The Waterless Sea

A Curious History of Mirages

Christopher Pinney

The Waterless Sea

Christopher Pinney

Distributed for Reaktion Books

184 pages | 14 color plates, 26 halftones | 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 | © 2018
Cloth $29.00 ISBN: 9781780239323 Will Publish May 2018 For sale in North and South America only
Mirages have long astonished travelers of the sea and beguiled thirsty desert voyagers. Traditional Chinese and Japanese poetry and art depict the above-horizon, superior mirage, or fata morgana, as exhalations of clam-monsters. Indian sources relate mirages to the “thirst of gazelles,” a metaphor for the futility of desire. Starting in the late eighteenth century, mirages became a symbol in the West of Oriental despotism—a negative, but also enchanted, emblem. But the mirage motif is rarely simply condemnatory. More often, our obsession with mirages 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.
Review Quotes
Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University
“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. . . . 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.”
Faisal Devji, University of Oxford
“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. . . . Itself written as if in the style of a mirage, this is a beautifully conceived work that philosophizes the visible.”
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