Madness and Civilization
Cabinet magazine rewrites the encyclopedia
On January 30, approximately 180 people overfilled an auditorium in the New York Public Library to witness an event titled (after Musil, in part) “Cabinet on Trial: A Magazine of No Qualities?” Forty-five issues into Cabinet’s run, which began thirteen years ago, a hefty compendium called Curiosity and Method: Ten Years of Cabinet Magazine is being published. This large orange tome defines itself bluntly, and early: “THIS BOOK IS AN ENCYCLOPEDIA.” Typical entries include “Mauve,” a short essay on the chemical and cultural components of the dye, and “Public Relations,” a history of the corporate push behind popularizing the banana in the ’50s. The model in mind for the book was the 1974 Encyclopaedia Britannica, “a thirty-volume effort to get the cosmos onto paper.” This collection had no index, though earlier versions did. Curiosity and Method, only 528 pages long, also lacks an index. The editors promise to publish one on the magazine’s twentieth anniversary.
But there is no need for an index, which is, obliquely, what the mock trial was about. The NYPL event echoed a 1921 Dada trial of Maurice Barrès, staged by André Breton to address Barrès’s collusion with nationalist groups like Action Française. (“Mock trial” is still appropriate in this case, as Barrès skipped town and was represented by a mannequin.) But the Cabinet event was much closer in mood and practice to the 2007 trial in Madrid of Anton Vidokle and Tirdad Zolghadr, charged with “collusion with the bourgeoisie and other serious accusations.” (Those judges and prosecutors, as at the NYPL event, were drawn