Although it may appear that geography is distinguished by an objective, neutral subject, a genealogy of geographical knowledge reveals that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European polemics over the demarcations and legal representations of space were imbued with polemos itself, war and conflict. In this article, I examine the polemical nature of Robinson Crusoe’s spatial experience and constructions, maritime and insular. Most readers know Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for the shipwreck and the island. This sells short the novel’s formal spatial design, which contrasts its hero’s early mobility with his subsequent settlement(s), while concurrently encoding ideas about law, enmity, and sovereignty into geographic constructions. In Defoe’s space, theory and practice of empire are intermeshed. As I shall argue, Defoe’s representations of his hero’s achievements—both Crusoe’s astute seafaring and his later claims to sovereignty and possession of “his” island—build on extraliterary systems of knowledge in which war offers blueprints for grasping colonial encounters and global space. Defoe exploits two related imperial geographical discourses, natural law (and its derivative the Law of Nations, forerunner of today’s International Law and Law of War), and cartography, drawing on them for both verisimilar and fantastical representations in his novel.

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