I am sometimes amazed at the accuracy of my nose for news. The reading of omens is, you will comprehend, a child survivor strategy which, because it operates on an almost limbic, and yet learned level, I never really credit as fully evolved intelligence.

But it is. Thanks to the colloquy over at [a friends-locked blog] on bloviatin’ bloggers’ overuse of the term curating, I am reading, finally, a generation after everybody else, Douglas Crimp‘s admirably crystalline On the Ruin of Museums, which you can gank in PDF form here.

He says everything I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, while I was aware, in a mildly amused way, of the Foucauldian museum wars.*

These were at their fiercest while the Jews, the Native Americans, and the African Americans were all playing the race card to jockey their museums into one of the last few spaces of the Mall in D.C. — the Mall having been designed as America’s great democratic gathering space, bookended by the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

Of the pomo museums, the Holocaust Museum is the most Disneyesque — Epcot Auschwitz — I have yet seen, truly insulting.

(I hasten to add that its library, all honey-colored wood and carpet and clerestory light, is almost as gorgeous as the I.M. Pei library in the East Wing of the National Gallery, which may be the best modern space ever. You know I dote on library architecture, and had a long discussion once on my private blog about what a lady’s library might look like. Part of my love is that qua public space, libraries — like museums — are the very instrument of democracy. They are the tool with which nations are built, as Foucault argued, and as the Jews, and the Native Americans and the African Americans knew before he did. This piece, about America’s busiest library, in Queens, N.Y. makes me want to stand and sing every time I read it. Sometimes I can still believe. Rejecting the canon is for people who have a nation; and the very identity politics “museumization” seems to decry are the tell-tale, self-destructive, modern earmark of post-modernism.)

The best thing about the Native American museum is the way the pond has attracted and shelters “wild” birds within view of the Capitol.

It surprises me to think that people say Foucault defines post-modernism, as Crimp asserts, as rupture from past historicism. I thought (schooled by Marxists, I admit; I think Marx got modernity right, and I’m thrilled that Crimp quotes clever old wrong Adorno first) modernity itself was defined as rupture, coalescing, rupture — thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And that pomo, like fascism, is just one of modernity’s….antitheses? Or backlashes.

My latest theory is, we haven’t worked out the ideas and problems raised in the 19th century’s great access of modernity yet. The 20th century was all reaction to that shit, without any time spent working out you know, the issues raised in Saturn Devouring His Son or Faust or Our Mutual Friend, surely three of modernity’s greatest documents, much less Darwin and Marx. (Museumization note: Googling for an image to illustrate Faust building his metropolis, the number four image for “Faust’s metropolis” is a Flickr shot of my own backyard, which I’ve tagged “Faust’s Metropolis”. This is….sputter…sputter… retromingent.)

To which end, I am going to try to read Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club. You will congratulate me for the marathon achieved in completing the 800 page bio of William James, exceedingly well written, I must say, on a subject worth every page, fascinating as a survey of the enormities of the 19th century (Swedenborg! holy crap! the Civil War! Boston as the capital of the republic of women! America as the laboratory of modernity!), and accurately subtitled In the Maelstrom of American Modernism,  touched upon above. In short, a true portrait of modernity at its most influential, the point to which, my nose for news tells me, we are just now getting back to.

As one of the major progenitors of modernity, you don’t want to mess with Goya.

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*I think they are well-taken, the essentially feminist, queer, subaltern arguments of the baby boomer counterculture. Nuthin’ pomo about that.

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