On territorial images: Erewhon, or, chiastic desire

Andrew Douglas


This paper investigates the role of territorial images in the experiencing of place. It argues that there is no territory without repetition patterns that inscribe a semiotic generating images, a ‘picturing’ that is, in fact, pivotal to the possessive and demarking dynamic implicit in territorial assemblages. Drawing a link between Hans Blumenberg’s (1985) thinking on “existential anxiety” and its reworking of horizons of unknowing in myth and the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) on repetition patterning and the refrains of territoriality, the paper looks to modes of imagined place-solidarity emerging with the nation-state. Drawing on Andrea Mubi Brighenti’s (2010) call for an expanded territorology—itself drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987 & 1994) notions of territoriality—the paper emphasises the extent to which territory, more typically recognised as a spatial phenomenon, in fact, arises out of temporal and psychical geneses consolidating differences in modes of repetition—in the case of the nation-state, as Benedict Anderson (1991) has proposed, spanning commonly imagined daily routines, memorialising, and refashioned futures. In particular, the paper draws on the role of utopian discourse in the transition to Europe nationalism, and in turn, to the transmittal of utopian aspirations and imaginings to colonial places.  Central to the paper is a reading of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, Or, Over the Range (1872/2013), a utopian satire set in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s Southern Alps, a novel, in fact, influential to a range of writings by Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. Developing links between the novel’s philosophical uptake; its deployment of topography and modes of imagining specific to Aotearoa/New Zealand; and Butler’s deployment of a Neoplatonist empiricism more broadly, the paper plays out the significance of what is nominated as chiastic desire (following insights by Ralf Norrman, 1986)—a criss-cross patterning that draws surface configurations (landscape picturing, textual place descriptions, topographical delineation, perceptual routines) into deeper questions of grounding, imagination, and the drawing of place sensibility out of the imperceptible.

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