The Lure of Numinous Exoticism
Every landscape is exotic, from the standpoint of those who stand apart from it or cannot know it fully, so that encounters with strange or forbidding landscapes may have sacred rather than escapist meaning. The exotic terrain of Southern swamps nurtured a distinctive form of religious life for maroon communities of African Americans, a spiritual legacy recalled in W.E.B. Du Bois’s Quest of the Silver Fleece. In Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez shows how a strange and forbidding place inspires reverence before the sacred mystery of all that the land contains, both visible and invisibly. A comparable reverence toward an elusive, nonhuman, and numinous presence informs the Himalayan quest narrative of Peter Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard. In the Watson trilogy, Matthiessen probes the spiritual ambiguities of American lawlessness and exposes the “desecration of Creation” that human “progress” has brought to Florida’s Everglades.
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