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Dimensions:
220 × 150 × 25 mm
184 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781780239323
Illustrations:
42 illustrations, 16 in colour
Published:
14 May 2018

The Waterless Sea A Curious History of Mirages Christopher Pinney

Mirages have long astonished travellers and beguiled thirsty desert voyagers. Chinese and Japanese poetry and images depicted mirages as the exhalations of clam-monsters. Indian sources related them to the ‘thirst of gazelles’, a metaphor for the futility of desire. From the late eighteenth century to the present, mirages became a symbol of ‘Oriental despotism’, a malign, but also enchanted, emblem. But the mirage motif is rarely simply condemnatory. More commonly it conveys a sense of escape, of fascination, of a desire to be deceived.

The Waterless Sea is the first book devoted to the theories and history of mirages. Christopher Pinney navigates a sinuous pathway through a mysterious and evanescent terrain, showing how mirages have impacted politics, culture, science, and religion, and how we can continue to learn from their sublimity.

‘Under the rubric of ‘real but not true’ Pinney explores the enchanting enigma of fata morgana or mirages, visions of cities in the sky or stately mansions floating on fantastic oceans in deserts and polar wastes. He explores the different historical and cultural framings that mirages have acquired: that they flow from the occlusion of oriental despotism, the opposite of the clarity and openness of democratic politics; that they prove what Socrates says in the Republic about the poverty of the senses as a medium for knowledge; that they are omens sent from God or the Devil; that they are the triumph of wonder (or thirst) over common sense. Through accounts such as the sfumato of Japanese representations of the fabulous island of Horai, bathed in the breath of a giant clam, Pinney provides an extraordinary tour of the union of refraction and the imagination.’ — Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University

‘This is both a study of the mirage as a subject of scholarship and a profound meditation on its paradoxical form as a true illusion … Pinney explores the way in which the fata morgana has been deployed since the 19th century to think about the existential, aesthetic and political choices, as much as contradictions, between the evidence of the eyes and that of the mind …this is a global account of its vacillating form as a site of reflection. Itself written as if in the style of a mirage, this is a beautifully conceived work that philosophises the visible.’ — Faisal Devji, University of Oxford

‘Pinney’s erudite and highly readable account of the mirage is a scintillating journey through more than just an ephemeral intangibility. It is a substantial history of the sublime as it is refracted on the surface of what remains enchanted, mysterious and strange. What appears on the horizon, or just above it, thanks to Pinney’s delightful reflections, are a number of unique perspectives on a diverse range of topics, such as colonialism and empire, science and religion, democracy and despotism – and even photography. And just as we historically and collectively confront ourselves in the mirage, what results in this beautiful book are a number of subjective experiences that are, paradoxically, also collective.’ — Omar W. Nasim. University of Regensburg

‘Pinney explores the enchanting enigma of fata morgana or mirages, visions of cities in the sky or stately mansions floating on fantastic oceans in deserts and polar wastes . . . Pinney provides an extraordinary tour of the union of refraction and the imagination.’ — Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University


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Christopher Pinney is Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. His publications include Camera Indica (1997), Photos of the Gods (2004) and Photography and Anthropology (2011), all published by Reaktion.

Prologue: Chasing Mirage

1. Strange Visions Under a Cliff in Central India, October 1829

2. A World History of Mirages: The Thirst of the Gazelle

3. ‘Fallacious Evidence of the Senses’

4. ‘Mocking Our Distress’

5. Cold and Hot: The Geography of Mirage

6. Mirage and Crisis

7. Oriental Mirages and ‘Spectatorial Democracy’

8. From Clam-monsters to Representative Democracy

9. The Halted Viewer and Sfumato

10. Memory and Modernity

11. Theatrical Mirages

12. The ‘Mirage Medium of Fancy’

13. Mirage and Oriental Despotism

14. Keeping Mecca and Medina Invisible

15. Inside Abdul Hamid II’s Head

16. Mirage Pharmakon: Wild and Domestic

Epilogue: Real, But Not True



Glossary

References

Acknowledgements

Photo Acknowledgements

Index