Degree Year

1997

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

Advisor(s)

William Patrick Day

Keywords

Rhetoric, Museum

Abstract

About two years ago I became interested in museums as rhetorical entities. I took a course at the Allen Memorial Art Museum where I got a sense of how arguments are created through the techniques of visual display, the socalled "informatics" of museum exhibition. In an art museum, however, these informatics are always bound into a relationship with the aura of the art object as artifact. In the context of a cult of art (an art museum?), the physical fact of an art object's existence can never be rhetorically negotiated. Even if nothing else is fixed, its physical presence acts as a stable foundation and provides boundaries for interpretation. My fundamentally textual ideas of rhetoric in visual display were always superseded by the aesthetic use of aura to enable transcendence for museum patrons. I was frustrated because the contextual rules for these objects did not allow me to question, manipulate and remake them in the way I find so pleasurable with texts and less privileged objects.

I turned to other types of museums in order to try and find a space where my ideas of rhetoric could operate without an allegiance to the transcendent narrative of art aesthetics. I considered natural history and science museums, but these spaces also privilege the truth of science or the authenticity of the artifact over the informatics of their display. That I really wanted was a space where the rhetoric of the display could take over and create an argument independent from the indisputable certainties of Art or Science.

The thing that I found, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, is so bizarre that I now question my original desire for such a place to exist. However, I have pressed forward with my thinking, trying to find a way to make sense of the MJT. The work that I have done revolves around my personal struggle to think through the issues implicated in this project. There has been a curious outcome of my work: I have lost the critical distance and separation that traditional essays employ in order to persuade. I have struggled to find a way to represent what I think is important about my experience of the Museum in the context of an English Honors essay. The rhetoric in this paper is weird, both as a reflection of the weird rhetoric in the Museum, and as a strategy of exposition. I realize that I am trying to explain something confusing (the Museum of Jurassic Technology) in a confusing way. But perhaps that is the only rhetoric appropriate to this context.

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