out of deserts
December 21, 2011, 3:17 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , ,

Prophets walk out of deserts for some reason.  I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that lone gunmen do too; they are like prophets of a harsh, frontier religion.

The Yeatsian view of the prophet entering the scene, as the smoke and ash settled from the Great War, was of a lion- man emerging from the desert – an enduring 20th century image, poetic and grand:  “a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi /  Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; / A shape with lion body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”

On the other hand, J. G. Ballard’s view of the coming of the prophets is banal and cynical.  He says they will emerge from shopping malls.  For the author shopping malls and deserts are more or less the same thing:  places that have outlived their own reason for being, timeless in the sense of being completely unconnected to human meaning and life.  They are veritable no places from which will emerge mandarins, giants, saviors, great souls, despots, creative geniuses and mass murderers.

Yeats and Ballard are really saying the same thing:  that extraordinary people emerge from these strange exceptional places.  Once out of their placeless milieus they ravage the petty world we occupy with their clarity and beauty.  They create and destroy.  They claim divinity, rain down judgement, establish peaceable kingdoms, chart ways out, promise grace.

From The Atrocity Exhibition:

“Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there, a city, a pyramid, a motel, stands outside time. It’s no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert. Modern shopping malls have much the same function. A future Rimbaud, Van Gogh or Adolf Hitler will emerge from their timeless wastes.”

— J.G. Ballard (The Atrocity Exhibition)

3 Comments so far
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Good thought provoker (which I shared with fellow travellers on the train yesterday).

Comment by blackwatertown

And meant to say – Happy Christmas to you and yours and a mellow new year.

Comment by blackwatertown

Glad you liked it, and thanks for sharing it with traveling friends. It was a pleasure meeting you in this virtual way this year – Happy Christmas to you and best for the new year!

Comment by Peter Rudd

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