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October 18, 2005
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· An Ironic Turning Place ·
Our Wednesday discussion dealt with one such, David Wilson, the curator of The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The book we discussed, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (1995), examines the MJT and puts me in mind of the odd serendipity of my topical connection there: the strange, perhaps ironic fact that Wilson's museum occupies an old L. A. barber shop I haunted as a kid in the 1940s.
But it is the larger topic — almost as Booth discusses it — of irony itself that matters here; for in Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler extends Booth's fine take on irony by noting a Rilke quote drawn from the Letters to a Young Poet — one happily fit in his text to the thought that "The first layers are just a filter"*:
Though I can't begin to mark the richness of Wilson's place — much less that of Weschler's fine book — I can at least mark a modest effort, made some twenty years ago now, to examine another American artist, Henry James, in his short story "The Real Thing." It too dwells in the ironic slip between reality and appearance, and I thought to include it.
I've some added notes, but it's offered here as drafted — not under the influence of Wayne Booth but that of Paul de Man — as an early, academic effort toward deconstructive anti-deconstructive theory. Should that sound like a bunch of "unreliable narration," I'll let you, of course, be the judge.
*In context, Wilson has told Weschler (on p. 62) "I don't understand the difference [between aesthetically and ethically just men]" :
Re: The Museum of Jurassic Technology (esp., the Current Developments link — which I cannot reproduce here). Is this guy serious?
The MacArthur Foundation at least thinks so, since Mr. Wilson won, in 2001, $500,000 since used to enlarge the MJT.
It must be nice to be a genius.
Perhaps his Tea Room and Kabinet Theater are MacArthur additions.
At your recommendation, Styles, I bought Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder. Whether genius or eccentric, whether reliable or not, Wilson writes beautifully!
That's Weschler, of course — and I agree.
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