The call seemed to imply that it was more a “talk about a theorist and then a text” panel rather than a “talk about a text with a theorist in mind”, which led to a little bit of a pasted-together feel. But I think the sense that action movie heroes, in their evasive maneuvers, treat the lines on maps as facts that are changeable or open to negotiation, is fun enough.

The Bourne Geography

Michel de Certeau “is interested in the relationships of place as a fixed position and space as a realm of practices – counterposing the fixity of the map to the practice of travelling” (Crang 137-8). Jason Bourne, who almost always has a map at hand in the Bourne series, conceives of mapped space in just this way. The CIA, with instant access to every surveillance camera and satellite in operation, as well as global police information-sharing networks, cares only about fixing position. Because of their inability to conceive of the fluidity of space, Bourne eludes them from the Mediterranean to Midtown Manhattan.

For example, in the Figure 1 below, from The Bourne Identity, the CIA want to place Bourne and Marie. They put a yellow pin on the paper map; it’s their best guess of where to find they because “They were in Paris at 2 am. They can’t fly. The train’s too dangerous.” In other words, the CIA did the very same thing the police did in Figure 2, from M, a film released more than seventy years previous to fix a point and an area on the map.

In Figure 3, Bourne tears an emergency exit route placard from the wall, not for the route to escape fire, but for the routes throughout the building. The map places stairwells, fire extinguishers, and fire escapes, but it also reveals paths to travel – both for Bourne and his pursuers. While his pursuers seek out one point on the map – Bourne’s exact position, as relayed through their communication system – Bourne seeks any open path.

In other words, the police wish to affix Bourne to a place, and arrest his travels, whereas Bourne wishes to continue travelling, by whatever means, through the same space. Bourne prevails because he is able quickly to turn the fixity of the map into a practice of travelling. A window is as good as a door; a sheer face is as good as a stairwell. Or, to use a later chase scene example, on the map stairs connect parallel roads, and while it’s not the normal use, but a motorbike can travel on the stairs. The more the fixed information on the map can be used for travel, both within and beyond its planned use, the greater Bourne’s – or anyone’s, really – potential for freedom.

Crang, Mike. “Relics, Places and Unwritten Geographies in the Work of Michel de Certeau (1925-86).” Thinking Space. Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift ed. London: Routledge, 2000. 136-53.

Bourne Identity Marie in France 3

M map 1

Bourne Identity route finding 1