Exactitude in Art and Science

Jorge Luis Borges' short story 'On Exactitude in Science' consists entirely of a quote that is attributed (falsely) to another author...

"...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From 'Travels of Praiseworthy Men' (1658) by J.A. Suárez Miranda"

The story elaborates an idea that was first proposed by Lewis Carroll in 'Sylvia and Bruno Concluded', in which the character 'Mein Herr' describes the production of a series of increasingly large maps of his country, until a final map at a scale of one mile to one mile had to be abandoned, as the farmers complained that it blocked out the sun when it was spread out over the countryside.

A fragment of one of these maps has recently come to light in Sheffield...

Pencil on paper drawing, approx. 2m x 0.9m by Sarah Brown, currently showing as part of the Creative Spark exhibition at Sheffield Hallam University in Arundel Gate Court. Her work explores the relationship of the uncanny to the creative making process.

For a similarly ambitious and remarkable map to those described by Carroll and Borges, not at 1:1, but which was actually constructed, see the Forma Urbis Romae.


JL Borges (1946) - 'Historia Universal de la Infamia', trans. by Norman Thomas di Giovanni as 'A Universal History of Infamy', Allan Lane, 1973.

L Carroll (1893) - 'Sylvia and Bruno Concluded', Macmillan (the map is described in chapter 11)

Map-territory relation (Wikipedia entry)