Writing the Void: Desert Literature

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Writing the Void: Desert Literature

Film makers, visual artists, poets, novelists, critics, theorists and philosophers have been prone to use the desert as a metaphor for everything from death to religion, war to love, the primitive past to the desolate future. The desert is, we are told, a place of extremes; a place in which to experience asceticism, but also indulgence. The desert represents the sole remains of nature still left largely untouched, hence it is the destination of pilgrims seeking to locate the last remnants of a once wild and untamed planet. Paradoxically, though, it is concurrently a place routinely described as the outcome of human experiments gone wrong, of oil and water abuse, of the testing of atomic bombs and of acting the role of a storehouse of toxic and moral waste. The desert is Las Vegas and Dubai; the acid trips of a Hunter S. Thompson and Aldous Huxley; the sexual experiments of Gustave Flaubert or Richard F. Burton. But it is also the source of Aboriginal mythology, of Bedouin nobility, of aliens and Area 54, of monasticism, mysticism and monotheism.

This course seeks to map through literature this barren and supposedly empty (‘deserta’) landscape, an environment that, despite its common association with being void and meaningless, is in fact bursting with meaning. We will discuss what, if anything, the essence of this landscape might be, and how this unfamiliar environment has been put into writing.