the cone of confabulation

This excerpt is taken from a longer article written by Lawrence Weschler for Harper’s Magazine in 1994. You can read the whole piece here. Or you could visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver city, California and see these things for yourself.

image found here

“Donald R. Griffith, Rockefeller University’s eminent chiroptologist and author of Listening in the Dark, was reading the field reports of an obscure nineteenth century ethnographer named Bernard Maston. While working in 1872 among the Dozo of northern South America, Maston reported having heard several accounts of the deprong mori, or piercing devil, which he described as “a small demon which the local savages believe able to penetrate solid objects,” such as the walls of their thatch huts and, in one instance, even a child’s outstretched arm.

Deprong Mori found here

Griffith, as he later recounted, “smelled a bat.” He and a band of assistants undertook an arduous eight month expedition to the Tripsicum Plateau, where Griffith grew increasingly convinced that he was dealing not with just any bat but with a very special bat indeed, and specifically the tiny Myotis lucifugus, which though previously documented had never before been studied in detail.

bat found here

Furthermore, these particular bats had evolved highly elaborate nose leaves, or horns, which allowed them to focus their echowave transmissions in a narrow beam, which could account for the wide range of bizarre effects described by Maston’s informants.

needle felt bat found here

Griffith devised a brilliant snaring device consisting of five solid lead walls, each one eight inches thick, twenty feet high, and two hundred feet long — all of them arrayed in a radial pattern, like spokes of a giant wheel, along the forest floor. The team affixed seismic sensors all along the walls in an intricate gridlike pattern, and proceeded to wait.

radial pattern found here

Early on the morning of August 18, the sensors recorded a pock. The number three wall had received an impact twelve feet above the forest floor, 193 feet out from the center of the wheel. The team members carted an X-ray-viewing device out to the indicated spot, and sure enough, at a depth of 7 1/8 inches, they located the first Myotis lucifugus ever contained by man, “eternally frozen in a mass of solid lead.

x ray device found here

The story of Myotis lucifugus, the Dozo and the deprong mori, Bernard Maston and Donald R. Griffith can be found in a small, nondescript storefront operation located in Culver City in the middle of Los Angeles’s pseudo-urban sprawl: the Museum of Jurassic Technology.The door is likely to be opened by David Hildebrand Wilson himself, the museum’s founder and director.

David H Wilson found here

I suppose I should say something here about Wilson’s own presence, his own look, for it is of a piece with his museum. I have described him as diminutive, though a better word might be “simian.” His features are soft and yet precise, a broad forehead, short black hair graying at the sides, a close-cropped version of an Amish beard, sans mustache, fringing his face and filling into his cheeks. He wears circular glasses which accentuate the elfin effect. He’s been described as Ahab inhabiting the body of Puck (a pixie Ahab, a monomaniacal Puck), but the best description I ever heard came from his wife of twenty-five years, Diana, who one day characterized his looks for me as those of “a pubescent Neanderthal.”

Puck found here

After my museum visit I went to the library and looked up the ethnographer Bernard Maston: no record found. I typed in “Donald R. Griffith”: no record found. I tried that reference by title too — Listening in the Dark — and that time I hit pay dirt, except that the book had a different subtitle and its author was Donald R. Griffin, not Griffith. I went upstairs to look over the book’s index but found no references to Maston, the Dozo, or any deprong mori. I went back downstairs, tracked down Griffin’s whereabouts, and called him. I started out by explaining about the museum (he’d never heard of it) and its exhibit about Donald R. Griffith — “Oh no,” he interrupted. “My name is Griffin, with an n, not Griffith.” I know, I said, I know. I went on to ask him if he’d ever heard of a bat named Myotis lucifugus. “Of course.” he said, “It’s the most common species in North America. We used it on all the early research on echolocation.” Did its range extend to South America? Not as far as he knew, why? As I proceeded to tell him about the piercing devils and the thatch roofs, the lead walls and the X-ray emanations, he was laughing harder and harder. Finally, calming down, he said, “No, no, none of that is me, it’s all nonsense — on second thought you’d better leave the spelling of the name Griffith the way it is.” 


He never ever breaks irony — that’s one of the incredible things about him.” says Marcia Tucker, the director of New York City’s New Museum, about David Wilson. It turns out there’s a growing cult among art and museum people who can’t seem to get enough of the MJT — I encountered it everywhere I turned: the L.A. County Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Getty. “When you’re in there with him,” Tucker went on, “everything initially just seems what it is. There’s this fine line, though, between knowing you’re experiencing something and sensing that something is wrong. There’s this slight slippage, which is the very essence of the place. And Wilson’s own presence there behind the desk, the literal-minded way in which he earnestly answers your questions — it all contributes seamlessly to that sense of slippage. Visiting the Jurassic is a bit like being in psychoanalysis. The place affords this marvelous field for projection and transference. It’s like a museum, a critique of museums, and a celebration of museums — all rolled into one.”

image found here

I SO want to go there…… don’t you?

Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Comments (41)  
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41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh, yes! I adore odd-ball stuff. Sort of steam punk meets High School Chemistry, isn’t it?

    • I knew you’d like this dinah

  2. For the “slippage…projection & transference…” experience, I’d like to go. As for seeing any bats, no. I’ve had enough of them flying about my head to last me a lifetime. They terrify me. Alive or dead.

    (I think I’ve found a job for my eldest – he can pull off that irony, literal–mindedness thing “to a tee.”)

    Mice on toast?? *cringe*

  3. Wow – I stayed in Culver City for FOUR MONTHS and never knew about the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Crikey.

    The Griffith story rings so many alarm bells though (even if you do buy the concept of a bat that can fly through solid objects) – five walls of lead 20 feet high and 200 feet long? That’s a MASSIVE amount of lead to contemplate, aside from the enormous engineering feat of erecting it on the ‘Tripsicum Plateau’…

    But I do so love a good yarn.

    (You probably should have saved this one for April 1 Nurse Myra)

    • Damn! Missed opportunity. Did you read the rest of the article Pete? It’s right up your alley.

      • Oh yes – I read it all, and I also spent far too long looking around the Museum site (enjoying such treatises as Geoffey Sonnabend’s
        “Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter: An Encapsulation by Valentine Worth”)

        Next time I’m in LA, it will be the first thing on my list.

      • The Sonnabend part was fantastic. If I had a bucket list this museum would be at the top of it.

  4. Definitely! Sounds like almost a good reason to cross the Atlantic.
    In England, there’s a fascinating museum called the Cuming Museum which is quite small (but most of its stuff is in store). It is based on a collection of curiosities collected by a family – quite a rich family. I mean really strange stuff. The one that sticks in my mind was a mutton bone in a dress. A very poor little girl was playing for it and was only too glad to swop it for a nice new doll which the collector offered her in exchange. There is something very peculiar about that mutton bone.

    • This is where I want to go!

      • Oh me too! I love a strange museum, thanks for bringing it to my attention Jenny.


  6. I wonder .. I have stood in the mouth of a cave as bats emerged for the evening hunt, thousands of bats. flying about my head, and never once has one run into me or even gotten close to my hair.

    This whole store reminds me of the UFO museum in Roswell, NM, anohter place of confabulation well worth visitng….

    • I spent two weeks in New Mexico in 2001, but I never went there 😦

  7. I love it. I think he is the true heir of Athanasius Kircher. A friend of mine cited in all his articles and writings one imaginary work, not always the same of course. Maybe Maston could be found in this catalogue? One should ask the director of the library, Borges, too (think Tlön Uqbar et orbis tertius).

    • Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon sounds like a person of interest

  8. Only on April 1st.

    • Maybe at Halloween too?

  9. Would love to go there.

    Excellent bat pictures!

    • I love bats. I have a very pretty pink bat brooch 🙂

  10. lol “a pubescent Neanderthal.”

    there’s a bad that comes in every night and hangs in my laundry room.
    he’s been here for 4 years already. sometimes when he’s not here, i miss him.

    • Does he come alone? No mate?

  11. Fantastic, the museum really is as wonderful as it sounds, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house and always one of the first places I take visitors to town. There’s a Russian Tea Room upstairs with a gallery of oil paintings of the Russian Space Program dogs. Belka & Strelka are my personal favourites.

    • you’ll have to take me there too one day Kirk!

  12. Creating that “slippage” is part of the art of living creatively, a far more interesting way of living than the honesty urged on us by religion and its equally wrongheaded secular equivalent, authenticity.

    I liked 63mago’s reference to the universally encompassing library of Borges. Another Borges story refers to the elusive nature of verisimilitude – the translation of Don Quixote by Pierre Menard (with the suggestion in the surname of “the liar”).

    • So many big words…..

  13. I so want to visit!

    • You and me both:-)

  14. Road trip? i would absolutely love this! Right up there with another favorite of mine, the “Journal of Irreproducible Results”….

    • daisyfae and nursemyra on a road trip… even more exciting than their adventures in Seville, Lesbos, NYC and Chicago…. more corsets, more margaritas and more museums…..

  15. That must be why I’ve been feeling a bit off recently – it must be the tiny Myotis Lucifugus embedded in my left arm. Where did I put my magnifying glass?

    As for the sense of slippage, I get that often enough anyway. A combination of my oddball personality and this bizarre world we live in.

    • Do you need a hand to get it out? I’m good with a scalpel

  16. Never heard of a chiroptologist. Had to look that one up.

    • Me too. I thought it was someone who clipped toenails

  17. That x-ray device looks a bit… questionable…
    am I glowing?

    • Not yet. but I think it’s time you came back in the shade

  18. I’d certainly like to visit that museum, being a fan of odd things and all.

    • Have you got any odd museums where you live Terra?

      • None that I know off. They do bring in some unique exhibitions every now and then to the National Museum, though…

  19. “A small demon which the local savages believe able to penetrate solid objects.”

    Change “small demon” to “my brother” and “solid objects” to “my parents,” and you’ve just described by nuclear family.

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