For this project you will draft a “model” or a “map” — not necessarily a geographic map — that highlights spatial, temporal, thematic, or structural elements of Tillie Walden’s Spinning.
A “map” does not necessarily have to be a cartographic map; in fact, the last thing I want is a faithful map of all the “places” in the novel. Rather, by “map” I mean a model: an abstract visual representation of some element of the novel that captures its complexity and reveals a pattern or set of relations that a straightforward reading might overlook.
In an article called “Graphs, Maps, and Trees,” the critic Franco Moretti makes a case for creating what he calls literary maps:
What do literary maps do . . . First, they are a good way to prepare a text for analysis. You choose a unit — walks, lawsuits, luxury goods, whatever — find its occurrences, place them in space . . . or in other words: you reduce the text to a few elements, and abstract them, and construct a new, artificial object. A model. And at this point you start working at a ‘secondary’ level, removed from the text: a map, after all, is always a look from afar — or is useless, like Borges’s map of the empire. Distant reading, I have called this work elsewhere; where distance is however not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge: fewer elements, hence a sharper sense of their overall interconnection. Shapes, relations, structures. Patterns. (New Left Review 26 (2004), p. 94)
There are a number of ways to approach this inquiry. For examples of different kinds of mapping visualizations, browse through the Data Visualization Catalog. I encourage you to be creative and to make use of any style or tool necessary. You can be as low-tech or high-tech as you want. (Your map can be hand-constructed–so long as you can convert it into a digital form to include on your website.) Or you can use sophisticated born-digital tools:
- Piktochart, infogr.am, visual.ly or other infographic makers
- mapping software like Bubbl.us or CMap
- timeline tools like Timeline, Tiki-Toki, or Simile widgets
- or other digital data visualization tools, such as those highlighted here, here, or here.
Whatever form your “map” takes, be sure to include a legend or key that explains the information represented.
Publish your map as a page to your site along with its legend and, if you feel it helpful, a short bit of explanatory text. Then write a reflective post in which you link to the map and address the following questions:
- How do you understand Spinning differently when you see it through the map that you’ve made about it, rather than you did when you were reading the book panel by panel? How does this abstract model of the memoir reveal qualitative or quantitative aspects of the book that would elude a typical close reading?
- What questions about Spinning led you to focus on the element(s) that you did when you created your map?
- Why did your “map” take the shape it did?
- How does your map succeed and what are its limitations?