The Cabinet of Curiosities

Some cen­tur­ies ago, it was com­mon for wealthy indi­vidu­als to indulge their appet­ite for the strange using so-called cab­in­ets of curi­os­it­ies. These were not cab­in­ets in the mod­ern sense. They were rooms arranged with arte­facts for which cat­egor­ies had yet to be inven­ted. Narwhal horns. Fossils.

There is a sense in which my cur­rent novel, The Amber Rooms (Saskia Brandt 3), is a cab­inet of curi­os­it­ies. Even now, I can­not be sure how the ele­ments will cohere. They simply interest me. There is the Amber room itself. There are ele­ments of Soviet pro­pa­ganda, such as songs ded­ic­ated to Josef Stalin. To this list I could add another six or seven ele­ments; how­ever, to do so here would spoil the book.

From Wikipedia:

The jux­ta­pos­i­tion of such dis­par­ate objects, accord­ing to Horst Bredekamp’s ana­lysis (Bredekamp 1995) encour­aged com­par­is­ons, find­ing ana­lo­gies and par­al­lels and favoured the cul­tural change from a world viewed as static to a dynamic view of end­lessly trans­form­ing nat­ural his­tory and a his­tor­ical per­spect­ive that led in the sev­en­teenth cen­tury to the germs of a sci­entific view of reality.

I am cur­rently two thirds of the way through the final draft. In six weeks or so, it will be com­plete. The meta­phors at the sen­tence level, scene level, and the level of the story itself will have come together. Their jux­ta­pos­i­tions will be set. It might sur­prise you that I do not know for sure when this will hap­pen, or even if. What is the book about? How does this qual­ity of ‘about­ness’ inform the plot? Which impres­sions will be left in the mind of the reader six months after the book is closed?

The curi­os­it­ies for my novel Déjà Vu made little sense to me at the close of the first draft. It was only later, months later, that I changed the research pro­ject of Jennifer Proctor from some­thing inter­est­ing but them­at­ic­ally irrel­ev­ant to time travel. That was the eureka moment for Déjà Vu. Curiosities, which I had been col­lect­ing for years, came together.

For Flashback, the eureka moment arrived early. I was read­ing a fairytale in which a char­ac­ter cut her fin­ger and fell into a bewitched sleep. Then I under­stood how the recon­struc­tion of memory uni­fied stor­ies of Saskia, Cory, and Jem.

Right now, whenever I open the file con­tain­ing the latest draft of the Amber Rooms, I feel like an 18th-century man of inde­pend­ent means brows­ing his cab­inet of curi­os­it­ies. Why are these things inter­est­ing? How should a vis­itor be intro­duced to them? What are they doing in this room any­way? Back to the basic ques­tion: why are these things interesting?

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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