Friday, May 25, 2007

Cabinet Magazine, Wundercabinets & Athanasius Kircher

I've discovered that my appreciation for anything (music, books, website, etc,) has this cyclical tendency, on-again-off-again. I listen/read/visit, and then I get distracted and put down the pursuits. But often these interests reappear because I've found something else that compliment and reinforce something I liked at one time. More times then not I find that I am not alone in my appreciation of what ever has caught my interest.

Cabinet Magazine is one of those things. The magazine issues are collections of arcane facts and stories about people, places and ideas. And being a successful magazine, it must mean I'm not the only one reading about strange and unusual things. Like...
  • King C. Gillette (1855-1932), creator of the disposable razor published a book The Human Drift advocating the creation of a Utopian city near Niagara Falls. Why the Falls? A perfect source of power for his new society.
  • An article on "the Miniature Book Society, an organization whose interests extend only to printed works three inches or smaller."
  • And much, much more.

Last Monday, I called their NY office and ordered all of their back issues, the most current and got a 1-year subscription. Wednesday all the issues arrived! This is my attempt to surround myself with reading material that will capture my interest and keep me focused. A problem I've been having lately. I'm going to continue to attempt to get the remaining issues that were sold-out to complete my collection.

The magazine is influenced by the Wunder cabinet (
also Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities) . A precursor to museums (which means to excite the Muse) these cabinets or rooms were private collections of natural oddities, things, etc, that individuals would display on their homes. "Wundarkammern; cabinets of curiosities, which proliferated in the 16th and 17th centuries. These were usually collections of natural history specimens---skeletons, stuffed animals, fetuses. Sometimes they were ethnographical artifacts, brought from distant lands. Gathered magpie fashion, these cabinets were eclectic, unsystematic and sometimes a bit gruesome." The Getty Museum in LA has a book, Devices of Wonder, that includes the topic of curiosity cabinets in it.

And lastly, the 17th century Jesuit polymath who much of this oddness orbits around. From the Chronicle of Higher Educations article, Athanasius Kircher, Dude of Wonders...

"...The consensus is unambiguous: Athanasius Kircher was, indeed, very cool. A dude of wonders, even. Even a partial catalog of Kircher's accomplishments tends to make one's jaw drop. A German-born Jesuit priest, he served as a professor of mathematics at the Jesuit training institute in Rome. Nicknamed 'the master of a hundred arts,' Kircher also knew dozens of languages, including Chinese and Coptic. His scientific writings -- studied with rapt interest by scholars (Roman Catholic and otherwise) around the world -- included works on acoustics, astronomy, chemistry, mineralogy, and optics. He also published some of the earliest scholarship on ancient Egypt..."

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