Convergences upon convergences
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is Los Angeles.
In Lawrence Weschler’s book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders, the curator of the museum, David Wilson, comments that people seem to find the museum when they’re “ready” for it. When they reach a certain point in their lives where they’re able to accept what’s inside — what exactly that is, is debatable — and able to find some relevence with the odd collection of treasures, the museum sets its claws into the visitor’s brain for good.
It’s no coincidence that one of the first exhibits you encounter at the museum is of "The Stink Ant of the Cameroon", a large ant (“one of the very few to produce a cry audible to the human ear”) that inhales a microscopic spore which infects the ant’s brain, causing it to leave the forest floor for the first time and begin to climb a nearby tree. Once at a comfortable height, the ant inpales itself onto the tree and slowly dies while the spore continues to grow in the ant’s brain. Shortly after, a needle-like protrusion begins to form outside of the ant’s head which, eventually, rains down on the forest floor with more spores, infecting more ants and continuing the cycle. A more perfect natural analogy for how the museum works you couldn’t find. Which is why it’s probably a good time to point out there’s a decent chance the Stink Ant of the Cameroon is complete bullshit.
Do a Google search for the “Megolaponera Foetens” — the scientific name of the ant — and pretty much every hit is somehow related to the museum. It’s not that the story’s far-fetched — everyone has seen those time-lapse videos of snails or forest insects being slowly eaten away by fungus — but there’s a sense of distrust to this exhibit (a cry audible to the human ear?), a sense that continues to permiate throughout the rest of the museum. Walking around the various corridors you get, as one author put it, a sense of “slippage”. A melding of facts and fiction to create some other kind of “truth”. A friend of mine described it as “an adult McSweeney’s”, which is pretty much perfect.
(The same friend pointed out that the photos standing in for scientist Geoffrey Sonnabend in the expansive Delani/Sonnabend halls — one of my favorite pieces of art ever created once I figured out what the fuck the story being told actually was — are actually that of turn-of-the-century author Charles Fort, whose guiding principle was that he was skeptical of a person’s claim to ultimate knowledge, especially when that claim comes from scientists. It’s not hard to imagine the museum feels the same way.)
The first time I went to the museum was a few years back, a year into my new LA life while I was still trying to get my bearings on what exactly I was doing out here. During that visit, I thought the museum was kind of cool and strange, but not something necessarily worth the five-dollar suggested donation at the door. A few years later, a few more experiences down the line — I don’t recall why I went this second time — and the spore took. I couldn’t let the place go. I’ve been to it three times over the past six months and have been frantically looking up as much information as possible about the place, trying to “solve” it. To say it’s become an obsession is putting it lightly.
Going to it this most recent time last Thursday, I started working on a new theory that the museum is, essentially, about the interconnectivity of universe. (It’s not surprising that Weschler was drawn to this place, seeing as his other great book, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences, is all about how various images are similar to one another.) Now I realize that “interconnectivity of the universe” is a little too broad to be credible; it’s kind of like me saying something “is about love”. But when you distill any concept down to its core, there’s only so many theories one can reach — Georges Polti says there are only 36 different dramatic situations one can write about — so we’re just going to fucking go with it. After all, “going with it” is kind of the whole point of the interconnectivity principle.
When David Lynch created INLAND EMPIRE — and, to a lesser extent, Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway — it was all about using the properties of transcendental meditation to form some kind of narrative structure. Take a bunch of scenes and they’ll fit in together just fine if you trust the premise that the world — or at least the world of the author’s mind — is connected. (How successful that method is is up for debate.) Transcendental meditation is essentially about everything being connected. As is astrology. As is quantum physics. The same fabric of existence, interconnectivity, etc., etc.
Convergence upon convergence.
Take this for example: After Thursday’s trip, a friend and I went to Canter’s Deli. It was her first time to the museum and I was explaining this new “everything is connected” way of looking at it. She commented on the fact that, especially in Los Angeles, you tend to run into people way more often than you should in a city this large. We went back and forth a bit about whether this is because of the transient nature of LA residents (the folks that move here are the types that go out and mingle more often, adding more and more people to their social network, making it more probable they’ll see people they know), or the freelance nature of a lot of work in LA (you meet different people on differnet jobs, which leads to more jobs, which leads to more people, etc.), or if there’s just something surreal about the urban sprawl of LA. It’s a city, after all, that shouldn’t exist.
LA’s not located on any kind of water source that would be good for commercial ventures; the LA river doesn’t count, and while there is the proxomity to the ocean, the Long Beach harbor is NOT Los Angeles. It’s a city basically built on the proliferation of entertainment. Not so much as Las Vegas (which is a mind-fuck of a town in itself), but one that, if people weren’t so willing to waste their money on menial things, wouldn’t exist. It’s similar to David Milch’s Deadwood in that respect. That was a town essentially built on the fact that these people mining gold for hours and hours needed something to buy with it. Whether it was whiskey, gambling, poontang or, in the third and nonexistent fourth season, a playhouse, it was all about entertainment. Los Angeles makes your entertainment, because you need to spend your money on something.
Throughout a lot of books and interviews with Milch on Deadwood, he constantly brings up the concept of “the town as an organism”. Everyone is related to everyone. What one person does affects everyone, like ripples in a stream. (It’s worth pointing out that Milch’s way of writing Deadwood — learning everything he knew about the time and just “trusting the process” by an almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing — is similar to Lynch’s meditative filmmaking.) And it’s these stream ripples, this interconnectivity, that makes up LA. There’s a reason most of the great “interweaving and interconnected” movies (Magnolia, Pulp Fiction, Short Cuts, the entire concept of the film noir) are set in Los Angeles.
(To take the “interconnectivity” nonsense a step further, and why the fuck not because this thing’s not getting any shorter, the narrator at the beginning of Magnolia — the part that’s about everything being connected — is Ricky Jay, who has his own display of old dice in the museum.)
But let’s get back to my conversation at Canter’s. After a bit, we moved next door to the Kibbitz Room, sat down for a few drinks and continued going over this “everything is connected” nonsense. In the middle of our drinks, a woman walked in that I recognized immediately. You see, the previous Saturday night I went out to a friend’s comedy show at the UCB. Afterwards, we went next door to Birds which, unbeknowst to us, turns into some kind of annoying dance party after 11 or so. In the middle of our festivites, an older lady (let’s call her “Drunk Jen”) started to get a bit intense with her grinding and freaking around my naughty parts, at one point throwing her dress over my head, licking my beard and lips while not taking the hint I did not want to make out with her, and forcing me to motorboat her boobs. (MOTORBOAT RAPE!) If you have access to my Facebook page, there’s quite a few photos of the event I suggest you peruse.
In any case, this Drunk Jen, who I had just “met” for the first time less than a week ago, walked into this bar where we were talking about the interconnectivity of the universe and how LA is really a small town. Moments later she actually sat down next to me in the booth and introduced herself to me. (I didn’t really expect her to remember her motorboat raping me, seeing how drunk she was at the time.) A week earlier, she would have just been some anonymous girl. A few months later, she would have elicited one of those “she kind of looks familar, but I don’t know exactly why” responses. But because it was so recent, and such an interesting story (with photos!) that I was telling and retelling people throughout the week, for her to show up at that exact moment, in that exact bar, during that exact conversation … well, everything’s connected. Everything is part of the fabric of the universe.
Even crazy drunk skanks.