Gold Saharan pistes
Forced upwards - basalt, phonolite, andesite, trachite.
Denuded, so that the pipes remain and only the pipes, in the form of cones and
dog-toothed plugs that rise above the surrounding plain. Black spires of rock,
like the spars of enormous ships, or the pinnacles of Breton churches solid
yet brittle, forced upwards into the sky flesh, prickly as doum-palm barbs on
This is a porcupine of a landscape defending itself, in vain, against the
erosive forces that assail it, to the point where there is no longer anything
intact that can, with meaning, be defended, so that the gesture is mechanical,
the charm-spell of a weary old man who knows that the ravens are already
picking the locks of his eyes but is nonetheless trying, as if still young, to
shoo them away. He is spare and defaced, yet continues to wave at the heavens
as the skin on his back turns to chitin.
To be here means to share in its dissolution and, no less, its jagged defiance.
One travels exposed yet upright, forced from the womb towards the sun, denuded
by that very sun which turns each item of clothing to a scar a human column,
destined to fall yet holding one's ground. Not even a tower of breath, for
breath begins to thin in the tamarisk-scented upland air but solid despite
one's brittleness, an agent of geometry resisting the temptations of erosion,
the ultimate sleep that is the risk of the serir.
EVIDENCE: THE HOOFPRINTS OF CAMELS
The sand is inscribed by the tracks of vehicles, but still no less by the
hoof-prints of camels. They convey the traders and the traded-in, and these
prints express their patient, dry-mouthed masochism. They are beasts who expect
nothing and are ready for all contingencies, yet can throw a tantrum over the
smallest human infraction.
Yet the smallest mark also impresses the traveller. A piece of bone can bake
for a hundred years. A trace of an old campfire can outlast its creators, and
the couple who crept out secretly to lie, entwined, beside it, exuding moist
heat in the fingernail-cracking dryness, are preserved by their faded shapes,
as if embossed on a sheet of beaten light.
Hoof-prints, fire-pits, wheel-tracks, words. The desert's rhythms are produced
from these instances, with infinite patience and interminable slowness spread
across space, they are strewn on maps of human attention. And the star-points
join those of the sand-dunes. The she-Camel culminates, not the Great Bear of
the Britons or the Winter Stag of the Urals, and she snorts and clumsies at the
zenith, tethered against the black-skinned galaxy, as the balises constellate the sand and the brilliant
bones preserve the past like the egg-sacs of fish on an ocean floor.
So, the music of the desert is constructed. It is not the orderly polyphony of
more fertile regions. It is an assemblage of traces, a swarming unison in which
the fragments cluster and coincide, the amplification of a deeper silence.
Dead or alive, there is always room for one more camel, or another azalai of
words from breve to breve, from
silence to silence, we deposit the trails that will leave us behind.
Those flayed hide pigments tether their prey to the rock wall. But the hunters
have gone down into the sleep shelter, leaving behind no language, foxing us
with these triangular images cartoon depictions of a lost reality that we
cannot even see behind us, in which the stars are skewed and the hippopotamus
wallows in the swamps of the Ténéré.
Ten thousand years later, and the glyphs continue the taurine epoch
commemorated in a tawny swathe of ochres, as if there were no history to this,
no more than signs expressed for the sake of expression alone, a herd of aurochs
that blindly charges into the semiotic circus-ring. But when the eye bestows
its magic, then the dead come back to life in that theatre of bright water,
under the stars that set the world in the wide-open firmament.
To inspect these images is to find oneself standing one instant beyond the
suspension of time, at a point where everything has already happened and the
eye is a tachyon, travelling faster than the light which feeds it, always
becoming more and more distant as with the stars that feed the eye then
change, sometimes fading, sometimes swelling, sometimes even exploding.
So, from outside, one is offered tomorrow in the desert. One stands bare-footed
on the blade of the landscape, exposed, besieged, denied and tightened into a
body-space that lets the outside reach its maximum size. One shrinks to a
point, a grain of sand with a pin-prick of an eye, that remains as if the eye
of a figure on that cave-wall at La Tefedest, white laser’s aperture that can
stare out past the present into the horizon’s wall, can see to the far side of
its own extinction. Its share of the gaze, this deathless death.