Some snippets from Dirty Wars:
Planning the rescue of a kidnapped friend who has been squirreled away in a disused government installation, two men in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (1990) study maps of the area: “They peered at the maps, each with that enigmatic blank in the middle, like the outline of a state in a geography test, belonging to something called ‘the U.S.,’ but not the one they knew” (250).
The unmarked space on the map has become a common trope in writing about the American West in recent years, a double motif that speaks on the one hand of the shroud of secrecy covering military-industrial activity and on the other the resistant spaces beyond the inventory of the U.S. standing-reserve.
In Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge (1991), “A blank spot on the map translates into empty space, space devoid of people, a wasteland perfect for nerve gas, weteye bombs, and toxic waste” (241). Similarly, in DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), the white places on the map “include the air base, the army base, the missile range, the vast stretch to the northwest called the Jornada del Muerto and the interdunal flats as well.” The flats themselves are perversely “map-white, on the page and in living fact,” so that their absence on the map does in fact represent their physical condition. In an uncanny twist, the blank space on this map tells the truth even as it continues to lie, since the few low buildings and propane tanks that are visible “service the underground operation in the Pocket, where weapons were conceived and designed” (404).
The blank space on the map is a visible marker of the state of exception that, as Giorgio Agamben explains in