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Simon Ferdinand · Irene Villaescusa-Illán

Esther Peeren
Editors

Other Globes
Past and Peripheral Imaginations
of Globalization
Editors
Simon Ferdinand Irene Villaescusa-Illán
Amsterdam School for Cultural Department of Spanish Language
Analysis and Culture
University of Amsterdam University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Esther Peeren
Literary and Cultural Analysis
University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Palgrave Studies in Globalization, Culture and Society


ISBN 978-3-030-14979-6 ISBN 978-3-030-14980-2  (eBook)
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14980-2

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CHAPTER 13

A World in Miniatures: Judith Schalansky’s


Atlas of Remote Islands

Christoph Schaub

Published in German in 2009 and subsequently translated into English,


French, Arabic, Chinese, Polish, and several other languages,1 Judith
Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot
On and Never Will (Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln: Fünfzig Inseln, auf
denen ich nie war und niemals sein werde 2009; English translation 2010)
can be considered a piece of world literature in the sense that the book
“circulate[s] beyond [its] culture of origin” (Damrosch 2003, 4). Atlas
is also a world literary text in the second sense of the “double genitive”
of the term: it is a text that makes a world (Cheah 2008, 36). And yet
the world that Atlas constructs on a planetary scale seems incongruous
with the globalization processes and extant globalization narratives that
are both the condition of possibility of world literature and the condition
of possibility of Schalansky’s book, which, after all, is based on knowl-
edges and imaginaries that have been emerging since the so-called Age
of Exploration (Breuer 2012, 194). The book’s complex relationship to
the economic, social, and cultural processes that made it possible can be

C. Schaub (*) 
University of Vechta, Vechta, Germany
e-mail: Christoph.Schaub@uni-vechta.de

© The Author(s) 2019 249


S. Ferdinand et al. (eds.), Other Globes,
Palgrave Studies in Globalization, Culture and Society,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14980-2_13
250  C. SCHAUB

traced on two levels: in the book’s representation of the world and in the
book’s non-propositional knowledge, that is, the specific knowledge pro-
duced by and sedimented in the text’s aesthetic form.2 Literary genres, it
has been argued in the field of Wissenspoetologie, or the poetics of knowl-
edge, do not simply store and transport knowledge, but co-constitute it,
while different genres make different forms of knowledge possible (Bies et
al. 2013, 8–9). In this sense, Atlas offers the opportunity to explore what
kind of non-propositional world-knowledge a certain form of short prose
texts—Schalansky’s miniature studies3—produces if organized in the mul-
timedia form of the atlas, a genre that strives to represent the entire planet.
I pursue this question in three steps. First, I discuss aspects that set
the world constructed in Atlas apart from more conventional depic-
tions of the planet in a globalizing age. Atlas approximates an alterity-
oriented world-making, in particular, by developing nature studies. If the
book’s world-making consists in organizing a specific “world content”
(Hayot 2012, 26), which here foregrounds different forms of alterity
instead of, for example, global sameness, this organization is performed
through the ways Atlas uses multimediality and creates chronotopes to
make a world within the pages of a book. In other words: the analysis
of Atlas’s world-making encompasses the examination of its medial-
ity and of its organization of time and space. Therefore, I analyze the
relationship between image and text in the book in the second part of
my argument, and argue, in the third step, that Schalansky’s miniature
studies and their aesthetic organization in the form of an atlas produce
a particular kind of world-knowledge because of its independence from
the need to organize the world as a narrative concatenation of places
and events progressing in time and space—an argument that I will make
mainly by way of a discussion of Mikhail Bakhtin’s essay “Epic and
Novel” (Bakhtin 1994). The book’s aesthetic organization allows for an
alternative kind of world-knowledge insofar as it resists the drive toward
completeness and homogenization that underlies predominant globali­
zation narratives.
Schalansky’s Atlas differs from other contemporary German-language
attempts to imagine the planet in a globalizing age—such as Christoph
Ransmayr’s Atlas of an Anxious Man (Atlas eines ängstlichen Mannes,
2012), a book “exclusively about places I have lived in, visited or trav-
elled through” (2016, n.p.)—in that it is not based on actual travel
experiences, as already suggested by its subtitle. The imagination of the
planet from a position of physical immobility testifies to Schalansky’s
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  251

experience of a restricted freedom to travel while growing up in the


German Democratic Republic.4 Yet Schalansky’s project is more fun-
damentally based on her diagnosis that “our world [has] already been
completely discovered” (2014, 7; revised translation). This diagnosis
dislocates exploration from the physical realm to the imagination and to
cultural archives of historical explorations:

I have invented nothing. But I have discovered everything; I have found


these stories and made them mine, just as the explorer makes the land he
discovers his. All the text in this book has been researched; every detail
has been created out of these sources. It is impossible to establish whether
events unfolded exactly this way, if only because beyond their actual geo-
graphical coordinates, islands will always be places we project onto, places
which we cannot hold on through scientific methods but through liter-
ature. // This atlas is therefore primarily a poetic project. Now that it is
possible to travel right round the globe, the real challenge lies in staying at
home and discovering the world from there. (2014, 8–9)

For Schalansky, an atlas is a medium for engaging with the world used
by those who do not travel physically: “Anyone who opens an atlas
knows that he is going to stay at home” (Kahlefendt 2010, n.p.).5 Not
a travel guide then,6 an atlas can be compared to the novels of Jules
Verne, which, according to Schalansky’s narrator, allows us to encounter
a world different from our own: “Verne’s novels are the equivalent of a
visit to the World Fair, offering a naturally occurring cabinet of potential
adventure, polished to a high technological sheen – daydreams for every-
day use, atlases for those who stay at home” (2010, 58). Understood
as “primarily a poetic project” that is based on a cultural archive, Atlas
does not stage a direct referential relationship to the extra-textual world.
Rather, the book foregrounds that an encounter with the actual world is
also always an encounter with the imaginaries of the world (2010, 28)
and metafictionally engages with the literary and cinematic traditions
of representing islands, as many stories retell older island stories (2010,
48, 102). Atlas of Remote Islands is therefore doubly removed from the
islands it represents, since neither the author nor the narrator has ever
traveled to them and because each of its stories is a new narrativization
of an already existing narrative of an island. Rather than a book born
from encounters with an extra-textual world, Atlas is a book born from
encounters in the library, maybe the most paradigmatic place for those
who want to “discover[ ] the world” while “staying at home.”
252  C. SCHAUB

Alterity-Oriented World-Making
The pocket book edition of Atlas of Remote Islands, for which
Schalansky wrote a new preliminary note, begins with the image of a
“giant globe – as tall as a man,” which the author encounters in Berlin’s
Staatsbibliothek, Germany’s national library. Not drawn to the conti-
nents, nation states, or metropolises represented on it, she focuses on
“the names of those tiny pieces of land that seemed to disappear in the
breadth of the oceans” (Schalansky 2014, 7; revised translation). A col-
lection of fifty prose miniatures and visual renderings of islands scattered
over the earth’s five oceans, Atlas is interested in spaces that Schalansky
compares to “those white patches beyond the lines indicating the hori-
zon of the known world drawn on old maps” (2014, 7). As the analogy
suggests, Atlas focuses on places spatially remote and at the same time
temporally beyond the present. Its literary-visual world-making revolves
around places threatened by invisibility and marked by a near total lack
of cultural intelligibility.7 If the marginality of these places is indicated
by their size in the globe’s cartographical representation, their mar-
ginal status is constructed by their spatial distance from the metropoli-
tan centers and by their lack of connectedness with these centers. They
are “surrounded by the monotonous, insurmountable walls of a persis-
tent, ever-present sea, far away from the trade routes which tie overseas
colonies to their mother countries like umbilical cords …” (Schalansky
2010, 18). Often uninhabited, at best sparsely populated and mostly
cut off from any kind of medial, economic, or migratory flows,8 these
islands function like counter-spaces to the global cities and mega cit-
ies that have been conceived of as paradigmatic spaces of globalization.
Choosing remote islands, whose remoteness is in some instances rein-
forced by Schalansky’s representational strategies (Breuer 2012, 193),
as the objects of a world-making in the age of globalization provides
Schalanksy with the phenomenological ground for an alternative imag-
ination of the planet. This is not simply the case in the sense that Atlas
depicts places spatially remote from the urban centers of globalization,
but also because the book constructs spaces relatively untouched by
time–space compression.9
However, Atlas does not code spatial and experiential distance
from the metropolis as utopian; its islands are often the opposite. Ingo
Breuer even suggests that “the island-dystopia is almost paradigmatic for
Schalansky’s text” (2012, 192). Indeed, Atlas is driven by a continual
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  253

movement toward disillusionment: “The journey to these islands is long


and difficult and then landing on them is highly perilous or impossible.
Even when it is possible to make landfall, the island that has been the
focus of so much yearning often turns out … to be barren and worth-
less” (2010, 16).10 The worlds of these remote islands are not more liva-
ble than our own, and Schalansky’s alternative imagination of the planet
can hardly be read as a political counter-imaginary that juxtaposes the
ills of globalization with a better future only deferred by its current dis-
placement to the margins of the “known world” (2014, 7). Rather, these
islands are places where, for example, men “turn[ ] into … monsters”
(2010, 19), the power structures and hierarchies of metropolitan soci-
eties are reproduced on a smaller scale (2010, 54), and people commit
rapes and murders (2010, 18–19, 92).
Moreover, islands are signifiers of at least three different kinds of
alterity. First, they are spaces of the metropolis’s social other. Evoking
the history of islands as penal colonies (2010, 86), Schalansky under-
stands islands “as places in which to gather everything that is unwanted,
repressed, and deviant” (2010, 18; revised translation). Secondly, islands
mark a discourse of cultural difference insofar as, from the perspective
of the metropolitan explorers and observers, the populations of some
islands are characterized by radically different habits, rituals, customs,
and more (2010, 88, 94, 100, 116). Finally, islands are spaces of an
encounter with the radical yet inner-worldly otherness of the planet. In
comparison to the experience of such alterity, the potential encounter
with extraterrestrial life forms and technologies, evoked in the following
passage by the specter of a UFO, pales:

Barauna’s photographs are overexposed. Four of six photos show the


unknown object in different flying positions. With a ring round its middle,
it looks like Saturn pressed flat. Two of his shots have fallen victim to the
tumult on board; they show nothing but a slant of railing, water and the
dark rock of a coast that rises from the sea in rigid points, alien and sinis-
ter, as if from another world. (Schalansky 2010, 44)

Such orientation toward the alterity of the planet goes spatially and tem-
porally beyond the global, and points to an aspect that is fundamental to
Schalansky’s alternative world-making. Most of her miniatures are either
studies of nature or of the relationship between humans and non-human
nature. In an interview, Schalansky has highlighted this aspect, describing
254  C. SCHAUB

the encounter with islands as an encounter with nature: “It is the dream
of a place where one can find oneself, where one does not have to live in
the first place but has to survive – the questions children ask: How would
I, having to depend only on myself, live in nature?” (Willemsen 2009).
Such emphasis on nature may not surprise in a writer who is also the
author of a novel centered upon a biology teacher (The Giraffe’s Neck,
or Der Hals der Giraffe, 2011), and the editor of a book series titled
Naturkunden,11 a term that can be translated as nature studies and, in
Germany, evokes a subject in elementary school.
Emphasizing nature as the primary phenomenological dimension of
her Atlas, Schalansky’s imaginary encounters with nature reproduce,
in the literary text, the actual encounters of explorers and cartogra-
phers with what she calls “fremde Natur,” or “alien nature” (2013, 2).
Encounters with remote islands are, for Schalansky, in the first place
encounters with nature, or, more precisely, with the cultural imagina-
tion of nature. Evoking in the mode of ironic distantiation the tradition
of imagining the island as a laboratory (Regler 2012, 579–580), each
of Schalansky’s island miniatures explores one particular dimension of
nature or of the relationship between humans and nature. The space of
the island helps to isolate this particular aspect: “For empirical research,
every island is a cause for celebration, a natural laboratory. For once,
there is no need to expend great effort to separate the subject under
study …” (Schalansky 2010, 17). Simultaneously, the form of the atlas
guarantees that these elements appear to be parts of a whole; they are
sections of a study of the world. To the same extent that Schalansky is
invested in a deconstruction of the imagination of the island as a sort of
paradise or utopian space, she represents nature as anything but idyllic
and the relationship between nature and man as violent. Some dimen-
sions of this relationship between humans and non-human nature can be
described as follows:

(a)  man’s subjection of nature through exploration and knowledge;


(b) the extinction of species through human activity;
(c)  the destruction of nature as a livable habitat for humans, plants, and
other organisms through large scale experimentation, such as the test
of a hydrogen bomb;
(d) humans being killed by animals;
(e)  humans’ confrontation with places not inhabitable, at times not even
accessible to them. (2010, 28, 114, 80, 78, 50)
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  255

If Schalansky thus explores the natural limits to man’s appropriation


of nature, her miniatures also study the life of nature beyond man’s
encounter with it (albeit, of course, only as something observed by
humans):

(a)  nature existing irrespective of humans’ presence, as Schalansky writes


in a rather anthropomorphizing way: “Here, on top of the Pacific ring
of fire, the earth speaks to itself, largely unnoticed by human beings”
(2010, 104; revised translation);
(b) the creation of the physical shape of the planet through organic and
inorganic processes, irrespective to human activity:

Once [the coral] lined the cone of a volcano, dying with it when it sank
into the ocean. All that was left of them was a limestone skeleton, on
which succeeding generations of coral settled. Remnants of the collapsed
mountain came to rest on them, and the sand blown hither by the wind
collected here. Slowly, an island grew out of the limestone, the tireless
work of the coral – builder and material alike. Every atoll stands as a mon-
ument to an island that has gone under, a miracle greater than the pyra-
mids, solely created by these tiny, delicate creatures. (2010, 56)

Schalansky’s emphatic representation of the planet as a space of nature


allows us to imagine the planet in a globalizing age beyond urbanization
and virtual worlds: beyond the global city, the megacity, and the internet
that dominate globalization studies as well as the popular imagination of
a globalized world. Moreover, by studying nature, Atlas represents more
than only human, or cultural, timescales. In writing miniature studies of
how nature—both in its organic and inorganic forms—has been shaping
the planet irrespective of human activity, Schalansky inserts geological
and evolutionary timescales into her representation of the planetary con-
dition, timescales infinitely slower and longer than the experiential pace
of globalization characterized by constant acceleration (Rosa 2005, 333–
351). Thereby she ascribes an extra-cultural world-making force to these
temporalities that remains largely unrecognized in globalization narra-
tives, which conceive of the planet in terms of a humanist history rather
than of the interplay between human history and natural history. Indeed,
in the example of the corals cited above, nature trumps the greatest of
humanity’s architectural achievements.
This book’s world-making is then marked by what Wai Chee Dimock
has called “deep time,” in the sense of a “‘deep time’ of the planet
252  C. SCHAUB

Alterity-Oriented World-Making
The pocket book edition of Atlas of Remote Islands, for which
Schalansky wrote a new preliminary note, begins with the image of a
“giant globe – as tall as a man,” which the author encounters in Berlin’s
Staatsbibliothek, Germany’s national library. Not drawn to the conti-
nents, nation states, or metropolises represented on it, she focuses on
“the names of those tiny pieces of land that seemed to disappear in the
breadth of the oceans” (Schalansky 2014, 7; revised translation). A col-
lection of fifty prose miniatures and visual renderings of islands scattered
over the earth’s five oceans, Atlas is interested in spaces that Schalansky
compares to “those white patches beyond the lines indicating the hori-
zon of the known world drawn on old maps” (2014, 7). As the analogy
suggests, Atlas focuses on places spatially remote and at the same time
temporally beyond the present. Its literary-visual world-making revolves
around places threatened by invisibility and marked by a near total lack
of cultural intelligibility.7 If the marginality of these places is indicated
by their size in the globe’s cartographical representation, their mar-
ginal status is constructed by their spatial distance from the metropoli-
tan centers and by their lack of connectedness with these centers. They
are “surrounded by the monotonous, insurmountable walls of a persis-
tent, ever-present sea, far away from the trade routes which tie overseas
colonies to their mother countries like umbilical cords …” (Schalansky
2010, 18). Often uninhabited, at best sparsely populated and mostly
cut off from any kind of medial, economic, or migratory flows,8 these
islands function like counter-spaces to the global cities and mega cit-
ies that have been conceived of as paradigmatic spaces of globalization.
Choosing remote islands, whose remoteness is in some instances rein-
forced by Schalansky’s representational strategies (Breuer 2012, 193),
as the objects of a world-making in the age of globalization provides
Schalanksy with the phenomenological ground for an alternative imag-
ination of the planet. This is not simply the case in the sense that Atlas
depicts places spatially remote from the urban centers of globalization,
but also because the book constructs spaces relatively untouched by
time–space compression.9
However, Atlas does not code spatial and experiential distance
from the metropolis as utopian; its islands are often the opposite. Ingo
Breuer even suggests that “the island-dystopia is almost paradigmatic for
Schalansky’s text” (2012, 192). Indeed, Atlas is driven by a continual
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  257

latitudes and longitudes …. The globe is on our computers .… No one


lives there …. (2012, 338)

If completion, totalization, homogenization, and abstraction can be


taken as pillars of the non-propositional world-knowledge implied in the
figure of the globe, as well as in predominant globalization narratives,
then the aesthetic form of Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands destabi-
lizes them. This destabilization takes place in the book’s text–image rela-
tions, the poetics of its miniature studies, and their organization into a
textual whole.
Atlas is not simply a multimedia work in the sense that it combines
text and image. As Schalansky herself points out, the book combines dif-
ferent genre logics: “I wanted to make a book that is at the same time
an atlas – with the beauty of facts and maps – and a story-book” (Rauh
2009). Each of the fifty entries in Schalansky’s Atlas is structured in the
same way, with one island occupying two pages in the book. On the
right-hand side, against a background of always the same blue color, we
find a cartographic depiction of the island with the names of mountain
peaks, settlements, bays, and so on. The names are given in the language
of the nation-state the island belongs to and not in the language Atlas is
written in, unless of course these languages coincide. Moving from one
island’s cartographic depiction to another, the reader thus encounters
linguistic diversity, but also visual continuity, given that the same blue is
used for every ocean. There is, then, a tension between sameness and dif-
ference staged through the relation between text and image on the maps.
Each left page of the book is vertically structured and subdivided
into three parts that are graphically set apart from each other. On top
of the page, we find the island’s name, quantitative information about
its size and population, and its geographic position given in latitudes
and longitudes as well as visualized through a dot on a small globe.
Schalansky once more puts emphasis on cultural and historical differ-
ence here. While the island’s name is given in the language of the atlas
and is rendered in bold and a slightly bigger font, the atlas also notes
the island’s alternative names—be it historically older names in the same
national language, the name of the island in the language of its indige-
nous people or the island’s names in the languages of empires or states it
previously belonged to. This foregrounded multiplicity of names empha-
sizes the diversity of possible relationships to the same place, something
Schalansky also traces in her miniatures: “Payer is never at a loss when
258  C. SCHAUB

it comes to names; he christens islands, glaciers and rocky projections


tirelessly, after the home towns of the sweethearts of his youth, after his
patrons, his colleagues, archdukes and the Austrian Empress Sissi’s son.
He carries his homeland out into the ice: using the names of his coun-
try’s fathers, in the name of the fatherland” (2010, 30).
The second subsection of each left page consists of four lines. The first
three visualize the physical distance between the island and other places.
Many of these other places are islands, but they are often also countries
and cities. Schalansky uses this device to construct the remoteness of the
respective island, both with respect to other islands and to metropolitan
regions. Yet by including places of the “known world” (2014, 7)—such
as Norway, India, or Rio de Janeiro—she allows readers to establish a
relationship to the remote islands. It may still be a relationship of differ-
ence and distance, but not one of absolute disorientation. Additionally,
the specific combination of longer and shorter distances points to the
fact that peripherality is a relational concept and that its experience
depends on the point of observation: the island of Napuka in the Pacific
Ocean, for example, is far from Hawaii (3990 km), but close to Tepoto
Nord (20 km). The fourth line is a timeline on which the reader finds on
average two events that have taken place on the island; often the dates
mark historical events like the “discovery” of the island. The third sub-
section of the page consists of the prose miniature, the story element of
this atlas.
If the emphasis on the diversity of names, and the histories inter-
twined with them, confronts the globe’s logic of completeness, homog-
enization, and abstraction with the cultural inexhaustibility of the
planet, the relationship between the miniature, the timeline, and the
cartographic representation is particularly significant in this respect.
The events noted on the timeline are most often not the subject of the
narrative text. This lack of correspondence highlights the selectiveness
inherent to Schalansky’s world-making: out of many possible events, she
chooses one for the prose miniature and two for the timeline. Atlas thus
refuses to give the appearance of completeness and instead suggests plu-
rality and inexhaustibility by highlighting selectiveness. Additionally, the
miniatures themselves are often polyphonic, consisting of the narrative
voice and voices from diaries, reports, and other documents and fictional
accounts, which are inserted into the text and italicized. Furthermore,
one can distinguish the more factual language of the first two subsections
from the more literary language of the third subsection, a distinction
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  259

indicative of the different rhetorical strategies that Atlas employs. There


is, moreover, a tension between a world-making through numerical
and quantitative information, a world-making through the abstract and
two-dimensional representation of maps, and a world-making through
prose texts that revolve around the singularity of the narrated episode.
This emphasizes the plurality and inexhaustibility of what could be rep-
resented with respect to one particular place, and an effort to highlight
that there are different ways of representing the same place. Generated
through the text’s aesthetic organization, such world-knowledge is
non-propositional. In their concentration on the elaboration of one par-
ticular event, the short prose texts can, moreover, be seen as working
against the tendency toward generalization and categorization, character-
istic of cartographic representations, which Schalansky herself points out:

In their merciless generalization, these maps tame the wilderness. They


reduce geographical variation and replace it with symbols, deciding
whether a few trees make a forest or if a human trail is recorded as a path
or a track. And thus the width of a motorway is shown to scale, a large
city in Germany is depicted with the same square symbol used for one in
China, and a bay in the Arctic Ocean shines in the same blue as one in the
Pacific because they share the same depth. But the icebergs towering in the
Arctic Ocean are ignored. (2010, 9–10)13

Still, despite the fact that the text–image relations highlight selec-
tiveness and seem to counteract a movement toward totality, the atlas,
as a form, strives to represent the whole world. Schalansky reminds us
that such striving is the readers’ desire as well: “Anyone who opens an
atlas will not be satisfied with visiting individual exotic places; instead,
he wants everything at once, without limits – the whole world” (2010,
23; revised translation). Yet, while cartographically constructing a whole,
just like the globe and the world map, the atlas—in contrast to globe
and world map—necessitates a larger degree of activity by the perceiv-
ing subject, “since for making herself an image of the world, the reader
needs to thumb through the atlas, put images in relation to each other,
and imagine a whole” (Karlsson Hammarfelt 2014, 69). This is par-
ticularly true for an atlas like Schalansky’s, which does not provide the
reader with many suggestions for how to structure her way through the
book. The islands are organized only in a broad geographic sense: they
are ordered by oceans in a North–South/West–East movement, giving
260  C. SCHAUB

the reader the Arctic Ocean first, then the Atlantic Ocean followed by
the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and finally the Antarctic Ocean.14
At the same time, in contrast to literary texts, the atlas shares with other
cartographic media like the globe and the world map the characteris-
tic that they “do not narrate a continuous and coherent story [zusam-
menhängende Geschichte]” and that they are not organized in the mode
of the itinerary, which describes a progression through time and space
(Stockhammer 2007, 8, 75–76). In other words, they are not “retellings
of a route taken” (2007, 72).
Taken together, or read linearly, the prose miniatures of Atlas do
indeed “not narrate a continuous and coherent story.” They are con-
nected to each other only by the fact that they all tell about remote
islands; they share a motif. They are fifty stories, not one story, as
Schalansky has made clear in an interview: “It was a poetic project for
me: Will I find a story that I would like to tell each time? And how will I
tell each individual story?” (Kahlefendt 2010, n.p.). The only thing that
all her miniatures share, apart from their brevity and the motif of the
remote island, is that they do not attempt to narrate the complete history
of an island (Breuer 2012, 182). Beyond these shared characteristics,
they can be loosely classified into different formal and thematic catego-
ries, among them:

(a)  miniatures composed of several episodes without a causal relationship


among the episodes;
(b) miniatures limited to one particular episode, at times of world histori-
cal importance;
(c)  self-reflective miniatures that mediate on themes such as cartography;
(d) biographical sketches;
(e)  fragments of ethnographic studies;
(f)  nature studies. (Schalansky 2010, 26, 42, 30, 92, 94)

If Schalansky’s miniature studies are then not connected by thematic


and formal homogeneity, they are also not connected by a traveling char-
acter or narrator, whose movements would have put them into a spe-
cific chronotopical order. Therefore, the world-making in this collection
of miniatures, organized as an atlas, can be distinguished from the travel
novel, which, at least in contemporary German literature, has become a
predominant way of representing the planet in a globalizing age (Honold
2010; Biendarra 2012), with Ilija Trojanow’s historical novel The Collector
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  261

of Worlds (Der Weltensammeler, 2006) arguably being its most prominent


example. To elucidate the structural difference between these two forms of
literary world-making, Mikhail Bakhtin’s essay “Epic and Novel” is useful.
There, Bakhtin argues that the novel can be distinguished from the epic
by the openness of the world it represents. Such openness has a particu-
lar effect on the form of the novel: “The absence of internal conclusive-
ness and exhaustiveness creates a sharp increase in demands for an external
and formal completedness and exhaustiveness, especially in regard to the
plot-line. The problems of a beginning, an end, and ‘fullness’ of plot are
posed anew” (1994, 31, emphasis in text). As a form, the novel is char-
acterized by the “‘impulse to continue’ (what will happen next?) and the
‘impulse to end’ (how will it end?)” (Bakhtin 1994, 32). At least in an ide-
al-typical sense, the novel therefore has to narrate the world through the
structure of a plot, which orders events and places through a narrative pro-
gression in time and space, and moves toward an end, or “completedness.”
Not unlike the figure of the globe, the form of the novel thus forces—to a
degree—the “inconclusiveness” and “inexhaustibility” of the world it rep-
resents into the frame of a “formal completedness and exhaustiveness.” In
other words, the travel novel narratively organizes the world as a concate-
nation of places and events progressing in time and space that runs parallel
to the journey of the protagonist. In contrast to the figure of the globe,
however, the novel is, as we know from Bakhtin as well, polyphonic, and
a travel novel like The Collector of Worlds is characterized by a plurality of
worlds and different perceptions of the same world. However, a collection
of prose miniatures like Atlas is set apart even from a complex and to some
extent polycentric travel novel like The Collector of Worlds by its independ-
ence from the need to narratively organize the world as a concatenation of
places and events progressing in time and space. If extant narratives of glo-
balization, like the travel novel to a smaller extent, produce “a comprehen-
sion of the world as a single bounded and interconnected entity developing
in common time and space” (Krishnan 2007, 40–41), such non-proposi-
tional knowledge is suspended in Schalansky’s Atlas since it is not marked
by narrative progression, neither of a spatial nor a temporal nature. Instead,
Atlas is characterized by the simultaneity of largely unconnected places.
Its aesthetic form rejects the possibility of integrating these places into a
homogeneous totality that develops in time and space. At the same time,
the form of the atlas nevertheless insists that, together, these islands still
make a whole—a discontinuous, heterogeneous, and open(ended) whole.
262  C. SCHAUB

Conclusion
The independence from the need to organize places and events as a
narrative progression in time and space; the formal and thematic diver-
sity of the miniature studies; the image–text relations that foreground
selectiveness, heterogeneity, and inexhaustibility; the orientation toward
alterity and in particular nature; and the emphases on ­unconnectedness
and remoteness—all these formal and thematic properties allow Atlas
of Remote Islands to construct an alternative world-knowledge in a glo-
balizing age. Its propositional and non-propositional world-knowledge
resists the drive toward a comprehension of the planet in terms of com-
pleteness, homogenization, abstraction, and totalization, categories that
may all be said to underlie hegemonic globalization narratives. “We
have to,” Schalansky says in an interview, “hold up maps of subjectivity
against the omniscience [Allwissen] of the GPS” (Kahlefendt 2010, n.p.).
The miniature studies may be the most obvious way in which Schalansky
adds subjectivity to the form of the atlas. Insofar as Atlas emphatically
represents the inorganic and organic nature of the planet beyond human
beings, however, it even exceeds the anthropocentrism of its author’s call
for poetic action.
Yet Schalansky’s statement is also important because maps and atlases,
at least in the way she thinks about them, are not simply medium-specific
representations of the world. They are media that make worlds, and they
do so even beyond the pages of a book insofar as their aesthetic organ-
ization and content influence the reader’s relationship to the world, or,
in other words, how the reader positions herself in the world. A passage
from Schalansky’s novel Blue Doesn’t Suit You: Sailor-Novel (Blau steht
dir nicht. Matrosenroman, 2008) beautifully testifies to this. A literary
rendering of an episode from Schalanskys’ life, the passage describes the
encounter of a child, Jenny, a kind of literary alter-ego of Schalansky,15
with an atlas produced in the German Democratic Republic:

Jenny looked at the different colors on the map. The Soviet Union was
depicted in a joyful, fleshy pink; the U.S.A. in a cautious blue that was
almost as pale as the color the atlas used for the sea.
Jenny was looking for Ourland. Grandfather had to help her again.
Ourland was tiny, even smaller than her small fingernail, and it was pink
like a Baltic tellin. For a moment she had been shocked by how tiny it was,
since it had been so big at last year’s Olympic Games. Now she discovered
13  A WORLD IN MINIATURES  263

Sweden as well. It was yellow and only a nail point away. Strange that one
could not see it from the beach.
Next to the small pink country was a bigger grey country.
“That’s Over-there,” said grandfather, before he left the room. Jenny
nodded astonished. Over-there was already on the other page of the atlas.
The gutter ran exactly along the border between the two countries and
swallowed a part of Over-there.
For her, it was a mystery why Over-there was grey. (2011, 115–116)

In the sense of this passage, Atlas of Remote Islands is, just like any other
atlas, a world-making medium. It creates a world through its formal and
thematic properties, and, for its readers, potentially inaugurates a differ-
ent relationship to the world, as they, just like the young Jenny, encoun-
ter in it a new world-knowledge.

Notes
1. The publisher’s website lists sixteen countries other than Germany where
Atlas has been published: UK, USA, France, Netherlands, Italy, Norway,
Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Serbia, Russia, Taiwan, China,
Qatar, Poland. See http://www.mare.de/index.php?article_id=3933.
2. On literary form and non-propositional knowledge, see Schneider (2013).
3. Schalansky’s miniature studies are short narrative texts that, similar to a
laboratory arrangement, isolate a particular place (an island) and, by way
of this operation, explore a particular event or problem in its cultural or
natural history. Each miniature study engages with an archive of knowl-
edge that serves as the foundation for its non-scientific study. These min-
iature studies have little to do with the modernist miniatures that have
attracted interest in recent German studies see, Huyssen (2015), Adelson
(2017).
4. See “Judith Schalansky;” see also Schalansky (2010, 6).
5. Unless otherwise noted, translations from German are mine.
6. See Kahlefendt (2010) and “Judith Schalansky.”
7. It does not escape Schalansky that the alleged peripheral status of these
islands is relative and depends on socio-culturally situated constructions
of the world (2010, 14).
8. Being located outside of media networks is the case for most but not all
islands in Atlas (see Schalansky 2010, 36, 62).
9. On time-space compression, see Harvey (1990).
10. Apparently, Schalansky herself began her exploration of islands with the
notion of the “island as an idyllic place, a utopia” (2014, 7).
264  C. SCHAUB

11. For a description of the book series, see the publisher’s website: http://
www.matthes-seitz-berlin.de/reihe/naturkunden.html.
12. In this sense I can only agree with Honold’s understanding of the globe as
“a genuinely aesthetic paradigm of a poetics of knowledge” (2010, n. p.).
13. Schalansky’s understanding of maps, which she considers an art form, is
more complex than this (2010, 10–12).
14. This spatial organization seems to mirror Eurocentric world maps, on
which Europe is in the center of the world, a reading buttressed by the
world map on the book’s endpapers.
15. For the biographical context, see Kahlefendt (2010).

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