Victorian period.

As Michael Freeman acknowledges, commentary on how the expansion of the railway network affected individuals that experienced it is varied and ambivalent.[5] However, as suggested by the legacy of the Ghost Train, there was an urge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to use ghostly or spectral images to represent the railway. From the 1840s onwards, the representation of the railway network has been coloured and coded with metaphors of the supernatural. The stories in Mugby Junction deal with hauntings, apparitions, spectres, spirits, forces, and liminal and demonic spaces in and around the railway network. The railway network in the collection is inscribed with what Julian Wolfreys might call ‘the spectral nature of all modern technologies’ (57). By analysing Mugby Junction alongside nineteenth-century discourse on railways and ghostliness this essay will trace the genealogy of the associations between ghosts and trains, and explore the wider questions that modernity asks about the proximity of the mechanical and the supernatural.

Mugby Junction is a fictional railway station that serves as a platform from which the central character – the gentleman from Nowhere – explores the tracks that radiate outward. We can read the collection of stories as a fictional representation of the ‘machine ensemble’. Wolfgang Schivelbusch invented this term to describe the institutionalisation of the railway network as one great machine that sculpted and reconfigured the physical environment of Victorian Britain. [6] The components of this machine ensemble include the tracks, the stations, the tunnels, the engines, the carriages, the signalling and communication systems, the army of employees, the freight, the trade, and the passengers. In Mugby Junction, this ensemble is loaded with ghostly metaphors. The representation of the machine ensemble in Mugby Junction is marked by the experience of a complex shift of agency that occurred as the Victorian period became a technoculture. This shift is characterised as supernatural. The physical environment of Mugby Junction, its connecting apparatus, and the characters we encounter are figured as spectral. In the techno-mystical domain of Mugby Junction, the experience of the supernatural, rather than being quashed by the development of technology, science and industry, is generated by it.

The first story in the series is called ‘Barbox Brothers’, written by Charles Dickens. A gentleman from Nowhere alights at Mugby Junction. The description of the environment of the station is deliberately distorted and phantasmagorical; it is a ‘place replete with shadowy shapes’,[7] a demonic space of exchange in which trains flit past with ‘ironed-barred cages full of cattle’, their eyes ‘frozen with terror’. It is left unclear whether the terrified cattle refer to live stock or human passengers, which is suggestive of the shifting agencies involved in the railway network. Passengers become cattle in the machine ensemble. A train has a predetermined track and timetable, giving a sense of the passivity of the traveller. The passengers, being enclosed in compartments like cattle, are disassociated from the energies that convey them, giving the impression that the machines convey themselves and that the passengers are merely freight; as much the agents of their conveyance as cattle are theirs. Just the year before Mugby Junction was published John Ruskin hit upon the same connection between this shift of agency and the sense of supernatural automation when he saw a locomotive ‘take its breathe at a railway station … [with] more than fleshly power’.[8] Trains were represented as conscious and beastly things with life-force and influence of their own. The station at Mugby is invested with the same life-force: it ‘started suddenly, trembled violently, and opened its gas eyes’[9] as a parliamentary train flies past.[10]A parliamentary train, commonly known as a ghost train, originally ran as a statutorily imposed low-cost service intended to allow cheap travel. However, it quickly became used as a contrivance that ran only to keep stations and tracks open; a ghost train that acted as a force that motivated the ‘dead’ station to wake up.

We are told that another ‘Mysterious goods train’ drifts past the station ‘covered with palls and gliding on like a vast funeral’.[11] This image of a funeral train stacked with coffins has an historical basis. In 1854 a private organisation called the London Necropolis Company was created to remove dead bodies from central London to a mass graveyard in the suburbs. The cholera epidemic of 1848-9, combined with a lack of space to bury a growing population in the 1850s, led to the construction of the first funeral line.[12] Chamber’s Journal published an article documenting a trip on the funeral train in 1855.[13] According to the article, the family of the dead would buy a ‘coffin ticket’ and the train would carry its ‘solemn burden’ out of Waterloo station to a mass city of the dead in Woking.[14] The associations between ghosts and trains must have been potent here. Like the cattle-passengers, the funeral train has the potential to act as a visual symbol of the agency of the machine ensemble and as a vivid figuration of the passive status of the passenger. The funeral train shows that the machine ensemble handles the dead and impotent in exactly the same manner as it handles the living and mobile. The image of Mugby with the funeral train passing through it carries the Ruskinian idea that passengers become parcelised or dead objects in the industrial process, carried as freight by the phantom or otherworldly energy of the machine ensemble.

The world that the junction inhabits has a disorientating mechanical topography. It is a leaky, liminal space full of perplexity and miscommunication. ‘Mugby Junction was a Junction of many branches, invisible and visible.’[15] Its ‘threads of railway’[16] dart around the station as if woven by iron-spinning spiders. [17] Cognition of the pattern of the structure of the railway system is lost to the eye.[18] The disorientation was such that ‘there was no beginning, middle or end to bewilderment’. [19]  The stories take place in a technological landscape full of combinations between bodies and machines. The idea of the android became a poignant point of discussion in the Victorian period. Thomas Carlyle famously grumbled that ‘Men are grown mechanical in head and heart, as well as in hand’.[20] The idea that humans were becoming prosthetic to machines in a mesmeric relationship circulated in the nineteenth century. Harriet Martineau saw technological development as an intensification of the invisible energies that combine people and machines.[21] The mechanical components of the machine ensemble take on characteristics of life, and the humans that inhabit the machine ensemble are described as mechanical. As Tamara Ketabgian notes in her 2011 study, The Lives of Machines, ‘humans and machines are compulsively coupled and uncoupled, dissected, and rejoined, to form diverse narratives of a “border war” between the animate and the inanimate, the organic and mechanical’.[22]

Throughout Mugby Junction this fastening of bodies and machines marks the description of the characters. The gentleman from Nowhere encounters a lighting technician at the station called Lamps, named and defined by his relation to the machine ensemble. ‘He had a peculiarly shining transparent complexion, probably occasioned by constant oleaginous application’, he is so oily that he could mistake himself ‘for one of his charges’.[23] Lamps is given a mechanical appearance. As the gentleman from Nowhere studies the railway lines at the junction his forehead wrinkles ‘as if the railway lines were getting themselves photographed on that sensitive plate’.[24] The image impresses the structure of the tracks onto his face. This combination or synchronisation of people and machines appears again in ‘The Signalman’, another contribution from Dickens. The mechanical routine of the signalman’s life ‘shaped itself into that form, and he had grown used to it’.[25] The text focuses on the interplay between bodies, discipline, and machines. It represents the machine ensemble as assuming some kind mystical control over the bodies and routines of the characters. Rather than machines being obedient to the rational society that uses them, the characters are at the whim of their techno-mystical domain. As Ralph Harrington notes in an article for The Pathologies of Travel, ‘no other technological system required large numbers of ordinary people to surrender themselves to fast-moving machines driven by incomprehensibly powerful and barely controllable energies’.[26] The mechanical aesthetic in Mugby Junction is a metaphor for the complex shifts of agencies involved in mass engagement with the railway network.

Fears about railway safety were widespread in the period surrounding the publication of Mugby Junction. An 1868 article in All the Year Round entitled ‘Railway Thoughts’ echoed deep-seated anxieties about the vulnerability of railway users: ‘Very few know what degree of safety is ensured by the principle of running upon rails. There may be none at all. We take the railway upon blind trust’.[27] In Andrew Halliday’s contribution to Mugby Junction – ‘The Engine-Driver’ – we are given a testimony by an engine-driver about the dangers involved in his job. He seems to confirm the veracity of this blind trust. The gentleman from Nowhere assumes a protean position in relation to each tale. He is himself a spectral figure that morphs from character to narrator to hauntingly absent force driving the text in his ‘careful study of the junction’.[28] As narrator/reporter in ‘The Engine-Driver’ he asks his interviewee how many deaths he has caused: ‘Altogether? Well. Altogether, since 1841 I’ve killed seven men and boys … and I don’t count passengers’.[29] The nonchalance of this statement would have toyed with the sense of vulnerability in the railway going audience. It is evident from Mugby Junction that train travel became a pathological question in the nineteenth century. The engine-driver talks in detail about the dangers and fatalities that surround him. Playing on the industrial neuroses of a mid-Victorian readership he proclaims that ‘many accidents take place that never get into the papers’.[30] The engine-driver represents the machine ensemble’s death-drive (a term that tellingly uses mechanical language to articulate the condition of the psyche).

Death on the railway was a very real fear in the period. The 1864 murder of Thomas Briggs would have been fresh in the mind of the audience. According to the Saturday Review, the murder caused ‘a frenzy of the public mind about the dangers of railway travel’.[31]  In addition to this, an accident on the Metropolitan Railway occurred in the same month of the publication of Mugby Junction. A man and a woman were killed as the train they were on passed under a bridge. According to a newspaper report ‘his body was cut across and his bowels were protruding’ and ‘her head was all but severed from her body’.[32] The lurid detail of the article, like the incitement of fear in the short story and the murder of Thomas Briggs, would have exacerbated anxiety around rail travel by acting as a reminder to the passengers that they were subject to danger outside of their control. The engine-driver’s assertion that he does not count passenger fatalities in his death toll as his responsibility implies that either the passengers are disposable, or that even he, as the person supposed to have control over the machine, does not have agency over what happens. This is echoed in ‘Railway Thoughts’. The article implies that fear is caused by a sense that no one person is in control: ‘I wonder if there is anyone who has full knowledge of all the ways and habits of a train’.[33] Industrialism is marked by a dispersal of agency that created various cognitive blind spots for the parcelised passenger. This is what is meant by taking the railway upon blind trust. Even in its supposedly rational form, engagement with industrial technology entails a relationship with the unknown. It is this unknown combined with the mortal fear involved in the operation of the railway network that generated associations between ghosts and machines.

In Halliday’s contribution to Mugby Junction, fear is intensified by the implication that the engine-driver, the voice of the story, is a spectre. His testimony wavers between images of life and death. His visage is ‘scarred and seamed, as if he had been operated on’ which hints at his being in an accident that embossed the pattern of a railway track onto his face. We hear that he has been an engine driver for twenty five years[34] and that ‘engine-drivers, as a body, are the healthiest fellows alive; but they don’t live long.’[35] ‘He reveals that an engine-driver’s wife cannot stop worrying, ‘for we never know, when we go out, if we’ll ever come home again’.[36] He reveals that he never thinks of his own life because ‘you go in for staking that’ when you begin.[37] And it is no good, he admits, for ‘engine drivers to know too much, or to feel too much’.[38] If we are convinced that the engine-driver is actually the ghost of the engine-driver, then the idea of who has control over the machine becomes vague and hard to pin down. We are back to the idea of trains ‘conveying themselves’.[39] A sense of human powerlessness in the machine ensemble is represented by the ghost in, or in this case on, the machine. He gives the impression that he is a ghost operating a machine that he does not fully understand. The pathological worries that surrounded railway travel combined with the experience of mechanical agency appear to generate a sense of the supernatural. Something in the nature of machines conjures up images of spectrality. This kind of representation of the machine ensemble complicates the empirical idea that we have absolute control over machinery and that the machines are obedient to our rational will. As the engine driver comments on the cognition of his passengers, ‘I dare say they think the train goes along of itself’.[40]

The sense of the supernatural is immediately apparent in the fourth story of the collection. In ‘The Signalman’, the gentleman from Nowhere, now assuming the role of the narrator, comes across a deep cutting in the land at the bottom of which is the opening of a railway tunnel: ‘So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot that it had a deadly smell … as if I had left the natural world’.[41] In this otherworldly spot, the narrator finds a ‘troubled’ signalman.[42] The signalman explains that he is being haunted by apparitions that show themselves at the mouth of the tunnel and mysterious signals emanating from his telegraph machine. The conversation between the signalman and the gentleman from Nowhere turns out to be a dialogue between rational empiricism and supernaturalism. The gentleman struggles to believe the veracity of the signalman’s story. He suspects that he is mad. He tries to explain the supernatural incidents rationally:

I showed him that this figure must be a deception of his sense of sight, and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate nerves that minister to the function of the eye, were known to have often troubled patients.[43]

This medico-rational retort to the supernatural was certainly circulating in the nineteenth century. In 1824, Samuel Hibbert argued that apparitions are nothing more than ‘recollected images in the mind, which have been rendered more vivid than actual impressions as a result of some physiological change in the body’.[44] The gentleman from Nowhere, like Hibbert, looks for what we would now call a scientific explanation for apparitional phenomena. He tries to trace the signalman’s illusions in ‘the natural course of physical things’.[45] However, the ghosts that haunt the signalman are not so easily exorcised by empirico-rationalism.

Despite the rational resistance from the gentleman, the signalman maintains that he sees portentous apparitions at the mouth of the tunnel. He maintains that his telegraphic machine seems to have a paranormal life of its own, that the bell rings without human influence. The apparition and the strange behaviour of the telegraphic machine turn out to have some foundation.  On the gentleman’s final visit to the spot he discovers that the signalman is dead, mowed down by an engine driven by a driver making the same gestures as the apparition that haunted him. The signalman, as it turns out, was warned about his impending death. Only he could not interpret the signals. As the signalman explains,

‘If I telegraph “danger”, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reason for it … I should get into trouble and do no good. They would think I was mad. This is the way it would work – Message: “Danger! Take care!” Answer: “What danger? Where?” Message: “Don’t know. But for God’s sake take care!”[46]

The telegraphic operation functions on the basis of reason, but the apparitions that visit the signalman lie outside the bounds of rationality. The signals they omit are distorted and unclear. Rationality cannot account for what the signals mean. The rational view of the machine ensemble cannot account for or react to supernatural activity, even though it seems to be generated by it.

It was an error in the function of the signalling system that caused a train Dickens was travelling on in 1865 to derail on a viaduct.[47] The accident became known as the Staplehurst Disaster. [48] Jill Matus reads this event as the origin of ‘The Signalman’, arguing that the story is a re-enactment of Dickens’ trauma and that the narrative ‘is shaped by and expressive of the logic of trauma’.[49] Without getting too biographical, parallels can certainly be drawn between the accident and the story. The potential for the signalling system to throw up miscommunications beyond the control of those on duty is central to both. The ‘Unknown languages in the air’[50] relate to the seemingly autonomous system of codes that circulates around railway technology. In ‘The Signalman’ these unknown languages and their propensity to fail are coded as ghostly. As Louise Henson notes, the apparitions that appear to the signalman ‘represent a strange mockery of his own industrial function’.[51]  Again, human components of the machine ensemble become the prostheses of their machines as the machine assumes what appears to be a cogent life of its own. The machine ensemble has the potential to give the impression of irrational ghostly control, despite being thought of as practical, rational, and empirical. As unlikely as it sounds, technology and magic have an intimate relationship. As John Potts argues ‘enchantment – in the form of belief in the supernatural – flourished even in highly technologised cultures’.[52] In fact, if we take Mugby Junction as evidence, supernaturalism not only flourishes but is generated by technologised cultures.

Mugby Junction is a text about Victorian engagement with modernity and develops themes that gather intensity and pervasiveness towards the fin de siècle and into the twentieth century. By historicising Mugby Junction we can trace the nature of the reaction to the proliferation of the railway network in mid-Victorian Britain. The collection of stories crystallise a will to represent the operation of the machine ensemble as ghostly. By presenting images and tropes that illustrate the experience of a complex shift of agency felt by those who engaged with industrial transport, the text reveals the associations between ghosts and trains in the nineteenth century. The idea of the ghost performs complex work in the representation of all cultures, but in a technoculture it can be read as a symptom of the impact industrialism has on the power/knowledge relationships that circulate as people and machines become intimately involved. The regimentation of movement and the potential for malfunction and miscommunication inherent in the machine ensemble was experienced as a shift of agency in the mid-Victorian imagination. This shift generated the idea of the ghost in the machine ensemble.

Peter William Slater


Books and Chapters:

Carlyle, Thomas, ‘The Sign of the Times’ (1829) first published in Edinburgh Review. Or Critical Journal Vol. 15

Carte, Ian, Railways and Culture in Britain: The Epitome of Modernity (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001)

Clare, John M., London’s Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery (Gloucestershire: Sutton Press Limited, 2004) p. 1-25

Connor, Steven, ‘Afterword’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Crook, J. Mordaunt, ‘Ruskin and the Railway’ from The Impact of the Railway on Society in Britain ed. A.K.B. Evans and J.V. Gough (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003)

Daly, Nicolas, Literature, Technology and Modernity, 1860-2000 (Cambridge, CUP 2004)

Freeman, Michael, Railway and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999)

Freeman, Michael, ‘The Railway Age: An Introduction’ from The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam ed. Ian Kennedy and Julian Treuherz (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008)

Gilbert, Geoffrey, ‘The Origins of Modernism in the Haunted Properties of Literature’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Harrington, Ralph, ‘The Railway Journey and the Neuroses of Modernity´ from Pathologies of Travel ed. Richard Wrigley and George Revill (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi Publishing, 2000)

Hay, Simon, the History of the Modern British Ghost Story (New York: Houndsmill Publishing, 2011)

Henson, Louise, ‘Investigations and Fictions: Charles Dickens and Ghosts’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Hibbert, Samuel, Sketches of the Philosphy of Apparitions; or an attempt to trace such illusions to their physical causes (London: Whittaker, 1824)

Ketabgian, Tamara, The Lives of Machines (Michigan: Michigan University Press, 2011)

Lynch, Eve M., ‘Spectral Politics: the Victorian Ghost Story and the Domestic Servant’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

MacFarlane, Robert, “Foreword” to Mugby Junction (London: Herspeus, 2005 originally published 1866) p. viii

Martineau, Harriet, and Atkinson, Henry George, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development (London: John Chapman, 1851)

Noakes, Richard, ‘Spiritualism, Science and the Supernatural in mid-Victorian Britain’ from The Victorian Supernatural ed. Nicola Brown, Carolyn Burdett and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: CUP, 2004)

Potts, John, ‘The Idea of the Ghost’ from Technologies of Magic ed. John Potts and Edward Sheer (Sydney: Power Publications, 2006)

Ruskin, John, “The Cestus of Aglaia” from The Works of John Ruskin Vol. XIX, ed. E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn (London: Library Editions, 1903)

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986 originally published in 1977)

Simmons, Jack, The Victorian Railway (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2009 originally published 1995)

Spurr, David Anton, Architecture and Modern Literature (Michigan: Michigan University Press, 2012)

Wolfreys, Julian, Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave Publishing: 2002)


Field, B.K., ‘Charles Dickens’s Railway Accident’ from Strand Magazine July 1906; Vol. 32, 187: MLA International Bibliography p. 37

‘Jugby Junction: a Christmas Number’ from Fun magazine, December 29 1866: 4, British Periodicals p. 167

‘The Latest Thing in Ghosts’ from Once a Week, Vol. 6 Issue 134, January 18 1862, British Periodicals p. 100

‘The London Necropolis’ from Chamber’s Journal, January 1855, 97, British Periodicals p. 297-300

‘Mugby Junction from The Examiner December 8, 1866; 3071; British Periodicals p. 774

‘Mugby Junction’ from The London Review December 8 1866; Vol. 13 Issue 336; British Periodicals p. 639

‘Mugby Junction’ from The Saturday Review December 15 1866; Vol. 22, Issue 581; British Periodicals p. 739

‘Railway Thoughts’, from All the Year Round, January 4 1868; Vol. 19, Issue 454, British Periodicals p. 82

‘Road and Rail’ from The Saturday Review June 22 1872; Vol. 33, Issue 869; MLA International Bibliography p. 794

The Saturday Review, July 16th 1864

Newspaper Articles:

‘Fearful Accident on the Metropolitan Railway’, The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thursday December 20 1866 Issue 24171

Journal Articles:

Bailey, Peter, ‘Adventures in Space: Victorian Railway Erotics, or Taking Alienation For a Ride’ from Journal of Victorian Culture January 15 2010, Vol. 9, Issue 1; pp. 1-21

Esbester, Mike, ‘Nineteenth-Century Timetables and the History of Reading’ from Book History Penn State University Press, Vol. 12, 2009, pp. 156-185

Matus, Jill L., ‘Trauma, Memory, and Railway Disaster: The Dickensian Connection’ in Victorian Studies Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring, 2001) pp. 413-436

Pope, Norris, ‘Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ and Information Problems in the Railway Age’ in Technology and Culture, Vol. 42 No. 3, July 2001, pp. 436-461

Smith, Matthew Wilson, ‘Victorian Railway Accident and the Melodramatic Imagination’ from Modern Drama University of Toronto PressVol. 55, Number 4, Winter 2012, pp. 497-522

Stahl, Damel, ‘The Source and Significance of the Revenant in Dickens’s “The Signal-Man” from Dickens Studies Newsletter December 1 1980; Vol. 11, Issue 4; ProQuest pp. 98-101

Wagner, Tamara S. ‘Dickens’s “gentleman from Nowhere”: Reversing Technological Gothic in the Linkages of Mugby Junction’ from Dickens Quarterly Louisville: March 2011; Vol. 28, Issue 1; pp. 52-66

[1] Steven Connor, ‘Afterword’ from The Victorian Supernatural (Cambridge: CUP, 2004) p. 259

[2] ‘The Latest Thing in Ghosts’ from Once a Week Jan 1862, p. 100

[3] Robert MacFarlane, “Foreword” to Mugby Junction (London: Herspeus, 2005 originally published 1866) p. viii

[4] ‘Jugby Junction: a Christmas Number’ from Fun magazine Dec 29 1866, p. 167

[5] Michale Freeman, The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008) p. 8

[6] Wolfgang Schivelbisch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) pp. 16-32

[7] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction (London: Hesperus Classics, 2005) p. 4

[8] John Ruskin, “The Cestus of Aglaia” from The Works of John Ruskin (London: Library Editions, 1903) p.60-61

[9] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 8

[10] Ibid., p. 6

[11] Ibid., p. 4

[12] John M. Clare, London’s Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery (Gloustershire: Sutton Press Limited, 2004) p. 1-25

[13] ‘The London Necropolis’ from Chamber’s Journal, Jan 1855, 97, p. 297-300

[14] Ibid., p. 299

[15] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers and Co.’ from Mugby Junction p. 29

[16] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 18

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., p. 11

[20] Thomas Carlyle, ‘The Sign of the Times’ (1829) first published in Edinburgh Review p. 444

[21] Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development (London: John Chapman, 1851) p. 66

[22] Tamara Ketabgian, The Lives of Machines (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2011) p. 17

[23] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 7

[24] Ibid., p. 11

[25] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 56

[26] Ralph Harrington, ‘The Railway Journey and the Neuroses of Modernity’ from Pathologies of Travel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000) p. 253

[27] ‘Railway Thoughts’, All the Year Round January 4 1868, p. 82

[28] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers and Co.’ from Mugby Junction p. 43

[29] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 67

[30] Ibid., p. 71

[31] Saturday Review July 16th 1864

[32] ‘Fearful Accident on the Metropolitan Railway’, The Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh Thursday Decemeber 20 1866 Issue 24171, p. 100

[33] ‘Railway Thoughts’, from All the Year Round January 4 1868, p. 82 emphasis in orginal

[34] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 67

[35] Ibid., p. 72 emphasis added

[36] Ibid., emphasis added

[37] Ibid., p. 73

[38] Ibid., p. 74 emphasis added

[39] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 4

[40] Andrew Halliday, ‘The Engine-Driver’ from Mugby Junction p. 70

[41] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 57

[42] Ibid., p. 58

[43] Ibid., p. 60

[44] Samuel Hibbert, Sketches of the Philosphy of Apparitions (London: Whittaker, 1824) p. iii

[45] Charles Dickens, ‘The Signalman’ from Mugby Junction p. 57

[46] Ibid., p. 63 emphasis added

[47] Norris Pope, ‘Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ and Information Problems in the Railway Age’ in Technology and Culture July 2001, p. 437

[48] B.K. Field ‘Charles Dickens’s Railway Accident’ in Strand Magazine July 1906, p. 37

[49] Jill L. Matus, ‘Trauma, Memory, and Railway Disaster: The Dickensian Connection’ in Victorian Studies, p. 431

[50] Charles Dickens, ‘Barbox Brothers’ from Mugby Junction p. 4

[51] Louise Henson, ‘Investigations and Fictions: Charles Dickens and Ghosts’ from The Victorian Supernatural p. 58

[52] John Potts, ‘The Idea of the Ghost’ from Technologies of Magic  (Sydney: Power Publications, 2006) p. 54

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Critical Spaces: Disorientating the Topographical

This is a conference taking place on the 5th of January 2015 at The London Graduate School:

Members of the Playgrounds in Prison team will be attending and hope to see you there.

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A Street Car Maimed Desire: Cross-contamination of Agency between the Body and Technological Space in J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1971)

This short review will plot two technological spaces that are targeted by J.G. Ballard’s Crash as being largely responsible for our post-human, psycho-technological, and cyborg status as car-driving, city-living and camera-captured subjects. In the car and the city we find two spatial constructions infected by modernity, but we also find two spaces that infect the body and the mind of the subject immersed within this technological modernity. These spaces are created by us, but they also in a sense create us. The space and the body deployed in space have a two-way relationship marked by a certain mutual malleability. Both the individual and the technological space that surrounds the individual are in a sense soft; the constitution of each is at the whim of the other. There is a question of agency here. Henri Lefebvre summed it up when he noted that,
There is an immediate relationship between the body and its space, between the body’s deployment in space and its occupation of space. … Each living body is space and has space: it produces itself in space and is also produced by that space.

It is counterintuitive to think that we are somehow controlled by the space we inhabit, but it is this very counterintuitive feature of modernity that Ballard lays bare in his most controversial of novel. Perhaps the controversy lies more in the idea that technological space holds a certain level of agency over bodies rather than in the novel’s perverse or so-called psychopathic sexual exploration.

We might ask this question: at what time does this spatial agency function? Lefebvre uses the term ‘immediate’, which designates his opinion of what time frame exists in this sharing of agency between the body and space. But perhaps this can be thought through a little more carefully. Perhaps we can say that a higher degree of agency exists in the technological spaces that direct or produce the body because space created by bodies tends to an agency that exists only in the duration of the design, building and perhaps restoration process (let’s say that this is the period of time that the body exerts power over the spatial technological construction, bearing in mind that this time period is limited and fragmentary), whereas, once space is constructed/deployed it exerts a more permanent, less limited, and perhaps less predictable agency over the body of its creators and users. In the grand scheme of things, the agency invested in space appears to win out. It exerts power over bodies for a greater length of time. Add to this the fact that the agency held by the space that surrounds the body usually functions tacitly. The agency inscribed in space, then, is both more sustained and functions with greater stealth, which creates a world in which the body is, to a greater extent, controlled by the space it inhabits. This is the counterintuitive psycho-technological world that Ballard is exposing, which is perhaps a more unfamiliar facet of our actuality than any machine-based sexual deviancy. It is here, then, that the controversy of the novel lies.

By looking at the character’s relationship with the car, suburbia, and the camera, this review will examine the recurring trope of the text that displays the counterintuitive cross-contamination between the body and the technological space that surrounds it. It will conclude with a caution not to read the text as a cautionary tale, despite what the author himself has written on numerous occasions.

To start with the car. The text seems to dwell on one specific kind of description; the impressions made by the car on the body. The narrator gives many accounts in fine detail of the marks made by the car on the body of its user. The technological space that surrounds the car-driving individual literally inscribes, stamps, indents, shapes and engraves itself onto the bodies of the characters; the aesthetic of the body becomes a space in which the car can be recognised, the technological space of the car can be seen in limbs and on skin, traces of the technological space that the characters inhabit are embossed on their bodies. The examples are numerous. The first impression we see in detail is on the body of Dr Helen Remington’s husband. He is lying dead across the windshield. ‘His hand had struck some rigid object as he was hurled from his seat, and the pattern of a sign formed itself as I sat there … the triton signature of my radiator emblem’. This episode puts the narrator in a privileged position. Not only does he see the imprint of technology on the body, he sees it forming in front of his eyes. In other words, he sees the process of our technological cross-contamination. This is what releases his new sexuality; from that moment on he sees the technological colonization of our bodies as a fundamentally sexual process of insertion, invasion, and complete productive dependence.

The same idea is at work as we witness Ballard recognise himself as a body impressed by, and so in a sense sexually active with, his own car. He is lying in hospital inspecting his own body after his crash. ‘A semi-circle bruise marked my chest … As I looked down at myself I realized that the precise make and model-year of my car could have been reconstructed by an automobile engineer from the patterns of my wounds’. The narrator has been branded by his car; his car has forced itself upon him. There is a sense of reproduction hovering behind this scene. Like the bodies disciplined in a Fordist factory line, the body of the narrator has become a blueprint for the (re)construction and (re)production of an automobile. Donna Haraway offers an apt way to understand this episode when she remarked in her manifesto that ‘modern production seems like a dream of cyborg colonization at work.’

There are many more examples like this, but for brevity’s sake I will offer just one more. This time the direction of the impression goes the other way. The body is as much a force to encode or shape the car as the car is a force that impresses and inscribes the body. The body/car relationship is one of cross-contamination, creating an anthropo-technological machine space as well as a psycho-technological body. The most vivid example of this is the episode in which we first see Ballard prowling the motorway with Vaughan looking for accidents and picking up prostitutes. Driving along, the narrator watches Vaughan having sex with a nameless prostitute on the backseat. ‘In the triptych of images reflected in the speedometer, the clock and revolution counter, the sexual act between Vaughan and this young woman took place in the hooded grottoes of the luminescent dial’. Not only does the interior of the car reflect the sex act, the sex act actually takes place inside the surface that reflects it. The image in the reflection becomes the act itself. In other words, the car is inscribed with the sexuality of the individual user at least as much as the sexuality of the individual car-user is inscribed by their car.

This psycho-technological cross-contamination is always given by Ballard in theatrical terms. The very existence of this interdependent relationship between body and space questions the traditional boundaries between reality and fantasy. This is why the camera is so central to the text. The character’s new sexual relationship with their cars is often mediated through the camera. Until we meet Vaughan we only experience him following Ballard (and consequently ourselves as readers) with a camera in his hands gripping it like a gun; he holds in his hand the power of a new technological gaze. The images of fresh mutilations in Vaughan’s office and the important crash-test episode at the Road Research Laboratory both have filtering through them the question of where to draw the line between real-life and illusion. The scopic field of the text constantly teeters on the brink of fiction and reality, not in an attempt to question the validity of the fictional world created, but to question the ‘reality’ of the actual world that the text comments on. Like the seepage in form and agency between the body and its surrounding geography, reality and fiction are cross-contaminated in an attempt to expose our ever growing psycho-technological status. As Haraway put it, ‘the cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience … [which makes] the argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality.’

The same seepage between the ‘real’ world and the ‘fictional’ world haunts the text’s description of landscape, as does the seepage of agency between body and space; the two are inextricably linked. Again, examples of this are numerous. But one episode in particular shows this interdependent play of agency and actuality to dazzling effect. Ballard has just returned home after his stay in hospital following his crash. He sits on his balcony watching the airport-centred suburban machine-scape go by. From here he can see endless stretches of motorway, planes taking off and landing, and congested traffic following predetermined routes around the built environment. Taking all this in, Ballard has a kind of psycho-geographic epiphany. Gazing down at ‘this immense motion sculpture’ , he feels the potency of its artifice; calling it sculpture denotes this. We then get a description that anchors onto the question of agency that we discussed in relation to the car: ‘I began to orientate myself again,’ explains Ballard, ‘around its reassuring bulk, its familiar perspectives of speed, purpose and direction’. He is a fully sexual-psycho-geographical construction here, returning to the mantle of the artificial landscape. ‘I realized,’ he continues, ‘that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its key to the borderzones of identity’. In other words, the borderzones of identity do not lie in the hands of the identified. Instead they are inscribed in the space that surrounds them. The next passage makes this even clearer:
I found myself flinching with excitement towards the traffic streams on the Western Avenue interchanges. The flashing lances of afternoon light deflected from the chromium panel trim tore at my skin. The hard jazz of radiator grilles, the motion of the cars moving towards London Airport along the sunlit oncoming lanes, the street furniture and route indicators – all these seemed threatening and super-real, as exciting as the accelerating pintables of a sinister amusement arcade released on to these highways.

The moving cars have the potential to reflect the lances of light because they have the potential to distort reality; they are directly involved in the manipulation of nature or reality. Nature never appears unscathed in Ballard’s work. These reflected, manipulated lances of light also tear at his skin, replicating the cross-contaminated engraving of the body seen in the description of the car. The street furniture and route indicators tell of the agency inscribed in spatial and architectural constructions. All this marries together to give Ballard the feeling of super-reality and illusion.

To conclude I simply want to comment on what the text is doing in its defamiliarization of space and subjectivity. Ballard (the author not the character[?]) mentions in the introduction (1995) that the story is a cautionary tale, a warning to those unaware of the psycho-technological mutations of society. He also mentions this in an interview with Melvyn Bragg on BBC Television. But I would contend that the text’s status as a cautionary tale is problematic. The whole book reads as a descriptive exposition rather than a prescriptive warning sign. The text is too barren of any moral framework to be considered cautionary. Instead the tone is ambivalent to any moral decision, its most forceful gesture is to hold up for us the seepage between organism and technology, between reality and fiction, pertaining more to expose how things are rather than how things should be.

Peter William Slater

Ballard, J.G., Crash (London: Fourth Estate 2011, first published 1973)

Bragg, Melvyn. “The South Bank Show: Melvyn Bragg meets J.G. Ballard (1995)” Interview accessed at 12.33 on 14/02/2013 at

Haraway, Donna “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism 1st Edition ed. Vincent B. Leitch (London: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001) p. 2269

Lefebrvre, Henri The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)

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‘This is a war universe’ (William Burroughs): Mappa Bellum or Mapping the War Universe

In his lecture series given at the College de France in 1975-76, Foucault asked whether or not it would be appropriate to use the model of war to analyse the operation of power in society. In the second lecture he dismissed the philosophical question “who has power?” replacing it instead with the questions “where is power” and “how does power function?” This essay will look for the “where” and “how” of power on the map. It will offer an extra premise to Foucault’s conclusion that politics is the continuation of war by other means. Maps and war are intimately linked. ‘Geography grew up in the shadow of the military’. Power and war are intrinsic to the meaning of maps. So if it can be shown that maps are the way we see the world, or, more precisely, the way we see a world; and if it can be shown that society’s will-to-map has in some way changed our perception of the world and our relationship with space, then does it mean that we already see, as William Burroughs put it, the ‘war universe’? The easy answer to this question is no, or not exactly. It would take a radical rethinking for society to be comfortable with the idea that politics is the continuation of war by other means. The same radical rethink would be needed to see, and this is my thesis, that maps are the image of politics as the continuation of war by other means. By looking at the writings of a few radical theorists and theoretical geographers it should become clear that we can indeed see the war universe if we heed the schematic framework that maps are firstly subjective, secondly intimately bound up with the phenomena of war, and thirdly profoundly affect our perception of space by significantly altering the mechanism of the gaze due to the internalization of a “map-vision”, a map-vision predicated on, and borne of, war. If, as Baudrillard said, ‘the map precedes the territory,’ and if the map is a technology of war, then it should follow that we do act and perceive in the war universe.

In an interview printed in Power/Knowledge, Foucault said that a ‘whole history remains to be written of spaces – which would at the same time be the history of powers’. The discourse of cartography could be a useful place to start this history if we view it as a truth-producing discourse that is entirely at the whim of political factionism. Recognising this would be taking a conceptual jump from the status quo; it takes a ‘new radical awareness’ of postmodern cartography and a certain methodological leap from academic doxa to really understand the archaeology of geography in terms of war, or to understand how power and space perform a war dance on the image of a map. It might sound counterintuitive but there can be no such thing as a completely transparent and objective map. Due to the inevitable distortions and selective conventions in the making of maps, not to mention the size and the texture discrepancies, a map’s representation of a territory is always flawed; there are inevitably many cartographic silences in any attempt to reproduce real space on a map. Contrary to esoteric cartographic practice and exoteric geographic use, maps are not mimetic. They are always biased, partisan, and politically circumscribed.

Phillip Muehrcke concisely espoused the intuitive but mistaken view of cartographic verisimilitude. He said that ‘the map is only reflecting the mutable world in a passive way; it is not a living, active thing’. Quite the opposite, maps are always an active political argument, a world-view, a technology of power, and a formidable component in the rhetoric of discipline and control. As Geoff King put it in Mapping Reality, ‘the map is more than just passive representation of the territory’. Maps have a definitively active relationship with the space that they represent. Maps sculpt the geopolitical world. They mould territory into partial political systems, reproducing their own image in the territory. Maps are the mask that eats into a territory’s face. They exhaust the reality of the territory. Boundaries and borders, for example, are socially imposed, and the way that they are imposed has profound effects on the way society is organised. National frontiers, once concretized on a map, have the force of law. Or, as J.B. Harley put it, mapped borders have some kind of ‘cosmological significance’ when it comes to ordering our lives. Maps have ‘the power to strengthen territorial claims’ with authority. Additionally, a flat map of a spherical world always entails distortion, and distortion has all sorts of power-knowledge consequences. The Mercator map of the world that we are all familiar with in Europe is itself saturated with ideological proclivities: there is a specific reason why Europe takes centre-stage, crowned of course by Britain. These decisions are ultimately national-imperial. Maps always have a geopolitical context that at once denies any scientific neutrality and any atemporality being attributed to them. They are, therefore, the filter through which we see the historico-political landscape both in time and in space, they change the landscape that we exist in by turning it into a politico-topographical domain whose function and identity is defined ultimately by war. To recognise this is to make a radical break from the cartographic and indeed cultural status quo. Harley saw the philosophical necessity in this new radical awareness when he argued that,
Both in the selectivity of their content and their signs and styles of representation maps are a way of conceiving, articulating, and structuring the human world which is biased towards, promoted by, and exerts influence upon a particular set of social relations.

Maps, then, are a subjective text, a language or, more precisely, a “literature” awash with power plays and directives of war (even though they hide them pretty well). This means that cartography is a politically bound discourse with its own truth-effects. Maps as a truth-seeking or ‘scientific’ discourse are weapons of power. They create their own discursive formations based on the principle of war and hold these formations as gospel. They are, therefore, an instrument of power that fits well within the Foucauldian definition of a technological apparatus of knowledge: ‘It is the actual instruments of power [e.g. maps] that form and accumulate knowledge, the observational methods, the recording techniques, the investigative research procedures, the verification mechanism’. Maps are a specialized weapon of power, they are saturated with traces of war, and they are how war is waged on a subject to subject, state to state, and subject to state level.

Like many other instruments of power, maps undergo a curious transformation. Somehow, even though maps are undeniably social in construction, they garner the aureole of science. Once fixed and objective, maps have the sheen of sincerity and the authority of nature. They transmit a permanence, stasis, and sense of control when in fact they possess an intrinsic image of faction, antagonism, agitation, and war. It is this mechanism (the magical shift from subjective to objective representation) that turns a map into weapon of war and a powerful tool for government, empire, and nation. Maps are how nations “speak”, and by their nature they only speak of war: of us and of them. It has been said that ‘the map is the perfect symbol of the state’ and that ‘the national map and the concept of nationalism are inextricably linked’. It is worth asking, then, how far do maps create the nation that they appear only to represent. It looks like maps have the power to create a national domain geo-coded by war; in a definitional sense, the map’s meaning is war. Maps impose meaning onto the world and in doing so they impose a structural war, an organizational war, a war intrinsic to the society of the mappers and the mapped. Maps reify a nation in the imagination of its nationals. They alter a national’s schema of perception and their relationship with the space around them based on an imposition of territorial anxiety and abstract antagonistic identity; this anxiety, being so deep-seated, might even by quite hard to spot, it might feel normal. Nations become normalized and standardized when they are reproduced and “authenticated” by maps; it is because of this that ‘we are all inevitably someone’s adversary’. This means that maps have a discernible agency over a national’s perception. They entail their own internalized, systemized gaze. They have woven into them a sense of surveillance that reinforces national identity.

It is this sense of surveillance that imperial conquest was predicated on. Maps gave the sense that one can watch the world from a bird’s-eye-view. As King noted, ‘with the help of the map, territory could be understood as a whole rather than a series of separate local impressions’. And as Harley pointed out ‘maps anticipated empire’. Maps classify, delineate, and appropriate land in an imperial context. They offer the world as an object capable of possession:
To map a territory is to stake various kinds of claims to it, to make the assertion of ownership, sovereignty and legitimacy of rule. [… Maps were] a ritual of conquest, an act of conceptual appropriation seemingly inseparable from the seizure of the land itself.
Maps provided would-be colonizers with the prospect of domination. They ignited or maybe even created the imperial drive in the form it has come to take. Being able to have a representation of an area of space in front of you, especially under the guise of objective science, must have had all sorts of complicated consequences for your relationship with space. It turns real territory into a kind of fiction with seemingly fictional consequences. It can ‘foster the notion of a socially empty space’. It provided the opportunity to conceptually carve up land, which inevitably had myriad effects on the working of power relations from territory to territory and person to person. A stroke of a pen could instigate battle. Deluded despots may even fight their wars on the surface of the map only, this is an extreme case but the power-relations at play in a map and the anticipation of war in the form of a map contains this potential. In terms of empire it probably had an effect. Harley conjectures that killing real bodies ‘on a map’ might be more easily contemplated: ‘Military maps not only facilitate the technical conduct of warfare, but also palliate the sense of guilt’. Perhaps this is what Jean Baudrillard meant when he said in a 1991 article in The Guardian that the First Gulf War was an ‘unreal war, a war without symptoms’. Because it was a war fought via images and maps it never actually happened in the eyes of the Americans, they only got the technological coverage, the simulacrum. Bombing an area on a screen, map, or any other image questions its claim to reality; the map-image itself becomes the theatre of war. Baudrillard was not devaluing the loss of Iraqi lives, but he was being facetious by parodying an American view on the war. More importantly, however, is that he cottoned on to something more serious in his polemic.

By implying that the American army fought an unreal war through map-images only, Baudrillard hints at the internalization of map-vision. With the will-to-map comes the “geographication” (for want of a better or real word) of the mental space of an individual. It cultivates an ‘inner geopolitical space which responds to the outer political and cultural situation’. The geographication of the mind is the conscious and unconscious recognition of a mapped territory, it is the feeling felt when surrounded by chartered and demarcated boundaries, it is a socio-geographical understanding conceived in the cognition of gridded territory, and the effect given merely by the familiarity with the concept of a map, but, most importantly, it is the fact, and not necessarily the knowledge, that you are the recipient or relay of many circulations of power that flow through the map to the individual mapped. The process of geographication, in a sense, turns reality into a map, not just by normalizing war-defined territorial arrangements, but also by turning reality into an image, an effigy, and a catachrestic spectacle in the Debordian sense of the term.

It has been said that ‘for those who inhabit particular mappings they are likely to be viewed simply as reality. To those born into them they tend to appear natural’. With the continuous and on-going mapping of every bit of space on the planet, everybody now is born into a map. Google Maps is making sure of it. Everybody, then, is under surveillance. Everybody is mapped, and it feels normal to be so. With this incessant and escapable mapping, then, everybody is in some way related to war in that nobody resides outside the lines of force and everybody occupies a space that marks a point of collision. Through affiliation to nation, everyone is in some sense defined by war. The concept of a map, being mapped and seeing maps, decrees this. But this is not natural. This system is one born of cultural codes. It is a man-made frame imposed upon the world. It comes from the mind of those implicated by what I have called a state of geographication. This state of being was necessary for Baudrillard to announce that henceforth it is the map that precedes the territory. In Simulations, he gave a vivid example of the effects of our engendered map-vision. Using Jorges Luis Borges tale about an empire that commissioned a map of its territory to-scale, and then declined as an empire with the deteriorating condition of the map, Baudrillard offers us a metaphor for the retreat of the real.
It is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the [Borges] 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’.
Again, Baudrillard cottoned on to something important. The mapped individual has internalised the image of the map so fully, and this image of the map is so engendered with traces of war, that the war universe is the only thing the mapped individual can see. Interestingly, if you look up ‘off the map’ in the dictionary you will find that it means ‘out of existence’, ‘into oblivion’, ‘obsolete’, and ‘of no account’. And if you look up ‘on the map’ it means ‘in existence’ and ‘of some account’. So to slightly alter Burroughs’ announcement in light of the understanding that Baudrillard offers: this is a war universe in that all we can see is war, the simulation or mask of war, the map.

Up until now this essay has been giving examples of the war universe from the juridico-political sphere of geographication, explaining how this works on a national and imperial level. But it must also be stressed that this internalization of map-vision defined by war occurs on a local level as well. An anecdote might help explain this. A friend of mine works in a community centre in the Govan area of Glasgow. The centre offers a scheme based on interventionist care to adolescent gang members. One day he gave them a practical exercise to do. He asked them to draw their version of a map of their home area. Many struggled to “correctly” offer the standardized district and street names. Instead they drew a map showing where it would be safe for them to go and where it would not. Their relationship with the space around them was on a go and no-go basis. Now there is something very interesting in this. The standard map does not apply. But the concept of mapping does. Space is outlined and mapped according to the a sense of confrontation: this is how they saw their world. Once the sovereignty of the “neutral” and “objective” map has been stripped away – a process that we should all get into the habit of doing – mapped territory fully and explicitly enters into the idiom of war. To rid ourselves of the ruse of objective cartography is to make patent the latent underpinnings of war in maps. This anecdote should be read as an example of what Deleuze calls the War-Machine. It is war in a state-free setting as well as war in a national, imperial, and so legal setting. Or more precisely, war emerges from the geographication of the individual in a stratum that exists outside the juridico-political setting as well as within it.

Foucault’s proximity to geographic discourse was only ever cursory, but the influence he has had on theoretical geography or the history of space has been fittingly substantial. I have here offered the potential to extent his proposal that the best/only way to interpret society is through a war-model by arguing that we already do look at society in terms of war because of our intimate and irreversible connection with maps. Understanding the knowledge systems and surveillance mechanisms that maps put in place – on an international, national, and local level – is key to the cultivation and perception of the war universe. Cartographic certainty has become the Golden Lie, the ruse of peace in the arena of war, and cartographers have become the unacknowledged legislators of both public and private warfare. Maps are ubiquitous in more than one sense, and from a detailed analysis of this state of affairs we can affirm, as Foucault did, that ‘a battlefront runs through the whole of society, continuously and permanently’.

Peter William Slater


Baudrillard, Jean, Simulations trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983)
Baudrillard, Jean, “The Reality Gulf”, The Guardian, 1st January 1991, Quoted in King, Geoff, “World-views” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
Burroughs, William, “The War Universe” in Grand Street No. 37 (1991)
Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994)
Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Continuum Impacts, 2004, originally published in 1987)
Foucault, Michel, “14 January 1976 – War and Power etc.” in Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, “21 January 1976 – Theory of Sovereignty and Operators of Domination etc.” in Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Foucault, Michel, “Questions of Geography”, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980)
Harley, J.B., “Maps, Knowledge, Power” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)
Harley, J.B., “Power and Legitmation in the English Geographical Atlases of the Eighteenth Century” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)
King, Geoff, “Maps of Meaning” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
King, Geoff, “The Map That Precedes The Territory” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
King, Geoff, “World-views” in Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996)
Mcluhan, Marshall War and Peace
Monmonier, Mark, How to Lie with Maps ((Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996)
Muehrcke, Phillip “Map Reading and Abuse” in Journal of Geographers, Vol. 4, May (1974)

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