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There Is No Distance Between Ourselves and Our Deserts
Nora Wendl
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Reyner Banham describes his Scenes in America Deserta (1968) as a “very personal book,” which means that he examines why he, an English architectural historian, finds the Mojave Desert to be so appealing. Throughout the book, and in various ways, he asks himself how he might get out from under the weight of an education and a training that has taught him to view the world as a voyeur, to see even the desert through a pane of glass that requires him to apprehend it as visual, but to never really know it. He comes close to escaping himself only once in this book. Having discovered what appears to be evidence of the death of an acquaintance, a desert-dweller whose possessions are scattered about, Banham breaks down sobbing. In facing what the desert is capable of, he disintegrates; once again, the desert is rendered as both empty and hostile.

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