cherchez the lobster 2

In 1763, according to Linda Hanas, John Spilsbury, a printer, began to sell an item he called the “dissected map” to children in London. Interestingly, Spilsbury had worked as an apprentice to Thomas Jeffreys, who bore the title of Geographer to the King. But though Spilsbury is generally credited as the first jigsaw puzzle maker, there are other candidates. However, as Ann Douglas Williams points out in her book on the history of the jigsaw puzzle, Marie-Jean Le Prince de Beaumont was using “wooden maps” to teach children in 1759, which gives her a priority. The name should ring a bell among LI readers – we have mentioned Le Prince de Beaumont and her connections to the proto-Enlightenment in Rouen in a previous post. That the author of Beauty and the Beast would see, in the map, a labyrinth, is an almost too beautiful intersigne of the connection between the mythic and the enlightened, the battle of the moderns versus the ancient and the discovery of the Volksmythologie. A folk mythology that was, as is always true of the Europe of the classical age, caught, as well, in the toils of a colonialist tension – for maps were colonial and imperial instruments, making rational labyrinths of imperial power out of blank wildernesses and their blank inhabitants, all the dead indians and africans.

But there is another intersigne here – for it is in the 1760s that Kant was writing his papers on space and orientation, culminating in his paper on incongruent counterparts – left and right hands, etc. – in Von dem ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume" – Of the basis of the differences of areas in space – which is when Kant ‘flipped’ sides and went from a relational and Leibnitzian view of space to the absolute view of Newton.

There was no instrumental optical revolution in the period between the 1760s and the 1820s, when Geoffroy proposed the law of analogies, but there was an intellectual optical change that recuperated the folk mythology of analogies into a structural system of homologies. This optical movement is characterized by its full acceptance of what one might call a clarifying distortion – only by means of cutting up a whole, or of positing changes in a fourth dimension, or of moving away from a view of up and down given by common sense, do we understand fundamental structures.

It is within the city, which combines the features of a jigsaw puzzle and the reconstructed skeleton of an extinct beast, do we get this new sense of what allegory can do – that is, we get a sense of how poetic allegory can merge with hard sociological fact.

It is on this basis that I think we can understand the diagonal science of Caillois, and the sort of allergy to analogy of Roland Barthes.