White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

by Geoff Dyer

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Overview

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer

From “one of our most original writers” (Kathryn Schulz) comes an expansive and exacting book—firmly grounded, but elegant, witty, and always inquisitive—about travel, unexpected awareness, and the questions we ask when we step outside ourselves.

Geoff Dyer's perennial search for tranquility, for “something better,” continues in this series of fascinating and seemingly unrelated pilgrimages—with a tour guide who is in fact not a tour guide at the Forbidden City in Beijing, with friends at the Lightning Field in New Mexico, with a hitchhiker picked up near a prison at White Sands, and with “a dream of how things should have been” at the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. 

Weaving stories about places to which he has recently traveled with images and memories that have persisted since childhood, Dyer tries “to work out what a certain place—a certain way of marking the landscape—means; what it's trying to tell us; what we go to it for.” He takes his title from Gaugin's masterwork, and asks the same questions: Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going? The answers are elusive, hiding in French Polynesia, where he travels to write about Gaugin and the lure of the exotic; at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he goes to see the masterpiece in person only to be told it is traveling; and in Norway, where he and his wife journey to see, but end up not seeing, the Northern Lights. But at home in California, after a medical event that makes Dyer see everything in a different way, he may finally have found what he's been searching for.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101870853
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 564,463
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

GEOFF DYER is the author of many books including But Beautiful (winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize); The Missing of the Somme; Out of Sheer Rage; The Ongoing Moment (winner of the ICP Infinity Award); Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; Zona; Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It; and, most recently, Another Great Day at Sea.A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, his many awards include the GQ Writer of the Year Award, the E. M. Forster Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and a 2015 Windham-Campbell Prize. Also in 2015, Dyer was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books have been translated into twenty-four languages. He is writer in residence at USC and lives in Venice, California.

www.geoffdyer.com

Read an Excerpt

White Sands


By Geoff Dyer

Pantheon Books

Copyright © 2016 Geoff Dyer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-101-87085-3


CHAPTER 1

Time in Space

Maybe it is not the natives of Texas or Arizona who fully appreciate the scale of the places where they have grown up. Perhaps you have to be British, to come from 'an island no bigger than a back garden' — in Lawrence's contemptuous phrase — to grasp properly the immensity of the American West. So it's not surprising that Lawrence considered New Mexico 'the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had.'

The cramped paradox of English life: a tiny island that is often hard and sometimes impossible to get around. You can imagine a prospective visitor from Arizona studying a map of England and deciding, 'Yep, we should be able to do this little puppy in a couple of days.' But how long does it take to travel from Gloucester to Heathrow? Anything from two and a half hours to ... Well, best to allow five to be on the safe side.

In the American West you can travel hundreds of miles and calculate your arrival time almost to the minute. We had turned up for our rendezvous in Quemado at one o'clock on the dot. From Quemado, Jessica and I drove 450 miles to Springdale, on the edge of Zion, in Utah. There were just two of us now, a husband-and-wife team, and we got to Springdale exactly on time for our dinner reservation. After a couple of nights in Zion we headed to the Spiral Jetty.

Yes, the Spiral Jetty — the wholly elusive grail of Land Art! Instantly iconic, it was transformed into legend by a double negative: the disappearance of the Jetty a mere two years after it was created, followed, a year later, by the premature death of its creator, Robert Smithson. Water levels at the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah were unusually low when the Jetty was built in 1970. When the water returned to its normal depth the Jetty went under. On 20 July 1973, Smithson was in a light aircraft, reconnoitering a work in progress in Amarillo, Texas. The plane ploughed into a hillside, killing everyone onboard: the pilot, a photographer, and the artist. Smithson was thirty-five. After the Jetty sank and his plane crashed, Smithson's reputation soared.

For a quarter of a century the Spiral Jetty was all but invisible. There were amazing photographs of the coils of rock in the variously coloured water — reddish, pink, pale blue — and there was the Zapruder-inflected footage of its construction, but the Jetty had gone the way of Atlantis, sinking beneath the waveless waves of the Salt Lake. Then, in 1999, a miracle occurred. Excalibur-like, it emerged from the lake. And not only that. The Jetty was made out of earth and black lumps of basalt (six and a half thousand tonnes of it), but during the long interval of its submersion it had become covered in salt crystals. In newly resurrected form, it was pristine glittering white.

Even now, after this spectacular renaissance, the Spiral Jetty is not always visible. If there is exceptionally heavy snowfall, then the thaw does for the lake what the globally heated polar ice pack threatens to do to the oceans. Once the snowmelt ends up in the lake, it can take months of drought and scorch to boil off the excess and leave the Jetty high and dry again. Was it worth travelling all this way to see something we might not be able to see? Well, pilgrims continued to turn up even during the long years when there was definitely nothing to see, so it seemed feeble not to give it a chance. (There is probably a sect of art-world extremists who maintain that the best time to have visited the Spiral Jetty was during the years of its invisible submergence, when the experience became a pure manifestation of faith.)

We drove north towards Salt Lake City. No need for a compass. Everything screamed north: the grey-and-white mountains looming Canadianly in the distance, the weather deteriorating by the hour. Opting for directness instead of scenery, we barrelled up the featureless expanse of I-15. Most of what there was to see was traffic-related: gas-station logos, trucks the size of freight trains, snakeskin shreds of tire on the soft ('hard' in England) shoulder. Salt Lake City did its bit, its level best, coming to meet us well before we got anywhere near it — and not quite saying goodbye even when we thought we'd got beyond it.

With all the space out west there's no incentive for cities not to sprawl. In the case of Salt Lake City, mountains to the east and the lake to the west mean it does most of its sprawl along a north-south ribbon. Still, there was room for the interstate to gradually assume the width, frenzy — and, eventually, stagnation — of a Los Angeles freeway. Salt Lake City merged, imperceptibly, into Ogden, where we were staying. Not a bad place: fringed by Schloss Adler mountains in at least two directions and looking, on 25th Street at least, as if it was making a Spiral Jetty–style comeback from a downturn in fortunes still afflicting other parts of town. Or maybe it was just the alpine winter, which, even in mid-May, had still not shot its wad. Trees weren't convinced they'd got the all-clear; leaf-wise, none of them were venturing out.

Excerpted from White Sands by Geoff Dyer. Copyright © 2016 by Geoff Dyer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from White Sands by Geoff Dyer. Copyright © 2016 Geoff Dyer. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents
 
Note................................................... xi
 
1....................................................... 3
Where? What? Where?............................ 5
2...................................................... 39
Forbidden City...................................... 41
3..................................................... 65
Space in Time..................................... 67
4..................................................... 83
Time in Space.................................... 85
5.................................................... 99
Northern Dark.................................... 103
6................................................... 123
White Sands..................................... 125
7................................................... 139
Pilgrimage........................................ 141
8................................................... 173
The Ballad of Jimmy Garrison................ 177
9................................................... 205
Beginning........................................ 207
10................................................. 225
 
Notes............................................. 229
List of Illustrations............................ 235
Acknowledgements........................... 237 

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