UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Cutting Up the West: Administrative Division as Text and Language

Cutting Up the West: Administrative Division as Text and Language

By Peter Carzis

Following recent endeavors to account for the discursivity of geographic systems, it is the intent of this paper to explore the nature of the partition of land into administrative districts by the state, and the reflections therein of ideologies, narratives, and cultural imagination. In short, the intent of this paper is to approach administrative division as text, and to better understand how we can read cultural and intellectual history from the information that it furnishes. This analysis is pursued through a comparison of the administrative divisions of the eastern and western United States, an exploration of the discursive environment propinquitous and contemporary to the division of the American West, and finally, the application to these analyses of frameworks from aesthetics and theoretical linguistics. Ultimately, it is the intent of this paper to suggest an intrinsic relationship between the official geographies imposed on a tract of land by the state, and the cultural context and ideological environment in which those geographies are determined. Moreover, it is argued that this relationship qualifies this class of geographic system for membership within the corpora that inform our understanding of cultural, ideological, and intellectual history, for such a system represents a meta-language utilized to establish taxonomy of loci, and thus can be read as a historical text in earnest.

I. Introduction

“God,” the Old Testament recounts, “formed man of dust from the ground.”[1] Perhaps this was how the surveyor felt, upon entering some windswept tract of the West, and laying a marker in its depths, or was it the the spirit of the cartographer, whose strokes on thick paper drove the great administrative burin across those lands. Perhaps this was the sentiment of the senator, who hundreds of mile away, raised a hand and volunteered an utterance to enshrine those incisions in the official geography of the United States of America, or perhaps it belonged to the President, whose own pen consummated it all. For in cutting up the lands of the West, and imposing a paradigm of administrative division thereupon, they have done God’s work, and from the dust of some arid bank, inscribed their vision on the lives of countless others.

While many, scholars and citizens alike, may regard such administrative division as the banality of state and county bureaucracies, the course, character, and logic of these boundaries, considered together as paradigms capable of establishing taxonomies of land, offer unusual insight into the political views, attitudes, and ideologies of the administrative division’s author, and its relationship to the object of division. While substantial scholarship has been produced regarding the discursivity of maps as representations of geography,[2] this article aims to expand this view to encompass the official geographies that exist on and off the pages of an atlas by deconstructing the administrative division of the West, and illustrating how the attitudes of the author towards the object can be read in the region’s official geography. This will be pursued by investigating the mechanisms by which these administrative divisions were produced, exploring their attitudes regarding this division in the West, in opposition to the colonial East, and by situating the character of Western division within the contemporary discursive environment of the Old West.

II. Mechanisms of Division.

Briefly, it will be salutary to elucidate the nature of administrative division in the West. Primarily, it will be important to establish that the process of surveying and dividing the land was completed by persons exterior to the area, passersby in the region, if they passed through the West at all. This matter is dealt with rigorously in C. Albert White’s 1983 monograph History of the Rectangular Survey System, which recounts in great detail the federal government’s management of and geographic imposition upon the West from afar, over the course of the mid- and late nineteenth century.[3] The following passage, on the survey of Oregon, presents a representative example of this phenomenon:

“On October 11, 1850, William Gooding was appointed Surveyor General of                          Oregon; he refused the job. On November 26, 1850, John B. Preston of Chicago                      was notified of his appointment to the position. Preston traveled to Washington,                  D.C., and was briefed in March 1851. He gathered equipment, four solar                                compasses which were diverted from Michigan…He made a reconnaissance of the              Columbia and Willamette Rivers… and let contracts for the initial surveys… The                  meridian line, running south, was surveyed by James E.Freeman from Wisconsin.              The meridian running north and the baseline east to the Cascade Mountains and                west to the Coast Range were surveyed by William Ives. Freeman was from                          Wisconsin and Ives from Michigan.”[4]

In this episode, it is evident that Western land is being apprehended in the East by means of Trans-Mississippi personnel foreign to the West. This phenomenon is compounded by the role of the federal government, a body that throughout the nineteenth century, in both the bureaucracies charged with surveying and managing land, and the legislature in whose domain lied the power to establish territories and states, consisted very substantially of persons originating and residing East of the Mississippi, strangers to the lands whose destiny they were to dictate. For the bodies and individuals tasked with governing and separating these territories, the notion of their existence was ideal; the West was not so much a place as an idea, not so much a set of real, material topoi as a geometric plane. Notions of the meaning of such a plane adjacent to their homeland, and of its promise for the young nation were manifold and prominent, of course, but there was simultaneously a great poverty of material knowledge of the geographic items constituent to the area. The federal government divided the West as the museum patron might attempt to enumerate the items on a Rothko canvas – they divided it as an abstraction, for to them, it was nothing more.

III. The Semantics of Division: A Comparison between East and West.

It is inconceivable that nineteenth century America’s ideal cognition of Western lands should not have had numerous reflexes and corollaries in the perception of these lands. The most salient of these to the semantics of division, however, is the Eastern disinterest in the internal composition of the West, and the resultant replacement of internal composition as the guiding principle of administrative division by geographic mathesis.

To properly illustrate this distinction, an excursus into the division of the America’s East coast is necessary. Upon eyeing a map of the region, it is clear that its division is geometrically idiosyncratic: in the coastal south, rolling plains segment into mosaics built around small communities, rivers, swamps, and the western bluffs that circumscribe the region;[5] farther north, the bays, harbors, and islands that characterize the East complicate littoral administrative division. Territory extends from points chosen in and around the coast; the western half of Massachusetts, for example, may seem arbitrary, but it is merely the reflex of settlement in Boston and Plymouth harbors, just as New York spreads west from the Hudson Valley, or Virginia from the James. With the exception of Georgia and the Carolinas, in the states that have come down from the thirteen colonies, it is fairly evident that administrative division was undertaken as a process of tying expanses of land to certain nuclei, by which they were to be governed. The central position of these colonial metropolises is even visible in county division: New Haven County, Connecticut, whose eponymous county seat was a major hub for colonial Connecticut, closely resembles the old Colony of New Haven;[6] the five counties that now constitute New York City, and their contracted size around the harbor, reflect division with respect to a major center of population and commerce; the same can be said of county division around Boston Harbor, or Baltimore Harbor. In Delaware, a commercial center even dictates state division: Delaware’s northeastern border, the “twelve-mile circle,” is set at twelve miles from the colonial economic hub of Cristiana.[7] Moreover, the geographic features encountered on the East Coast have clearly had an influence on division: islands, from Manhattan and Nantucket, each granted its very own county, to Long Island, split into its own divisions independent from the mainland, are very obviously considered in division; Pennsylvania’s broad center is very clearly divided along the serpentine arc of Appalachia; rivers are especially influential – New Jersey, as per its charter, is constituted as follows:

“that tract of land lying and being to the west of Long Island and Manhitas [sic]                    Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea and part by Hudson’s River                and hath upon the West Delaware which is a branch of the said Bay or River of                    Delaware which is 41° 40’ of latitude and crosseth over thence in a straight line                  Hudson’s River in 41° of latitude…”[8]

Where possible, division was dictated by the physical and social character of land; elsewhere, but apparently, only elsewhere, was the geographic coordinate system utilized. These were the factors prioritized as the objects of Eastern division; the vast horizontals determined by latitude appear to extend only in reference to the states’ colonial origins, or in lieu of the preferred classes of object. Division during this period operates synecdochically: a district is identified as the reflex of a location, a population, and/or any number of physical geographic elements. This is even visible in the naming conventions of territories in this period: in New England alone, one finds Plymouth Colony, named for the eponymous Bay from which it expanded,[9] New Haven colony, named for its eponymous city, and the harbor of the same name, and most pronouncedly,[10] the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,[11] whose name is preserved in the modern state’s official name,[12] and attempts, apparently, to enumerate the entities that lie therein. Numerous states and counties bear the name of their county seats, or the locations from which those larger divisions expanded (eg. Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania; the colony, later state, of New York[13]), and yet others bear names that capture the items that lie within the divisions (eg. Vermont (Fr. vert mont, “green mountain”);[14] Pennsylvania’s nominal reference to the great wood that constitutes the state’s interior was chosen by William Penn himself[15]). Thus was the nature of the colonial division in the American East: the division was identified by synecdoche with the contents of its interior, social and physical, and shaped to fit the internal composition of that territory.

A century later, however, as the young nation fixed its gaze on the West, an entirely different style of administrative division would emerge, notably, a style that sought to divide land not on the basis of a tract’s internal composition, but by the abstract mathesis of the geographic coordinate system. Should one’s eyes return to a map of the United States, the forms of western division are just as regular, as Platonically geometric, as their eastern cousins are irregular. There are few clear points of origin, and boundaries seem to be influenced by the internal composition of those tracts at a far less significant rate. This logic is easily legible, for example, in the legislature establishing the Utah Territory:

“[The area] bounded on the West by the State of California, on the north by the                    Territory of Oregon, and on the east by the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and                  on the south by the thirty-seventh parallel of north latitude, be, and the same is                  hereby, created into a temporary government, by the name of the Territory of                      Utah.”[16]

Compared with the analogous passage on New Jersey, the difference is substantial: in the Eastern state, the abstractions of geography are used only where necessary, and in the Western Territory, it is the standard – the geographic coordinate system is used for all boundaries except for its western edge, a boundary that was only to be erased with the incorporation of Colorado.

Moreover, should one survey the counties that compose these states, the same paradigm is legible; while certain states, most notably, Montana, California, and Idaho, have accounted for mountains and rivers in their division into counties, most of the West has been divided into counties seemingly at random: Nevada’s massive Nye County takes up a wide tract of the state, beginning and ending seemingly randomly; Utah and Arizona have been cut up into long flanks, as the butcher does the steer; and most hyperbolically, in areas like the plains of Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas, the states dissolve into grids of counties whose boundaries’ only underlying significance is that they lie at some distance x from state boundaries. Moreover, with few exceptions, the large cities of the West were not considered in the region’s division. Arizona illustrates this quite clearly: its largest city and capital, Phoenix is situated in the sprawling Maricopa County, which combines the sprawling metropolis an arid expanse of desert larger than the State of New Jersey.[17],[18] Naturally, to account for these unforeseeable cities as these in county division, the Western divisor would need to revisit these divisions retroactively, or possess a nineteenth century clairvoyance – clearly, to expect such planning is not entirely reasonable. Nevertheless, the Western paradigm stands.

Where the paradigm by which the East was divided is apparently synecdochic, the Western paradigm is also broadly metonymic, but in a different manner – if the division of the East identifies the district with a part or parts of that district, the division of the West identifies it with a quality of that tract. It is helpful here to adduce once more the toponyms by which these districts are called. Where names like Pennsylvania,[19] Connecticut,[20] and Rhode Island refer in their names to objects that constitute their state (respectively, to forests, a river, and the islands that constitute those states), states like Colorado, Nevada, and Montana (whose names are the Spanish for “colorful,” “snowy,” and “mountainous,” respectively) reflect their physical character by referencing not the objects that lie therein, but qualities of their characters. “Montana” is productively compared with “Vermont” – where the divisor of the East would consider a mountainous landscape in terms of the mountains, or in the case of Vermont, a single mountain, the divisor of the West would consider this element as the quality mountainousness. Perhaps the most pronounced application of this paradigm is found in the naming of Idaho: the name, proposed originally for Colorado by George M. Willing, has no meaning in any known Native American language, and does not even appear to be phonologically plausible as a borrowing into English; rather, it is supplied by the white man, with no substantial relationship to any facet of indigenous life.[21] Thus, the name is revealed as a fetish of the exoticism with which America viewed the West, and the state is named for its indigenousness, encoded in a lexeme that never truly existed.

The West was not identified by what it contained, but by what it was at its broadest levels; the district was not, as in the synecdochic East, identified with a part of the whole, but with a quality of that whole. As such abstract qualities are not observable at discrete topoi – rather they exist as an element of the character of a set of such topoi – it is not possible to incise districts that capture their signifieds geographically. Since this paradigm of division is not possible, the great administrative burin is driven along the lines of the geographic coordinate system; that is, in the absence of materials, it is to ideal mathesis that the divisor turns, in order to have some means of orderly administration. This is how the West was conceived in Eastern minds: a great, sprawling expanse, it may have been mountainous, a land of color and snow, and it was most certainly peregrine, but the location of these mountains, the identity of these strangers – this much was unknown, and this absence of familiarity bred a romantic view of the West as limitless, even infinite in what it could contain.

IV.The Incomprehension of the Wests Internal Composition and the Kantian Sublime.

Having apprehended the semantic character of the paradigm by which the West was divided, it is now possible to explore its relationship with American attitudes towards the West during the relevant period. Upon contextualizing this approach within the cultural milieu of the Old West, the employment of such a paradigm appears to reflect the perception of the West as unitary, as well as the more ethereal view of the West as the realm of the sublime; it is in unpacking these notions that administrative division as an action that the state takes on land can be explored as a text attesting contemporary attitudes and ideologies, and the discursivity of administrative division can be fully unearthed.

It is evident that during this period, the West is viewed as unitary by Easterners; this is why the American will refer to the nineteenth century West as such, without specification. In the nineteenth century Eastern imagination, the exciting West is seen as a singular object – “Go West, young man, go West,” goes the epochal slogan popularized by eastern newsman Horace Greeley;[22] it is significant that neither the gold mines of California, nor the Silver mines of Nevada, or Colorado, or the grazing fields that dominate so much of the region are nominated – rather it is for the very notion of the West for which Americans most ardently yearn. For a place and time with so prominent a place in the American cultural imagination, shockingly little is popularly understood about its internal composition; rather, the famously vast region is conceptually Atomic. This enduring vision of the West as a unitary entity is reflected no differently in the contemporary popular culture of the nineteenth century West: Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” show in Chicago, presents a drama – white men dressed as Indians spar with fellows dressed as Cowboys – that is no real story at any real location, but a myth of the West, and importantly, a myth of that region at large.[23] The company was referred to not in reference to any concrete location; rather, they were named in reference to the West (eg. “Genuine Western Heroes”).[24]

Even the Indian, the autochthonous resident of the West, is treated as unitary; just as the West is seen as indivisible, the Indian is seldom seen for the numerous ethnic groups that constitute the population referenced. So pervasive is this attitude that George Catlin, remembered for his early ethnographic work in the West, describes them as a unitary people: in a lengthy, anaphoric passage from his writings, the values of the West’s indigenous groups are enumerated, each sentence beginning with the phrase “I love a people…”[25] – even for one of the West’s most avid ethnographers, the people he studied were unitary. Similarly, Buffalo Bill’s immensely popular exhibition portrayed the typical duality of white man and Indian, one so strong that to this day, that for the educated American, even one knowledgable on the differences between these ethnic groups, there exists a cognitive dissonance between modern ethnographic understanding, and enduring folklore of the Indian.[26] Thus is the difference between the Native American and the Indian; the former is a person, an ethnic identity, a set of peoples residing in the material world, the latter a mythical force autochthonous to a mysterious land, as extant as Herodotus’ Hyperboreans, but a force strikingly real to the cultural context of the American West and those who engaged it.

These attitudes are also legible in the official geography of administrative division. In the East, seen during the period of division as a collection of colonies, districts exist on their own terms, and regions are conceived as collections of districts. In the West, the inverse is true: districts are conceived as tracts of a region, for in lieu of internal composition, there seems to be no meaningful basis of division for the Americans. Regarding indigenous peoples, a corollary all too broadly attested in the history of imperialist expansion is legible in administrative division. In the first place, from the indivisibility of the Indian ethnos, stems a disregard for the ethnic differences between groups subsidiary thereto. It is sickly comical to think that while the division of the East should preserve boundaries whose origin is the separation Englishmen on the basis of to which sect of Protestant Christianity they adhered, no distinction is made between entirely unrelated ethnic groups in the West. Nevertheless, the division of states on such an arbitrary basis despite the existence of vibrant cultural landscapes in those very places offers a more cynical reading of the division of the West: that it was a division by those who had no interest in the lives of indigenous peoples.

There is also, however, beyond the semantics of regionalism and disregard of indigenous peoples, a more romantic narrative legible in the division of the West. For more than a century, the West has supplied the United States with a romantic mythos and aesthetic transcendence essential to the young nations’s sense of identity. Simultaneously, however, there is an awe inspired by the land, its power, and its astounding scale; as gayly as so many approached the West, the thrill, joy, even, of truly setting out and exploring was not an experience void of the awe that would come to characterize the pioneer experience. From the tension between the romance of an paradisiacal new homeland and the awe that its vastness inspired, there emerges a sublimity unique to the West, and one most clearly represented in the region’s administrative division.

First, however, it will be necessary to demonstrate the degree to which this romanticism permeated contemporary views of the American West, by Easterners who remained in place, and those who took to westering alike. The white man’s fascination with the vast tract is as old as European contact with the region – even the conquistadors who trekked into that expanse sought Cibola and the Seven Cities of Gold, a North American El Dorado whispered about among the treasure-hungry Iberians.[27] With the American acquisition and settlement of the land in the nineteenth century, a population hungry for new land and opportunity was afforded such a territory. The westering Easterners’ response was largely one of deep aesthetic appreciation for the land and all constituent thereto. This is clear from any number of texts produced during the period on experiences in the West. For example, a contemporary Easterner recollects the following:

“The little prairie-dogs sat up and barked at the strange intruder on their                              settlement; while their queer fellow-lodgers, the burrowing-owls, regarded me                    with looks of comic wisdom; the grasshoppers chirruped, and the bulls roared.                    The proverbial solitude of the wild prairie was changed into a panorama of life                  and motion. I looked around me and felt happy. The bright warm sunshine, the                    clear bracing air, the sense of freedom, were so many elixirs and tonics.”[28]

It is astounding to the modern reader that an experience resembling religious ecstasy or entheogenic ego death is in fact, nothing more than the sighting of prairie-dogs. It is as if the region derived spiritual power from the vistas that so inspired, or the flora and fauna that so amazed. This is the West that Albert Bierstadt[29] painted, the West where Theodore Roosevelt famously proclaimed “the ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it:”[30] a West of extreme aesthetic value whose romantic apotheosis established it as mythically, occasionally even spiritually potent – it was as the Hellene had gazed upon Parnassus or Olympus that the American gazed westward. It is no coincidence, then, that these physical characteristics form the basis of much of the folkloric tradition that emerged from this cultural milieu: Puget Sound, a tale relates, was formed when Paul Bunyan dug it out with a glacier purloined from Alaska,[31] and numerous stories cast the animals associated with the region (eg. the Buffalo, the Coyote, the Beaver) as mythical figures who play a role in the landscape.[32] This aesthetic apotheosis of the West is attested in the Western folk songbook as well:

“Oh! Give me a home where the buffalo roam,

Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where never is heard a discouraging word,

And the sky is not crowded all day.”

– “Home on the Range”[33]

“Oh for a ride o’er the prairies free,

On a fiery untamed steed,

Where the curlews fly and the coyotes cry

And the western wind goes sweeping by,

For my heart enjoys the speed.”

– “The Cowboy’s Ride”[34]

“Oh, I love the rolling prairie that’s far from trial and strife,

Behind a bunch of longhorns, I’ll travel all my life.”

– “Lone Star Trail”[35]

Thus, the aesthetic character of the West experiences an apotheosis to spiritual and mythic importance in the American’s perception of the territory, from the lips of presidents and cowboys alike. What emerges is a romantic west imbued not only with terrific beauty, but also with an appreciable spiritual significance to the American people.

This power is compounded by the awe inspired by the incomprehensible vastness of the West. Nineteenth century sources regularly refer to the territory with monikers like “a great American desert,” or “vast wasteland.”[36] This attitude is captured succinctly in Walt Whitman’s description of the West as “that vast Something, stretching out its own unbounded side, unconfined which there is in these prairies….”[37] Particularly expository is the three-word sequence “that vast Something,” for it appreciates the expansive breadth of the region while acknowledging that its precise character is unknown; this, in essence, is the Eastern appreciation of form and content of the West. These lands of course, were very much unknown during this period, such that uncertainty came to characterize any endeavor in the region. Colonel R.B. Marcy describes an expedition into the West: “in a word,” he notes, “the county embraced within the basin of Upper Red River had always been to us a ‘terra incognita.’”[38] This sense of mystery pervades the American view of the West to the remarkable degree. The paintings of Frederic Remington, perhaps the artist most closely associated with the Old West, are not only notable in their romanticization of Western lifestyles, but in their depiction of the landscapes around them: in his 1903 canvas Fight for the Waterhole, for example, the landscape manages to dominate the foreground and subject matter, and at the same time fades into the horizon through a delicately applied sfumato. The landscape is simultaneously present, essential, tangible, and unknowable in its vastness, presenting parts of an obfuscated whole.

Thus, the westering experience was characterized at the same time by deep aesthetic engagement with the landscape and all constituent thereto, and an awe struck into travelers by the scale of that landscape, the power such a scale can hold, and the ineluctable character of that power. In the tension between the aesthetic ecstasy and circumspect awe that the pioneers felt traversing the region, there emerges a sense of sublimity, a sense that the aesthetic experience of westering originates at a higher place, that the landscapes spread out over the region relate an infinity not confined to the material world. It will here be useful to adduce Kant’s conception of sublimity: “the feeling of the sublime,” he writes, “is thus a feeling of displeasure from the adequacy of the imagination in the aesthetic estimation of magnitude for the estimation by means of reason, and a pleasure that is thereby aroused at the same time.”[39] In fewer words: “That is sublime in comparison with which everything else is small.”[40] Following this view, in the West, this feeling of otherworldly magnitude is a product of the incredulity elicited from its incomprehensible vastness, and its ability to simultaneously evoke a deeply moving aesthetic experience for those who witness it.

Particularly salient, however, are the mechanisms undergirding this conception of sublimity. It “is to be found,” notes the old Prussian, “in a formless object insofar as limitlessness is represented in it, or at its instance, and yet is also thought of a totality… Thus the satisfaction is connected in the first case [the case of beauty] with the representation of quality, but in this case with that of quantity.”[41] Moreover, he notes, it is not through the apprehension of the physical through which sublimity is encountered, but through “reason,” that is, “mental work with non-physical ideas.”[42] This is to say, the notion of a pronounced aesthetic reaction to beauty of such a scale is predicated on a certain level of conceptual incomprehension; it is only when the internal structure of a form is unknown that the aesthetic significance of infinity, which is the same aesthetic significance of the West, can be fully appreciated, for should this knowledge reveal itself, the possible identities of the contents are robbed of their limitlessness. It is in this respect that the administrative division of the West is inextricable from the sublimity of the West – in fact, this system of boundaries represents perhaps the most incisive textual evidence therefor. The style of division employed in the region marginalizes the contents of the West to the extent that they are paradoxically removed from geography – even in the realm of human knowledge dedicated to “writing the earth,”[43] the character of that very earth is erased, resulting in a form the knowledge of whose interior contents is officially codified nowhere, and thus, a form of infinite interior possibilities. Take for example, the state of Colorado: the only information codified in the official geography of its division is four linear segments, each existing only in the terms of geographic abstraction. Its division represents, by any measure, an imaginary rectangle, and nothing more. Such a taxon communicates no positive information, and it is that very informational poverty that excites the mind and spirit. Should a settler happen upon the territory, the possibilities are endless: what filled the far-flung quadrilateral? Plains, as far as the eye could see, great mountains, savage Indians? Silver? Gold? Such a line of questioning is the ultimate ergon of such a system of division, for the employment of that paradigm, in essence, is a simultaneous admission that 1. the object of division is unknown (for no features are incorporated into the official geography) and 2. the object of division is potentially substantial (for were the tract truly a barren tabula rasa, there would be no need for division). It is in this respect that Western administrative division represents so vital a body of textual evidence for sublimity – its aims, when viewed through this lens, correlate quite nearly to the mechanisms undergirding the Kantian sublime, and while there exist remarkably well-attested corpora demonstrating various attitudes towards the aesthetic experience or the awe-inducing vastness of the West, few of the systems attested synthesize these views as productively as administrative division.

V. Conclusion: Administrative Division in Analogy with Language.

It is all too easy to disregard the exacting, belabored process of administrative division as either banal and bureaucratic, or somehow autochthonous of the land, and as a result, to ignore the far-reaching significance of the systems produced. The American division of a vast, mysterious West shows just that: while it is true that these boundaries are the product of mechanistic governmental apparatuses, that they are commonplace, and that for most of the people whose lives they circumscribe, such matters seem insignificant and terrifically dull, it also illustrates the ability of the state to establish an official geography, and the value of such systems to the comprehension of subjects from aesthetics to imperialism.

After all, should one consider administrative division as the state’s official geography, the true identity of this sort of system becomes clear: the system of administrative division and the paradigms that undergird it are the least opaque representations of how an author (in this case, the state) regards a certain territory, for it is in the act of division that the system’s author reshapes the geography to match its attitudes, prejudices, and ideologies. The new bodies produced subsidiary to the state in structures of geography and power alike represent not only the administrative taxa as which they operate on a daily basis, but also the fossilized forms of yesteryear’s conceptual taxa. Through the careful examination of these daughter taxa, the root concepts are unearthed, just as the dissection of cognate lexemes may yield the words and the language from whence they have come down to us.

It is in such a manner that administrative division exists in analogy with language. Just as language establishes a taxonomy of concepts, administrative division establishes a taxonomy of land: through the the encoding of conceptual boundaries, identities, and categories in communicable forms, these two systems establish means of dividing the seemingly infinite into easily cognizable entities. As the word signifies a set of objects extant in the universe, so the district signifies a set of places in the great of expanse of land, tying together abstract sets of topoi into workable aggregations. Thus, ex nihilo, there emerges a system of signs for talking about space in the terms of space. As such, a paradigm of administrative divisions can be said to constitute a text, written in a language developed to organize pieces of the Earth. As this article has attempted to demonstrate, the text of an official geography (eg. the division of the West) can be deconstructed to reveal the character (eg. viewing the West as sublime) of the author (eg. the government of the United States), and the attitudes of that author towards the subject (eg. the West) of the text can be elucidated in a number of respects. Moreover, this approach does not appear to be particular to the example discussed in this article: in the aforementioned division of the East, for example, one can read fairly clearly that the economic theory of the physiocrats, dominant in contemporary Western economic discourse,[44] holds a relationship with the manner in which specific lands and the features thereof are prioritized, even fetishized as a source of meaning. Like any language, its lexicon ought to be unbounded in what it can describe. Ultimately, however, it is in this next audacious century, as mankind thrusts itself into the stars, that it will be more salient than ever to ask: What is this celestial body? What are its contents? And most importantly, what do the answers to these questions tell me about the human race?

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[1] Gen. 2:7.

[2] cf. J.B. Harley’s 1989 article “Deconstructing the Map,” for example, provides a salutary framework for the application of literary theory geography, advocating in the paper for what he calls “an epistemological shift in the way we interpret the nature of cartography.” It is in this deconstructive approach to geography that this article has its germ (Harley, 1).

[3] White, 113-86.

[4] Ibid, 114.

[5] “The United States of America.” This is the source of all geographic information henceforth referenced unless otherwise cited.

[6] Taylor, 50.

[7] Scharf, 940.

[8] Tanner, 3.

[9] Palfrey, 539, 544.

[10] Taylor, 50

[11] Surrency, 234.

[12] “Historical Information.”

[13] An exceptional, but nevertheless productive example is found in the original names of New York City and New York state, New Amsterdam (Du. Nieuw Amsterdam) and New Netherland (Du. Nieuw Nederland), respectively. While this relationship is dictated by microcosm with the Netherlands, even this reflects a style of division that reflects internal composition (Jacobs, 1-3).

[14] Palermo, 188.

[15] Dunaway, 27.

[16] Chapter 51, 31 Congress, Session 1, An Act: To establish a territorial government for Utah.

[17] “About Maricopa County.”

[18] “Fast Facts.”

[19] Dunaway, 27.

[20] Lyle, 11.

[21] Wells, 1-5.

[22] Fuller, 232.

[23] Monaghan, 412-16.

[24] Monaghan, 415.

[25] Catlin, 336.

[26] cf. Tucker’s (2005) discussion of the enduring myths about Indians that populate collegiate campuses to this day.

[27] Bane, 45.

[28] Campion, 48-9.

[29] cf. Bierstadt.

[30] Duncan.

[31] Botkin, 115-9.

[32] Ibid, 120-61.

[33] Fife, 294-6.

[34] Ibid, 297-8.

[35] Ibid, 306-8

[36] Kreyche, 99.

[37] Whitman, 191.

[38] Marcy, 115.

[39] Kant, 437.

[40] Ibid, 433.

[41] Ibid, 431.

[42] Ibid, 431.

[43] “n. geography.”

[44] Foucault, 167.