Michael Marder at Cabinet Magazine:
The desert is an invention, a creation of emptiness in the plentitude of existence, an introduction of barrenness into the fecundity of being. However dry this biome, it is never entirely vacant. Besides containing rocks or sand, the actual desert from Atacama to the Sahara and from the Gobi to Mojave is propitious to certain animals (coyotes and scorpions, chipmunks and rattlesnakes) and plants (barrel cacti and Joshua trees, tumbleweeds and ironwood) that find themselves at home there. It would be the height of arrogance to deem these and countless others of its inhabitants so insignificant that they are sidelined or forgotten, leaving only the vast vacuum, the expanding nothingness, that the ecosystem in question has come to denote. An automatic association of the desert with lifelessness betrays precisely such forgetting and neglect, which are, in my view, the side effects of a devastating project—refashioning the earth in the image of abstract thought. “The” desert is abstraction realized, cast over the world at the expense of biological, ecological, and ontological diversity.
When I write that the desert is an invention, I am alluding not only to how emptiness is interpolated by our manners of thinking into the plenum of what we, in a convenient shorthand, encode as “nature,” but also to how, in the literal sense of the Latin invenire, the desert is called forth and comes into the world thanks to the accumulated impact of human industries on the environment.