Between its painting on Christmas Eve of 1974 and the wall’s destruction about a decade later, this beautiful bit of graffiti met trains as they slowed in and out of Paddington Station.
I read about it first in Jerry Brotton’s book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps. Two brothers, Dave and Geoff Hall, produced the phrase by combining the first six words of Robert Graves’ Song of Contrariety (1923) with the title of a journal article written by their university friend, Ruth Padel.[i] The sentence doesn’t seem to have much to do with its sources, however. It makes a new sense: this lilting, trochaic phrase gives what Brotton calls ‘perhaps the best metaphorical description’ of the spatial/intellectual state of a person using a map.1 A map user engages his or her visual and spatial imagination in conjunction, in order to perceive “elsewhere”. These ‘images of elsewhere’, however, are not the same as the ‘far away’. Such an insight is hardly groundbreaking; we have known that the map is not the territory for a long time now. The Paddington graffito, in its metrical loveliness, careful letter-spacing and insertion at the very site of mechanised travel, takes us further than Korzybski. It reminds us that the map-object is not only fashioned from the stuff of power/knowledge, but also from desire: for travel, for the act of imagining, for the experience of beauty. A great deal happens between the “elsewhere” and the far-away person’s perception of it, and that “happening” is aesthetic and political in equal measure. At least that’s how I think about it.
1 Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in Twelve Maps (London: Allen Lane, 2012), pp. xvii, 513 p., 48 p. of plates.
[i] If you’re interested, look in this great book: