‘The more light the desert receives, the darker it seems to become,’ writes Eugène Fromentin.
Desert romanticism exists in that kind of paradox. Otherwise one must ask what a romantic is doing in the desert at all. The desert has no leafy groves, fragrant meadows, deep-soughing forests, or anything else which usually evokes in the romantic the right emotions. Desert romanticism already appears incomprehensible at a distance. Up close, it becomes absurd. What is romantic about an endless gravel pit?
This passage is from Sven Lindqvist’s evocative Desert Divers. I wrote recently about an expedition into the Rub’ al Khali, but never thought to question the aesthetic potency of the desert. Capitalised or otherwise, I don’t identify with romanticism, more with a form of enchanted materialism. The desert has the power to enchant me with an affective force that, I believe, helps to ease that hell-hound of depression. The desert offers a temporary suspension of time, a ‘moment of pure presence’.
[Thanks, Michelle, for the recommendation.]