Lily Melendez

Weekly Response #5: Visible and Invisible Assemblages

1. Pomian emphasized the collection as a synthesis of the unseen. For example, speaking upon funeral objects, Pomian describes the exchange as “presuppos[ing] the division of human beings into two groups, those in this world and the others in the next” (Pomian 1990, 20). In this sense, we can understand the collection as a convergence of “intermediaries,” communicating the values, ideas, and histories that are not currently existing or familiar. These objects, what Pomian coins ‘semiophores,’ like photos, relics, artwork, and fashion speak to us visibly the matters that would otherwise be forgotten or ignored by the general public. Considering this, the collection is a form of eternal knowledge and communication; just as the subject of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 lives on through the readers reading the work, the hidden meanings behind each object of a collection will essentially be granted new life with each viewing. In this way, collections manifest permanence through an organization of temporary, invisible wonders, “turn[ing] the transient into the lasting” by joining several relative objects in a guarded fashion—the museum (36). 

2. Like a “book, brimming with illustrations…lists of extraordinary things,” the Wunderkammer serves to organize the unorganized in a sense (Eco 2009, 201). These ‘wonder cabinets’ converge the “bizarre” items and knowledge that is often neglected in a way that captures the excitement of learning new things (201). The Wunderkammers function as “miniature museums,” which I find interesting as some are designed as cupboards in which the observer has to physically open the drawers to view the items. I feel this design attends to the concept that observing these objects is an act of a more intimate search and discover of new knowledge. When Eco says they “symbolize the dream of total scientific knowledge,” I believe he is expanding on the cabinet’s role of containing all the abstract, incongruent objects in a singular, accessible space. For instance, as one can uncover information about “hydraulic machines,” he can simultaneously observe “magnetic clocks” and “skeletons of eagles” in the case of Kircher’s museum (204-205). 

3. Both Pomian and Eco highlight the need to make the invisible visible on a more public level. Eco describes the “miniature museums” of the Wunderkammer as making the “stuff of legend [a] reality” (Eco 2009, 201). Pomian emulates this as he denotes the collection as creating an “eternity [in] itself…containing the most diverse of beings” of the past to present to the future (Pomian 1990, 24). One of the main differences between the two approaches and mediums, as in the museum and the wonder cabinets in utilizing the collection, is their emphasis on varying organizational techniques. The museum combines and displays artifacts of similar origin and theme, whereas it seems the Wunderkammer is less limited in its attempt to showcase the bizarre and capitalize on the feeling of excitement like opening a cupboard and not knowing what one will see. Also, Pomian speaks more upon the aspect of collecting objects for prestige and material gain, while Eco’s exploration of the collection focuses less on the history and cultural phenomenon surrounding the accumulation but more over examples and explicit details of the items. One question I have relates to Pomian’s idea of the semiophore. He explains how many objects convey hidden meanings through explicit representation and detail. I wonder if you can conceptualize this “thingness” in terms of language itself. For instance, synecdoches of the English language, like saying “The White House” in reference to all the people of U.S. government, function as some sort of semiophore in a sense. Can we understand the idea of the invisible and visible in terms of language patterns and its evolutions through historical and cultural contexts?