Musée à croissance illimitée


Thanks to that excellent blog Futility Closet I’ve learned about Le Corbusier’s idea for a Musée à croissance illimitée, a museum “that would grow like a snail’s shell, coiling in a rectangular spiral as needs required and as funds became available.” Corbu explained that “Every time a visitor, in the course of his wanderings, finds himself under a lowered ceiling he will see, on one side, an exit to the garden, and on the opposite side, the way to the central hall. The Museum can be developed to a considerable length without the square spiral becoming a labyrinth.”

This strikes me as a wonderful model for developing a complex set of ideas over time, and one for which the blog, or more generally the hyperlinked online site, is especially well-suited. As a number of commentators have pointed out, this is what Walter Bemjamin was doing with his Arcades project, which was hypertext before hypertext: “the theater,” he said, “of all my struggles and all my ideas,” precisely because it was necessarily unordered and unfinished. When Arcades was published in book form, many critics complained about the way it was ordered, but of course any and every ordering was subject to the same criticism. The very idea of the project defies the structuring of the codex.

For some years I wanted to write a book called The Gospel of the Trees, but couldn’t make it cohere into a linear form, and a finally realized that it would be better as a website comprised of text and images that can only be navigated randomly. That project is only somewhat Benjaminesque, because while it’s nonlinear and (theoretically) open-ended, it has a single theme, whereas Arcades represents all of Benjamin’s thinking.

I like writing books, and my employer likes for me to write books, but I really do think that if I were independently wealthy I’d spend the rest of my life making my own universal, non-linear Musée à croissance illimitée right here on this blog. And see, after many years, what it all adds up to.