Medieval Desert Utopias

  • Michael Uebel
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


“Dante Alighieri, it always seemed to me,” wrote Captain John G. Bourke in 1891, “made the mistake of his life in dying when he did in the picturesque capital of the Exarchate five hundred and fifty years ago. Had he held on to his mortal coil until after Uncle Sam had perfected the ‘Gadsden Purchase,’ he would have found full scope for his genius in the description of a region in which not only purgatory and hell, but heaven likewise, had combined to produce the bewildering kaleidoscope of all that was wonderful, weird, terrible, and awe-inspiring, with not a little that was beautiful and romantic.”2 Bourke’s brand of frontier medievalism calls our attention to the deep imbrication of the Utopian or fantasy impulse with the appreciation and appropriation of desert spaces. For it is within these spaces that the disparate can be held together so that a “bewildering kaleidoscope” of difference (at once temporal, spatial, and affective) has momentary coherence. Indeed, Bourke, serving as aid de camp to General Crook of the Third Cavalry, whose mission it was to secure the newly acquired desert Territories of Arizona and New Mexico, conceived of the wasteland as an ideal place onto which to project the ideology of Manifest Destiny, a crusading impulse that, though it entailed exterminating the Apaches, was justifiable in terms of the harmony such a crusade would eventually bring.


Late Antiquity Abandoned Well Libyan Desert Black Horse Ascetic Practice 
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© Michael Uebel 2005

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  • Michael Uebel

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