On Exactitude in Science  

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"In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography." (tr. Andrew Hurley)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"On Exactitude in Science" or "On Rigor in Science" (1946, the original Spanish-language title is "Del rigor en la ciencia") is a one-paragraph short story by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, about the map/territory relation, written in the form of a literary forgery.

Contents

Plot

The story elaborates on a conceit in Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno Concluded: a fictional map that had "the scale of a mile to the mile." One of Carroll's characters notes some practical difficulties with this map and states that "we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

The Borges story, credited falsely as a quotation from "Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes [Travels of Prudent Men], Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658", imagines an empire where the science of cartography becomes so exact that only a map on the same scale as the empire itself will suffice. "[S]ucceeding Generations… came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome... In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar..." (tr. Norman Thomas de Giovanni).

Publication history

The story was first published in the March 1946 edition of Los Anales de Buenos Aires, año 1, no. 3 as part of a piece called "Museo" under the name B. Lynch Davis, a joint pseudonym of Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares; that piece credited it as the work of "Suarez Miranda". It was collected later that year in the 1946 second Argentinian edition of Borges's Historia Universal de la Infamia (A Universal History of Infamy). The names "B. Lynch Davis" and "Suarez Miranda" would be combined later that year to form another pseudonym, B. Suarez Lynch, under which Borges and Bioy Casares published Un modelo para la muerte, a collection of detective fiction.

Similarities to the Dao

The story has similarities to the following passages from the Dao:

Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of Nature would have to duplicate Nature.
No Name can fully express what it represents.
It is Nature itself, and not any part (or name or description) abstracted from Nature, which is the ultimate source of all that happens, all that comes and goes, begins and ends, is and is not.
But to describe Nature as "the ultimate source of all" is still only a description, and such a description is not Nature itself. Yet since, in order to speak of it, we must use words, we shall have to describe it as "the ultimate source of all."

--Tao Teh King - Archie J. Bahm (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1958)

Influences and legacy

The story elaborates on a concept in Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno Concluded: a fictional map that had "the scale of a mile to the mile." One of Carroll's characters notes some practical difficulties with this map and states that "we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

"What a useful thing a pocket-map is!" I remarked. "That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?" "About six inches to the mile." "Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all ! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!" "Have you used it much?" I enquired. "It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

Umberto Eco expanded upon the theme, quoting Borges's paragraph as the epigraph for his short story "On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1." It was collected in Eco's How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "On Exactitude in Science" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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