Visual forms of knowledge production and representation — examples of the practice Johanna Drucker calls graphesis — appear in the work of almost every important twentieth-century avant-garde movement. Many of the most compelling compositions of Italian Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus, Situationist and Concrete poetics, and Pop and Conceptual Art throw maps and counter-maps into their multimedia mix.
Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come. — Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 4-5
The aesthetic, pedagogical, and political focus of this series of commentaries is a set of documents we call counter-maps. The term comes from critical cartographer Denis Wood, who provides a lineage that includes early twentieth-century map art, the mental maps movement of the 1960s, Indigenous and bioregional mapping, and the traditions of Parish Mapping. For Wood, “[I]t is counter-mapping that shows us where mapping is heading” (111).
Our contention here is that counter-maps also suggest a direction poetry may take in the digitally driven, multimedia information economy that pervades all aspects of 21st-century collective creative life. In this series of commentaries, our examples, both pre- and post-1995, come from a handful of subgenres—tactical, forensic, locative, cognitive, and ecological counter-mapping—that mix the graphic syntax of cartography, the rhythmic patterns of language, and an urgent interrogation of the processes and institutions of global capitalism.