At first blush, this map reads as just so many nonsensical inversions of expectations and subversions of conventions. Or as Strange Maps tells us, “This is a very weird world indeed.” But I think there is something more to the layout of this globe than mere perversion for its own sake.
Let me explain.
The year 1929 falls smack dab in the middle of the interwar period, a time I am particularly interested in as my dissertation concerns anticolonialism during the 1920s and 1930s. This was a period marked by rising movements against empire and the proliferation of supranational ideologies and movements. In this moment, a number of theorists addressed questions of space and scale in novel manners in an attempt to confuse Eurocentric notions of geography and history and to propose alternate orderings of the world.
Since I spend all day thinking about such nonsense, I immediately thought when I looked at this map, “This is as much an anticolonial map as it is a surrealist map!”
This connection isn't just my innovative genius. In an analysis of Black intellectuals’ attraction to surrealism, historian Robin Kelley points out, “Surrealists explicitly called for the overthrow of bourgeois culture, identified with anticolonial movements in Africa and Asia, and turned to non-European cultures as a source of ideas and inspiration in their critique of Western civilization.”* In other words, we might think of surrealism as an internal critique of the West and anticolonialism as its paired external assessment. This parallel may be a bit simplistic, but it provides an entrée to an interpretation of the logic of this map, if such a thing exists.
First, note the re-centering of the map around the Pacific, rather than the Atlantic world, pushing Europe off to a small corner of the West. “So much for your Eurocentric ideas!” our surrealist cartographer exclaims.
Additionally, the map-maker has endowed the northern Pacific territories with enlarged representations, particularly hefty in the case of Russia, home to the anticolonialists of the Third International. The two countries immune to “gigantism” are the major imperial powers on the Pacific—the United States and Japan—which have disappeared completely, though the American colonial territories of Hawaii and Alaska remain.
As Europe is a little squished, it’s hard for me to make out exactly what’s going on. But I think that England has nearly vanished and it has been replaced by an enlarged Ireland. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong, the label is illegible to me.) Imperial France bit the dust and only cosmopolitan Paris remains, one of only two cities worth mentioning in the world, the other being Constantinople. The rest of the continent is just an expansive Germany and Austria-Hungary. Perhaps these territories were saved as the birthplaces of Marx and Freud, the two fathers whose seminal ideas spawned surrealism. As for fascist Italy and the rest of the West, we bid you farewell!
Looking to Latin America, we find only Mexico and Peru, a fact that puzzles the viewers over at Strange Maps, but makes complete sense to me. Freed from the yoke of yanqui imperialism, the two nations that dominate Latin America are what I imagine to be the anticolonial Mexico of Emiliano Zapata and the Peru of the talented Marxist theorist Jose Carlos Mariategui, whose collection of essays on Peruvian socialism had just been published in 1927.
Of course, for an anticolonial map, the shrunken Africa and India are somewhat disappointing and these distortions may belie my reading.
Actually, this whole interpretation is a little thin. Or at least it ignores the large role played by nonsense in the logic of this map. I suppose one of the dangers of writing a dissertation is that you start to see the whole world through the lens of your narrow, little topic. But I do think there’s something to my take on this.
What do you think?
*Kelley’s statement appears in his foreword to the 2000 edition of Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism.