Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Museum of Lost Wonder

I had high hopes for The Museum of Lost Wonder, by Jeff Hoke. Beautiful volume--all the elegance, color, and quality paper of a coffee table book, but small enough to actually use. And the title sounded like there would be some fun creative explorations.

The museum format is clever; each topic is encapsulated in a room. Each room is presided over by a Muse, and has a latin name, and a cut-out model to build yourself, and a Gnomon comic, and a lot of short pieces of pithy commentary. It was, indeed, very promising.

Alas, the promise does not fulfill. Take the first topic, "Calcinatio," The Hall of Technology, defined as "Home of all our hopes, fear, and preoccupations with what civiliation has brought us." Whaaaat? OK, let's look a little closer. The Muse is Clio, for history. There are blurbs entitled "The Fire Within," "The First Fire," and "Let There Be Light." It's starting to come together. Until we turn the page, and launch into a spiral model of the universe and a flippant discussion of four creation myths. Then an experiment with a reverberating yawn, jumping rope, and making your own creation myth. Finally, a cut-out model of the universe. And then on to the next topic/room/Muse.

I found the whole thing to be incoherent, albeit beautiful to look at, which at some level made it worse. All that elegant confusion. And the self-aware tone made it impossible to dip in for nuggets of interest, because any relevant facts are obscured by mockery, so nothing can be taken at face value.

To wrap up, I quote the following from the introduction:

Warning: The weary, bored, and disenchanted are welcome in the Museum of Lost Wonder, but there are elements here that are not suitable for closed minds and cold hearts. Side effects may include doubt, irrationality, and synaptic pathway realignment. Enter at your own risk!

Sorry, Mr. Hoke, your expertise in designing museum exhibits does not translate to the literary medium. The side effects are turning out to be boredom, confusion, and irritation.


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