Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Dead and Gone

Museums have never interested me. No matter how grand or how humble, they have always been areas of empty scholastic pursuit for me: dry and lifeless. The Tokugawa Art Museum was, in the end, no different for me, but the process of walking through its halls and being utterly underwhelmed helped me realize just what it is about museums that utterly disinterests me.

It isn't the history aspect. All of the ancient shrines and temples that we visit enamor me; there's something so indescribable about those experiences. Perhaps it's because there is a beauty that is so astounding, so arresting, that it is almost otherworldly, or perhaps it's because there is always a heavy, deep feeling that comes simply from the age of these buildings, but in any case, those feelings wouldn't exist were it not for the history mounted on the walls and in the beams of these sites. In a very literal sense, they are history. When you walk through their doors, you walk into a different world, one that has otherwise long been forgotten.

Museums have a distinctly different aura. You aren't transported to another time -- you aren't even supposed to be transported; instead, everything is presented to you as a show, something that you yourself could never participate in. There is, in short, a very clear and ever-present wall between you and the object, and when the object is the history, it is impossible not to feel like a foreign identity, hovering and dissecting something that you could never truly understand. The distance removes the bridge.

And, even more than that, the objects themselves are dead. Not only has the viewer been removed from the culture and time of the objects, the objects have been completely displaced from their own time also. They have no context; they're lone survivors of places forever forgotten. You can't get an idea of life from them because they have none of their own, and that simple fact drains whatever wonder and beauty they may once have had.

Museums may have their place in the world, but it's a place too lifeless for me.

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