Lovers adrift in the desert. An analysis and comparative study of the poetics of the desert

Harold, James Michael (2013) Lovers adrift in the desert. An analysis and comparative study of the poetics of the desert. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


This study seeks to argue for the persistence and continuance of Arab and European fascination with the desert and desert travel in the Middle East evidenced by the texts of desert travellers. The research stems from the question: How has textuality, whether poetic, mystical or material, been brought to the desert’s otherwise implacable nature by traveller/writers dating from the broad landscape of Arab and European desert writings from the 12th/13th and the early 20th centuries? Acknowledging the complex nature of the desert’s actual and symbolic qualities, this enquiry seeks to identify the existence and endurance of a dynamic between the desert, embodied experience and the desert as text. In order to frame this study, a further question is asked as to the significance of the image of the lover as both a figure and a state within these writings.

Four particular works of desert literature provide the focus for close readings and a comparative and creative analysis that forms the substance of the thesis:
Ibn al-‘Arabî’s Tarjumân al-ashwâq (611/1215);
Isabelle Eberhardt’s posthumously published book entitled, Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam (1906) (translated into English as, In the Shadow of Islam (1993));
Harry St. John Bridger Philby’s, The Empty Quarter: Being a description of the Great South Desert of Arabia known as Rub’ al Khali (1933); and
T.E. Lawrence’s, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935).
The thesis being structured in three thematic sections, each relating to a condition of Sufic love – attraction and seeking (an ardent longing (raghbat)), servanthood (submission (taslim)), spiritual annihilation (fanâ) and subsistence (baqâ) – the Tarjumân al-ashwâq forms the locus around which each of the other texts are brought into relation. Despite the gap of time or cultures in which the chosen texts originate, core to this study is the process of revealing common tropic elements and shared intentions in the texts, and identifying those areas of difference and singularity. A dynamic of diversity and affinity is revealed between occidental and oriental perceptions, focused by the complex nature of the desert, the traveller’s experience of it, and the manifestations of both in the text. What unifies these authors is a shared sense of the desert as both a space of Divine encounter and as a text to be read. The desert becomes a place of embodied experience, where literal and metaphoric readings are inverted, and the real is encountered. The journey across the desert’s surface provides a mirror image of each author’s inner quest.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Desert travel, Poetics of the Desert, Sufism, Ibn al-'Arabi, T.E. Lawrence, Harry St John Philby, Isabelle Eberhardt
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Ridgeon, Dr. Lloyd
Date of Award: 2013
Embargo Date: 4 November 2020
Depositing User: Mr James Michael Harold
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4682
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2013 08:38
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2022 14:39
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.4682

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year