In 1759 Lawrence Sterne published the first volume of his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. But Shandy’s over-brimming autobiography takes two further volumes to explain the events that lead up to the moment of his coming into the world. Time and again we are brought to the brink of his birth before the tale swerves swiftly off again. The novel is a masterwork of folly, and a vital, irreverent, visceral mockery of the possibility of accounting for a life. It is also a satire on the newly popular idea that time itself is an entity that can be mapped – most neatly expressed in the book’s spoof map of its looping chapter plot lines.

Sterne’s novel is therefore a kind of anti-map that forcefully expresses the messy temporality that constitutes a life. In this hour-long session, Cathy Haynes will connect Sterne’s work with Walter Benjamin’s desire to set out the ‘sphere of life’ on a map. Drawing on their comparably knotty articulations of time, she will ask how we might begin to create a cartography of our own life, and invite us to make a mapping experiment of our own.

Cathy Haynes is a London-based curator, artist and writer. She is researching a history of official maps that contain an element of deliberate fiction: a secret code, a hidden message, a fake entity. She is also a founder faculty member and currently Curator of Public Programmes at The School of Life, London. She was formerly Curator for Art on the Underground, Co-editor of Implicasphere, and Head of Interaction at Artangel.