Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Paths of Desire Cross Deliciously

I went back to The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Armed with another year and a half of education, experimentation, and creative life, I loved and was fascinated by it in deeper and more fantastic ways. One of the most important realizations I had in the tea room upstairs, in conversation with Max and Lauryl (thanks guys!), was that the organization of the museum, the very way it is physically enacted, is as important, if not more important, than the content itself.

The Museum is a shrine to desire. What ties all the exhibits together is not a particular theme, genre, time period, geography, or any other organizational principle we normally associate with curated information. What ties them together is simply that they all demonstrate someone's idiosyncratic desire to see a fascination embodied. Concretely: if someone walked into my house and saw my old Cabbage Patch doll, my dog-eared copy of This Earth of Mankind, my antique teacups and my three black jackets, and those things were ostensibly part of a "collection," they would understand that what connects those objects is my desire. I like them--each for a different reason. That's it. My love for each thing is what makes them a single entity, in their disjunct.

This is an anti-capitalist way to organize information. The MJT holds no objects with real cultural capital--there's no featured exhibit of some famous person's stuff, some renown artist's sketches, etc. Nothing there cries out its importance--you must discover or create the importance of each exhibit by yourself, which means I was faced with my impatience, my prejudice, and my vulnerability to the cultural dictates of taste. There is a room dedicated to the trailer parks of America of the 20th century. I am drawn to ephemera, and so during my first visit to the museum I liked looking at what seemed like detritus (old doilies, plastic figurines, etc.) displayed in glass cases in that room. But this time around I realized that my thinking it was detritus in the first place belies my capitalist understanding of spaces and objects--specifically, that transience (not travel, but nomadic living) is a sign of poverty, and that the everyday objects from an 'anonymous' transient life seem somehow even more disposable than the everyday objects of, say, the Vanderbilts at the Breakers mansion. (Which I wrote about almost two years ago--I liked those teacups a lot, too.) In a room that is organized to proclaim the importance of trailer parks, I noticed a dissonance, an air of defense of that importance against some unspoken force that constantly, even forcibly, ignores trailer parks. That force is classism, and in particular the insidious, almost completely unconscious classism that masquerades as "taste." To follow a path of desire that leads to the trailer park, without exoticizing/turning the park into the Other, means one stops being classist, stops being told what is important in the capitalist priority scheme.

Let's not forget the self-loathing that accompanies this moment, though. I hate, hate, hate discovering habits in myself that are dictated by cultural forces like that. It's horrible. I'm horrible. It's only after that realization that I can desire to do it differently. Desire to be free of those habits. Desire to learn about the trailer park. It's a surrender, and it feels like the world has widened out, it feels like a new hand on the small of my back, it feels like being in love.

Now that I'm more clearly following the paths of desire, pursuing that which fascinates, excites, and delights me, I'm living in a state of constant, ecstatic convergence. It turns out that all the people I admire--the artists, thinkers, writers, musicians--like each other too! Athanasius Kircher, the subject of an exhibit at the MJT, is an obscure figure about whom almost no one has written, except for Umberto Eco, the author of the novel I'm reading right now: In the Name of the Rose. Tom Waits, who I quietly suspect of mind-melding with me in my sleep, and who has been the background to much of my writing lately, showed up in The Tiger and the Snow, a Roberto Begnini movie I watched this week in a whimsical moment of wanting to study Italian away from my book. There are many more of these moments cropping up as I read academic books and papers by people who all seem to comment on each other. I feel like I stumbled upon a huge garden party, and everyone there is someone I adore!

So I'm throwing on a cute little frock and heading for the Mint Juleps, because I'm going to stay at this party for a long, long time.

1 comment:

  1. "It's horrible. I'm horrible." These are the best two lines of prose I've read in a year. Abject.
    I like the phrase ‘curated information’ because nearly all of our information is curated. Desire and the body are the purest vectors that launch us past the tyranny of the curator. This only works when you really do fill a room (like your bedroom, Vanessa), with objects of desire. Some of us have our bedrooms curated by the superego…

    Speaking of your bedroom, now that your desire is pure, it's so surprising not only what, but WHO ends up there!