Patchwork is not a Model

…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda,Viajes devarones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658 [1]

What Borges’s short text [“On Exactitude and Science”] recounts is the asymptotic nature of the model, its tendency to superimpose itself onto the real and to cover it over, without ever being able to complete this process, and at the cost of losing its very status as model and simply disappearing into a new reality, just as hopeless as the first, a new reality which once again calls for models in order to render it legible. This is why the map of the Empire at a 1:1 scale is abandoned, as it reinstates the real where the model was supposed to capture it, place it at a distance, and instrumentalise it. [2]

Few seem to have faith in patchwork as a model. That’s one of the most frequent critiques you’ll hear on Twitter.

But perhaps the problem here is the very thinking of patchwork as a model in the first place… Who says it is one? Is this assumption based on its reimagining of our present cartographies?

Those cartographies are complex and not just territorial. State and self must be re-imagined in tandem and first that requires a new perspective — one at 1:1 scale, in order to let the real back in.

[1] Jorges Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”

[2] Francois J. Bonnet, “The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago”, tr. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2016), 243.


  1. Gonna offer a few rambling, off-the-cuff remarks that I think are connected to your proposition here, and which I think we’ve talked about before. So I’m just beating a dead horse, apologies!

    It seems to me that the slippage towards patchwork-as-model has to do with how Moldbug articulates it, as both a thought experiment (and thus only an ideal) and as a blueprint (though doubtful that it can actually be executed?). Land, meanwhile, takes it as both an extrapolation of the currently-existing world (meta-neocam as heuristic) and as a kind of solution to the current crisis. Land at times presents it as an “operating system” that is running, making the patches into kinds of programs. I dunno if this metaphor exists in Moldbug, but this does start to a kind of conceptual slippage towards patchwork-as-model, in that it suggests that some agent is doing the programming. The ‘soft’ reading, which I think is more Moldbuggian, is that this is the case, that humans instantiate patchwork as political program, but the ‘hard’ reading – the Landian reading – is that yes, ‘programming’ is happening, but its the byproduct of emergent computational intelligence taking place at the systemic level. Interestingly, in this sense we have a space of tension, in which patchwork does appear as simply a continuation of abstract social domination, but the counterpoint to that is that it is literally the mechanisms of that abstraction that provide escape from it, if ‘turned’ the correct way.

    Maybe a way that clarifies things is by thinking patchwork not as operating system per se, but apprehending it as a temporal force – that is, we continue to think “patches” themselves in their spatial configurations (“blocks” of space-time, per D&G in ATP, would be the most accurate presentation imo), while the “patchwork” is this ungroundedness through which these fluctuations unfold, and ultimately annihilates them (not necessarily in a “dark” manner, but as the kind of Dionysian shattering that the 3rd synthesis of time inflects). Maybe this gets us closer to bridging the gaps to the Deleuzian patchwork, tangled as it is to both active experimentation and positive affirmation, the Yes of Dionysus against the Yes of the Ass.

    Have you read this essay on Deleuze, pragmatism and patchwork? It’s very good – been revisiting it lately its been fruitful.

  2. Quickly, I don’t know why we wouldn’t see it both as a model (as blueprint, strategy, heuristic) and as something to be empirically instantiated (as infrastructure, economic systems, territory)?

    Or, rather, I think we need cognitive models of patchwork to start the process of re-imagining what ecosystemic social assemblages are and can be (free as is possible from existing ideologies of statecraft, community, etc.), and technical models to go about the work of actually building them and possible assist others to reproduce them with modifications to fit a given bioregion – that is, if bolstering our patch viability by networking them and building cross-patch alliances is on interest. Models are how we hook rationality to action, and how we diagram fields of problematization and possibly. If we don’t continually model, work, revise, work, model, work, revise we run the risk of a) continuing the reactive and maladaptive ad hoc nature of social organizing practices since the emergence of agriculture, and b) will fail entice and/or activate agent-participant’s understanding of what they are a part of and how they can engage with it (thus decreasing the cognitive attraction and positive “buy in”).

    Complex socio-ecological situations call for adequately complex cognitive and technical models [plural] that avoids both violent reduction (of everything from food-chains to human cognition) and over-articulation that would overtake our capacity for comprehension and cause dissonance. A particular ‘patch’ is much more than its abstract diagram and models, yet patchworking as such seems to require such models (ontographies?).

    Also, what Ed said….

    1. Nothing quite so reified. The suggest of it being a model seems antithetical to the whole idea. Planning to expand in a post + resounding to Ed and Michael’s comments here.

      1. not sure how it being a model could be antithetical (weren’t you, and all, outlining the hows and whys?) so looking forward to the expansion/explication,

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