by Amanda Toohey
The desert is a common backdrop in fashion editorials because it is vacant and makes the clothing stand out
Jean Baudrillard “Desert For Ever”
In this article, Jean Baudrillard discusses American deserts and the cities within those deserts and how there is a lack of culture. Baudrillard talks about the beauty of the desert and how it is so fascinating but lacks hope because there is no real culture like that found in European cities. He says how there is no desire in the desert, everything is mobile, there’s no monuments or history to be found. He believes that deserts and cities such as Los Angeles are so fascinating because people are delivered from all depth there—“it is brilliant, superficial neutrality with challenge to meaning, nature and culture.” In these desert cities there is a reverse in regard to seductive spaces or spaces with meaning and it results in the disappearance of all aesthetic and critical forms of life. The desert cities represent immobility without desire and the end of aesthetics. When talking about the lack of aesthetics, Baudrillard does not mean just the aesthetics of décor but also that of bodies, languages and everything else that forms the European’s mental and social relations. In the world of European’s, he states how “our universe is never desert-like, always theatrical, always ambiguous and always cultural,” but what is interesting about desert cities is the absence of all of these things.
He goes on to discuss how the only “tissue” of these types of cities are the freeways which act as an immense, collective art that are “ceaselessly unrolling, without aggression and without objectives.” He mentions how things typically found in cities such as elevators or subways, are nowhere to be found in desert cities such as Los Angeles. There are no center monuments, no verticality, no intimacy, and no collectivity—there is a power of pure open space that’s only found in the desert cities. The power of the desert form is the “erasure of traces, of the signified of the signs in the cities and of any psychology in bodies.” The fascination is found in the open space, dryness and sterility. Baudrillard claims how nowhere else does there exist such a stunning fusion of a radical lack of culture and natural beauty, of the wonder of nature and the absolute similarity. Culture itself is a desert in these cities and the culture has to be a desert so that everything can be equal and shine out in the same form. He mentions how the towns of the desert end so abruptly with no surroundings. They are something of a mirage—capable of vanishing in an instant.