Desert Enchantment

Sunset in Rub' al Khali (2013)

Sunset in Rub’ al Khali (2013)


‘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.]