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Themesicon: navigation pathArt and Cinematographyicon: navigation pathDeserts of the Political

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The Desert as a Dispositif of Perception

Now, however, there is the danger that cinematic representations of the desert and devastation will reconstruct territory, assure depiction, and restore the orderly view. Viewed as a whole, each of the discourses dealing with the fortified panoramic terrace at Zabriskie Point, the cinemascope view of the desert, and the literary tourist form an excellent example of the cinematic dispositif of perception.[18] The camera lingers for a long time upon a large wooden sign that explains the prehistoric history and geological formation of Death Valley a how-to manual for the miracle of nature revealed as a geological effect. «And even the foreshortening effect of cinema is present in Death Valley,» wrote Jean Baudrillard in his America. « &All the intelligence of the earth and its elements gathered together here, in a matchless spectacle: a geological epic. Cinema is not alone in having given us a cinematic vision of the desert. Nature itself pulled off the finest of its special effects here, long before men came on the scene.»[19] Antonioni attempts to keep his film characters moving, to change locations and viewpoints, to exhaust the aesthetics of the desert,


but also to disturb the viewer (at which he succeeds less often). People rise up into the air, drive on dead straight, lonely, desert highways. Despite the many different ways of moving and forms of transportation, sex, policemen, or lack of gasoline continually interrupt their motorized flight. The way in and through the desert is irretrievably paved with counterculture clichés, the figures of real estate speculators, and tourist zones. The desert, the nomad s «natural» situation, becomes the natural «architecture» for city dwellers traveling through the desert. The desert, supposedly a «space of authenticity» (Neal Ascherson),[20] proves to be a space of signs, an ideological space, a mediascape, a «fourth nature.» [21]

Aerial View

Nevertheless, throughout the nineteen-seventies, the desert continued to be reconceptualized as a culture-free, «sign-free space of reduced contours» (Medicus). Modern notions of emptiness, purity, and the

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