Foucault's "void" and Carson's "blind point" are akin to the regions that interest me. We cannot consummately apprehend them, but we can come at them sideways and describe many of their properties. I hope still to wrangle a thing or two of value, though my methods be inconsistent, my data biased, and my hypothesis vague. The potential energy of this type of in-between state is directly related to its slippery quality. Power and elusiveness are one and the same in a state of being that constantly necessitates reorientation, redefinition, renewal. And so to the border.



— Spatial Borders: Wandering the Deserts —

"Space, rolling and revolving between him and his native heath, possessed and wielded the powers we generally ascribe to time." — Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain


Borders in the visible world are the archetype for all other concepts of liminality. Humans are essentially mapmaking creatures and the practice of cartography, since prehistory, has lent its full weight to the metaphor of the border. We can describe any number of ideas as existing "along the cusp of" or "in the reaches between" acknowledged entities because of examples in the visible world. As is already apparent, borders can exist in a multiplicity of dimensions; we will discuss a few of them later in further detail, but for now let it suffice that "border" may refer to any such phenomenon in the metaphorical sense and that we will use its familiar connotation of a delineation in space to discuss some important attributes. First, I want to address concepts of desert and exile, and then to turn to some of the different types of activity and points of view at borders.

The notion of the desert as a cradle of fertility is the kind of perfectly symmetrical paradox that is always lurking somewhere in the unconscious mind. We talk of deserts periodically and almost magically blooming. The Hebrew bible tells of Moses wandering in the wilderness, of his 40 days and 40 nights at Sinai before having the law delivered to him personally by the god Yahweh, and of his striking the rock with his staff there in the desert to deliver water to his unruly people. Christian tradition describes John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ and "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (John 1:23) that was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). Arthurian legend tells of Perceval's wanderings in a barren wasteland in search of a grail and of the appropriate questions to ask it in order to heal the Fisher King and the land. In a nearer time and place, it is perhaps no great mystery that the American West has captured the imaginations of so many. There in the wasteland, the one arid vastness amidst so much