Wunderkammern

The embrace of “wonder” as an act of rebellion.

I love Aeon Magazine. I stumbled across it a few months ago and I can’t help but enjoy how it forces me to think more deeply about day-to-day living. More often than not it dig deeps into the past to find relics which point towards life today.

The article “How wonder works” by Jesse Prinz was perfect inspiration and I’ll start with the quote from it that moved me:

“Art museums are a recent invention, too. During the Middle Ages, artworks appeared almost exclusively in religious contexts. After that, they began cropping up in private collections, called cabinets of curiosity (Wunderkammern, in German).”

Let’s stop there, first in honor of beautiful German, Wunderkammern, but most importantly in consideration of this idea of “cabinets of curiosity”. I feel that we all keep those in some space or place. Either a physical shelf filled with objects from past vacations, photos, cards and collage, or knickknacks and bric-a-brac that’s piled up over years…

Or maybe not so physical: Instagram is a digital cabinet of curiosity, don’t you think? If you use Twitter, maybe the tweets you favorite (or retweet!) because they strike you as particularly profound or interesting, those would count, yes? I won’t comment on the Facebook “Like” button, because that I find to be a passive almost absentminded item (as is its spread across the webs in various incarnations)— [1], [2]

But, yes, when we are in the act of focused and thoughtful digital content creation, we are also engaging in a historically grounded act of cabinet-making of the curious and clever and, yes, the excess [3] (please read the entire article on Aeon), for “art, science, and religion are all forms of excess; they transcend the practical ends of daily life.”

Many of us spend Mondays to Fridays in an office. Perhaps we sit at an open desk or in a cube. Perhaps our Internet is monitored and our times at and away from our desk are being measured for purposes of productivity and value. Perhaps we’re going to engage on the Sad Desk Lunch or we’ll tap our feet because we need to go (“to go”!) but are unable to move away from our chair for fear of missing out some important email or phone call or alert – daily life is an act of restraint; the embrace of “wonder” is a rebellion.

Feeling a little riotous? I always am.

___

[1] I’m deeply disturbed by the overpowering prevalence of “liking” – I’ll refrain from adding a link because really that would require a number of links to cover all the commentary on it, but shall leave it at this: we “like” too many things. Like = meh and it’s a mindless activity.

[2] In opposition to the ‘meh’ of “liking”, I prefer things like #regram and a quoted re-tweet. Why? They require an additional step of engagement which with the dis-ease of that requirement (because those extra few seconds are so precious in our seamless, friction-less digital utopia) provides more proof of genuine interest. Therefore, I find those activities fundamentally more indicative.

[3] I think as a society we are uncomfortable with things like “excess”. Excess is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself; we need a bit of it. It’s the overabundance of excess, a gorging on it (please, excuse my graphic language) that turns excess into excessive. Excessive excess, not at all tongue-in-cheek, is what we most think/feel about when we hear the word “excess”. Replace “excess” with the word “wonder” (or joy or brilliance or exultation or indulgence or decadence) and add on the assumption that it is a momentary thing or a gift/a treasure/a precious experience, and I’m certain that the change in context is meaningful.

 

[Originally published on Medium, 3 July 2013]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s