By David L Martin
Rembrandt's well-known portray of an anatomy lesson, the shrunken head of an Australian indigenous chief, an aerial view of Paris from a balloon: all are home windows to attraction, curiosities that light up anything shadowy and forgotten lurking in the back of the neat facade of a rational international. In Curious Visions of Modernity, David Martin unpacks a suite of artifacts from the visible and historic information of modernity, discovering in every one a slippage of clinical rationality--a repressed heterogeneity in the homogenized buildings of post-Enlightenment wisdom. In doing so, he exposes modernity and its visible tradition as haunted via accurately these issues that rationality sought to expunge from the "enlightened" international: appeal, magic, and wonderment. Martin lines the genealogies of what he considers 3 of the main distinctive and traditionally instant fields of recent visible tradition: the gathering, the physique, and the mapping of areas. In a story similar to the many-drawered interest cupboards of the Renaissance instead of the locked glass situations of the fashionable museum, he exhibits us a international renewed throughout the act of amassing the wondrous and aberrant gadgets of production; tortured and damaged flesh emerging from the dissecting tables of anatomy theaters to stalk the discourses of scientific wisdom; and the spilling forth of a pictorializing geometry from the gilt frames of Renaissance panel work to venerate a panoptic god. Accounting for the visible disenchantment of modernity, Martin deals a curious imaginative and prescient of its reenchantment.
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Extra info for Curious visions of modernity : enchantment, magic, and the sacred
The disruptive effects on the perceived “naturalness” of modern typologies by the prioritization of the alternative ordering systems of resemblance and similitude, as seen in the initial three tableaux of the exhibition’s curiosity cabinet, although entirely reliant on the museum exhibit that followed, was “Microcosms” at its critical best. Here was contemporary museology respecting the epistemological boundaries that separate the discursive formations of modern knowledge production and its ordering from that of its historical predecessors; here was contemporary museology acknowledging that just because specific items that were once found in Renaissance curiosity cabinets became the founding objects of the modern museum does not mean that those objects, or the practices that surrounded them, took the same meaning in each formation.
Proceeding in this fashion enables us to see why it is that most modern efforts at museological “enchantment” through the adoption of either “pre-” or “early modern” notions of collection are destined to failure, as it exposes the way that such strategies are little more than the projection of modern discourses (discourses like the treasure hoard) back onto the past. The effect of this is that the “magic” that enabled the reliquary to transfigure its beholder with a divine light, or the princely ruler to command the heavens and the earth from within their studiolo or cabinet, is shattered by the modern typologies that heralded the death of such “superstition” during the Enlightenment.
In spite of its nuanced understanding of how the Renaissance notions of similitude and resemblance could disrupt the neat modern divisions between natural and artificial, living and dead, being and representation, or genuine and authentic, “Microcosms” equally denied the veracity of such Renaissance modes of knowledge production and ordering as being anything other than the absence of modern taxonomies. The effect of this was that “Microcosms” tended to subsume the regime of curiosity within a teleological history that effectively began back in the fifteenth century and continues unbroken to this day.