There’s something insidious about this website (click on the map to go to it) that will generate such a map for you based on the states you click, designed for you to be able to show off the states you’ve visited (there is another version for the world traveler). And, no, it’s not because all of the states are red. It’s because it is one of the most crass illustrations of that crass urge of so many tourists and travelers (I engage in it myself) to collect places—their cultures, their terrains, their vistas—as so many notches on the belt, as so many state-shaped vinyl stickers on the back of the recreational vehicle. It is a horrible and obscene flattening of the world, where every place is just like every other place—as if there were nothing in these places except for airports, bus stations, Motel 6s, 7-11s, Starbucks and Applebees—except in so far as their political boundaries produce a unique shape on that most abstract representation of place: the map. It generates the illusion of the acquisition and control of space, as if by stepping on the tarmac at Dallas-Fort Worth airport for a layover en route to Raleigh, NC, you have opened up the entire state of Texas and made it bleed red. The same synechdochic tricks are at work when the networks air constantly-updated maps in blue, red and grey on election night. And then, our minds cluttered with slightly more sophisticated yet equally vapid re-inscriptions of politics, we scratch are heads and ask “What’s the matter with Kansas?”.
Of course, this map is an easy target. It is just one of the most obvious manifestations of the tourist’s urge to consume space and its inhabitants, with no thought to the indigestion it will cause later on. The process can be quite a bit more subtle than this. I’ll likely return to this subject in the near future, as I’ve just made arrangements to go on a tour of Upper Egypt with AUC’s Arabic Language Institute in a few weeks.