MR. WILSON'S CABINET OF WONDER: A Natural History of Amazement by Lawrence Weschler
Kirkus Star

MR. WILSON'S CABINET OF WONDER: A Natural History of Amazement

Email this review


A staff writer for the New Yorker presents a whimsical and often profound tour of a truly curious museum and its highly ironic curator. A couple of years ago, Weschler (A Miracle, A Universe, 1990, etc.) wandered into the Museum of Jurassic Technology, an unremarkable Los Angeles storefront that is the pet project of David Wilson, a most unusual curator. Here Weschler learned, among other wonders, of the Cameroonian stink ant, the Sonnabend Model of Obliscence, and the small hairy horn that grew on the head of Mary Davis of Saughall, deceased 1688. Intrigued, as might be expected, by this supremely odd collection, Weschler returned often to the MJT and began to explore the purpose and the implications of Wilson's strange exhibits, with the curator's somewhat reluctant and always elliptical help. Weschler discovered a modern Wunderkammern, or cabinet of wonders; a collection of natural and technological marvels similar to those that became popular in Renaissance Europe, as merchants and explorers brought home almost unbelievable souvenirs from the uncharted corners of the earth. But these are wonders presented with an ironic twist. The MJT ""infects its visitors with doubts,"" provoking two kinds of wonder: Viewers wonder first at the exhibits and second whether they could possibly be real. And that ""capacity for such delicious confusion,"" Wilson seems to say, ""may constitute the most blessedly wonderful thing about being human."" With all this in mind, Weschler can't help investigating the museum's more spectacular properties and, to his own increasing wonder, finds that although some facts have been rearranged, the basic information is often historically true. Gradually, and delightfully, Weschler's narrative takes on some of the ironic shading it describes, until the reader experiences that same ""slight slippage"" Weschler felt upon first entering the MJT. A small jewel of a book, as intricate and astonishing as the wonders it describes.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1995
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Pantheon