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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

ORDERS OF NATURE vs ORDERS OF CULTURE Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay: an essay in spatial history (Faber) £16.95

The naming of places can scarcely be more innocent than the men who do it and they, as we now routinely recognize, bear an awful brunt of historical responsibility: colonizers, imperialists, genocides. Every headland named for a king or patron, every hill or valley christened, does violence of some sort to an older and more pristine past. In doing so, it forecloses part of the future.

The consensus would be that geographical 'discovery' is a misnomer, but there is a growing divide between a post-colonial revisionism that unmasks the greed and blood in a place-name and one that goes back further still to the play of signifiers along the line of a journey.

There are differences between islands drawn at the back of an exercise book and coastlines discovered in the name of science or trade. The difference is that in the second case the conventional rhetoric encounters a resistance in the sticky inertia of fact. When boys colonize a paper island, they imagine it as it were from above, not so much a tabula rasa as an ideal utopic space with certain 'inevitable' components. Its bounds, because absolute, are irrelevant. Sea captains, on the other hand, make landfalls on unknown continents at precise but also rather abstract points in time. This paradox is the beginning of 'spatial history'. To begin with at least, the coastline is not penetrated, but uneasily skirted. The earliest maps have either no or purely conventionalized interiors. For Paul Carter, ...


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