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 Published July 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
Publishers Weekly
“[A] highbrow meditation. . . . Pinney examines mirages as cause of frustration and disappointment, as religious metaphor for falsehood or a society on the brink, and as depiction of mythological places. . . . Readers curious about the natural world will find this rumination of interest.”
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.”
Omar W. Nasim, University of Regensburg
"Pinney’s erudite and highly readable account of the mirage is a scintillating journey through more than just an ephemeral intangibility. It is a substantial history of the sublime as it is refracted on the surface of what remains enchanted, mysterious, and strange."
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