Monday, January 7, 2008

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

It's not a new museum, and it's not one of the major Los Angeles attractions, but the Museum of Jurassic Technology is my new favorite Southern CA oddity. Don't get hung up on what the name "means." What it means is: you are entering another world, where symbolic language holds as much importance as literal, where the poetic and thematic beauty of people and objects trumps their traditional place in the hierarchy of significance.

It's not the butterfly-scale mosaics that only become visible under a microscope, the sculptures of Goofy and Napoleon nestled in the eyes of needles, the room dedicated to Kirchner serenaded by a "Bell Wheel," the decomposing dice, the replica of Mary Saughall's horn, or even the plaque describing the problem of historical representations of the "Battle of Pavia" that make the museum such a necessary destination. It's the fact that all of these things are displayed and interpreted in ways that completely call into question our notions of (1) what is knowledge, and (2) what is important to know.

I recommend the museum for its content, absolutely. I fancy myself an amateur conisseur of independent, idiosyncratic museums, and there's no more eclectic, disturbing, and surreal collection of objects and stories on display, in that volume, that I know of. I recommend the place for the slightly menacing tea room, where even in bright sunlight the shades stay drawn, candles are lit, and a brass samovar steams with free English tea. I recommend it for its sweet little gift shop and reasonably priced publications.

But mostly, I want everyone I know to visit the museum to have their minds blown by how disorienting and shocking it is to be told, quietly and implicitly, that you are an impatient, narrow-minded, uneducated person, by virtue of the fact that you are tempted to listen to only two of five interpretive recordings on Georffrey Sonnabend's Theory of Forgetting, that you don't understand how to represent logic problems visually, that you are not spatially aware enough to make a new kind of cat's cradle, even with string in your hands, when a video shows you how. Or maybe you are, in which case, I am already impressed.

I continually asked myself, "why does this matter?" and continually the answer came: "because someone noticed it." Not everything in the museum is even "real," by empirical standards. In fact, there is an entire collection of "vulgar knowledge," a room dedicated to wives' tales and superstitions that presents each as simply something that was or is believed, with no discussion of whether the belief had been debunked. The debunking is irrelevant. The fact that at one time, people sent a child out to talk to the bees in the hive after a relative had died, the fact that that child was supposed to recite lines of verse to the bees, the sheer magical quality of that action, compounded by the magical quality of it being practiced for many years over a large geographical region, is the "mattering" of the museum.

I've never been in a museum that so carefully destroyed my notions of historical importance, so validated my sense of literary and aesthetic wonder, and so thoroughly disrupted my ideas about what is normal in this world.

Visit them!


  1. Hey,
    I'm sorry to say that although you even mentioned to me in person that you wrote this post, I just now read it. But, i'm really excited to know that this museum exists and if i'm ever in LA that will be the first palce I visit. Speaking of interesting small musems I just wanted to mention two. In Chicago, there is the only Museum of Holography left in the US. It is run by a very sweet retiree who will at length describe to you the history of holography and here theories on how holography will affect our future (such as holographic movies that are nore like plays!). Also, if you are ever in Springfield, IL (I know it's not comletely likely) forgo most of the numerous Lincoln attractions but don't miss the Museum of Funeral Customs.

  2. I want to go to these places! I want to go to ever tiny, idiosyncratic museum I can find. Right now, I'm in NYC visiting friends, and we're mobilizing to go to the Tenement Museum. Look for a new blog entry about it in the coming days!

  3. Hey, you were in my hood and you didn't even stop by to visit?! I'm not sure if you ever saw my old place, it was just a mile from MJT.

    I was thrown off the first time I visited MJT, it had been hyped up as this strange and wonderful place. I was expecting something like a minigolf course or Ripley's. This was certainly strange and wonderful, but in a very different way.