Waggish

The TLS reviews Cabinet Magazine

Keith Miller’s review is just surreal. And in the TLS no less.

The journal’s name, avowedly and fairly obviously, comes from the Renaissance Kunstkabinett, the princely chamber of wonders or curiosities, a system of ordering and contemplating the world which was not quite as disorderly as it seemed. There has of late been a revival of this approach in museum culture, a setting aside of Enlightenment taxonomies, which can, somewhat subversively, give the modern bourgeois museum-going public a taste of the old douceur de vivre. This is partly to do with richness, variety, a series of picturesque contrasts, that you don’t quite get if you put all your Japanese sake cups into one big glass case, say, with the oldest on the left and the newest on the right. But it’s also about exposing the public to a vanished world of privilege. The princely cabinet was a theatre of power as much as of knowledge. Certain conventions, certain “objectivities”, were widely upheld – broad Plinian distinctions between animal and mineral were generally if often mistakenly enforced, and a crocodile on the ceiling was de rigueur – but the suzerainty of one particular collector over one particular collection was nonetheless both a metaphorical reflection and a ritualized re-enactment of the divine spark which had, somewhere in the deep past, ignited the feudal principle. And on this spark, we museum-goers can warm our grateful hands today.

You could say that Cabinet works along similarly democratic lines, offering its readers a range of experiences which traditional didactic or organizational principles set aside in favour of a mundane “objectivity”. It is interested in art, nature and – in a fairly lowoctane way – science; in old things and new ones; in words and in pictures, all in an evenhanded but still inescapably capricious way. And the unlikely combinations of tone and subject encountered in its pages strive towards an enchanting, liberating effect: a tapping of the revolutionary energy of the miscellaneous. You can imagine some scholarly tut-tutting about Cabinet’s antitheoretical, and politically quietist, nature – though it is often alarmed about the environment – and you could object that the Park Slope intelligentsia who read the magazine, and from whom it solicits tax-free donations over and above the healthy cover price, constitute a kind of new princely class (it is more or less useless in any kind of workaday scholarly context). But on the whole the journal is a serious attempt to fulfil a frivolous purpose rather than a frivolous attempt to fulfil a serious one.

One Comment

  1. Mike M
    30 November 2010

    Do you have a policy against posting links, because I’d like to come out against that.

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