The crucifix as a coordinate system

Easter 2011 has been marked by a very particular conjunction of celebrations:

  • the beatification of the body of the Pope John Paul II, preceded by its exhumation
  • the capture and burial in deep sea of the body of Osama Bin Laden.

John Paul II’s body has been moved to a marble stone monument in Pier Paolo Cristofari’s Chapel of St. Sebastian in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (see number 76 of the floor plan), closer to the Blessed body of Pope Innocent XI. Then it was beatified. It has, in other words, been brought back onto the map of the World, labeled, and re-localized to become a convergence place of the crowds.

Osama bin Laden has been embodied – i.e., both brought into existence as a localizable body and transformed from a living person into a body – at 34°10′9.67″N 73°14′33.60″E. According to Wikipedia, the DNA from bin Laden’s body has been compared with DNA samples on record from his dead sister’s brain, confirming his identity. Then he was disposed of somewhere unknown in the North Arabian Sea. It has in other words, been brought back onto the map of the World, labeled, and de-localized to become a divergence no-place of other crowds.

In both cases, crowds flooded the streets to celebrate the mapping event. Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI praised crowds “under God”.

A strange reinterpretation of the crucifix can be made by the mapper under these circumstances, reminescent of the words of the French songwriter Brassens, who sings about “the four horizons, that crucify the world (par les quatre horizons qui crucifient le Monde)”. See the cross as a pair of coordinates, and it becomes the symbol of a localizing imperative: every body in its place…. except for those who somehow present the threat that maps might be torn apart: in their case, the map must be used as a tool of delocalization!

This forceful territorialization, this need to see human concerns incarnated, then pinpointed  to a place, is both the cross our culture has obviously chosen to continue to bear, and the cross upon which it intends to be celebrated.

Old scrolls weight heavily on the surface of the Earth.

Illustration tool: Illustrator.

Sources: Mercator Map, Da Vinci’s ‘Man’.

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