- Hardcover: 163 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (October 10, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679439986
- ISBN-13: 978-0679439981
- Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 57 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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MR. WILSON'S CABINET OF WONDER: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Techno logy Hardcover – October 10, 1995
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In the non-Aristotelian, non-Euclidean, non-Newtonian space between the walls of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles exist bats that can fly through lead barriers, spore-ingesting pronged ants, elaborate theories of memory, and a host of other off-kilter scientific oddities that challenge the traditional notions of truth and fiction. Lawrence Weschler's book, expanded from an article for Harper's, is, at turns, a tour of the museum, a profile of its founder and curator, David Wilson, and a meditation on the role of imagination and authority in all museums, in science and in life. Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder is an exquisite piece of "magic realist nonfiction" that will prove utterly captivating.
From Publishers Weekly
As in previous books such as Shapinsky's Karma, Boggs's Bills and Other True-Life Tales, Weschler, a staff writer for the New Yorker, explores with detail and delight some knotty questions of culture and trickery. The first half of the book is an expanded version of an article he wrote for Harper's and ruminates about the little-known Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, querying its elfin, straight-faced founder/proprietor, David Wilson, and tracking the detailed yet mainly bogus tales behind Wilson's elaborate sham artifacts. Such adventures lead Weschler to muse on the nature of museums and of wonder, and, in the book's second half, to recount the further investigations spurred by readers' letters. The impulse to inventory oddities, he observes, dates back to Europeans' wonderment at the New World. Wilson, he concludes, has tapped "into the premodern wellsprings of the postmodern temper." Slight, but memorable. Illustrations.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I have not been to the MJT, but this book has certainly put it on the itinerary of my next trip to LA. Presenting itself as a natural history museum, the MJT features meticulously detailed exhibits that may or may not pertain to "real" phenomena. The pronged ant of the title, for example, may be unknown to science under the name Megolaponera Foetens but, as Wechsler discovers, its odd life history is perfectly plausible: a large ant, and the only one that produces a cry audible to humans, normally forages on the forest floor; however, after ingesting the spore of a fungus, it climbs upward and then waits to die as the fungus consumes its body from the inside, finally generating a spike about an inch long from the place where the ant's head was, which distributes spores downward, to be breathed by other Megolaponera Foetens.
The book (and, presumably, the MJT) makes you think about the purpose of museums, and whether the relative "truth" of things that astonish you matters.
In other words, since reality routinely trumps imagination, why quibble?
The author is a compelling writer with a great sense of absurdity. It was easy to see why the book, although slim, was nominated for literary prizes.
Readers who enjoy Nick Bantock The Museum at Purgatory (Byzantium Book),Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and Barbara Hodgeson The Tattooed Map: A Novel,The Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel, will revel in this non-fiction sidebar to collecting and museums