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Geographies of Ignorance


The November–December 2017 issue of the New Left Review has just been released, and it contains a short but powerful reflection by Italian journalist and author Marco D’Eramo on how globalization and modern communications technology have distorted our sense of geography. Those with the means to travel, writes D’Eramo, are often more familiar with far-off global cities like Paris or Tokyo than with smaller, less glamorous cities in their own country or region. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The distance between places is now calculated not so much in kilometres as in the level of expense and inconvenience involved in travel from one to another. In this perspective, New York is nearer to Milan than a Sicilian city like Trapani. The effect of this geographical abridgement is also one of social estrangement: it is easier to communicate with an interlocutor who, though far away, is compatible with us in culture, income and status, than with a neighbour from a different social class. (It is for this reason that many no longer pursue discussion or interact with those who think differently, as on the internet, where groups tend to form around shared ideas and opinions, confirming one another in their own beliefs—and fixations.) The end result of all this spatial disturbance is that our experience of the world is no longer concentric but maculate, like a leopard’s skin. We have a good knowledge of far-off atolls and bits of reality near at hand, all surrounded by a sea of nescience. The same city in which we were born and grew up now reveals entire neighbourhoods that are stranger, more exotic than a faraway metropolis.

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