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The Sacred Desert: Religion, Literature, Art, and Culture.

David Jasper

The Sacred Desert: Religion, Literature, Art, and Culture

Blackwell, 2004, 204pp.

The subtitle gives it away: there's much too much going on in this breathless, encyclopedic tour of the spiritual dimensions of "the desert." (Which points to another problem: despite the many ecological differences between the Sinai and the Australian outback, the Egyptian Thebaid, Charles Doughty's and T.E. Lawrence's Saudi Arabia, Saint-Exupery's Sahara, or the deserts of the American Southwest--not to mention the metaphorical wastelands traversed by St. John of the Cross, Blake, Van Gogh, Kafka, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and various other film-makers-the visionary Jasper conflates them all into one vast generic landscape of the mind.) A professor of "Literature and Theology" at the University of Glasgow, Jasper observes that the myth of Oedipus is every bit as "valid" as scriptural myths (the Gospel of Matthew in this case). Well, o.k., but some distinctions have to be drawn; and Jasper is swept away by his lyric enthusiasm for all things kenotic, apophatic, desolate, and paradoxical, particularly death-of-God theology. Jasper lavishly praises "Tom" Altizer (who lavishly praises him back on the book jacket).

Jasper is fabulously knowledgeable; and the more's the pity. Perhaps he should simply have written a much shorter, provocative essay--or else a multi-volume magnum opus.

One can't, in fewer than 200 pages, zip back and forth from St. Antony to Edward Abbey, Moses to Leslie Marmon Silko; one can't productively engage the philosophy of Hegel, Heidegger, Foucauld, Levinas, and Derrida; the spirituality of Meister Eckhart and T.S. Eliot; the art of Giotto, Constable, Defoe, Wim Wenders, and Michael Ondaatje; then throw in a postscript about "the recent wars in Iraq"--and hope to create coherence.
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Title Annotation:BOOKS IN BRIEF
Author:Heinegg, Peter
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:286
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