Plush volcanoes: triumph of the strange and curious

Source and conduit of telluric, chthonic creation and destruction, the volcano embodies the most fearful and exhilarating elements of the sublime for thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Anne Carson and everyone who falls between them. The volcano is nothing to toy with, which makes its taming into a cuddly plush plaything as strangely wonderful as it is.* 

The volcano, like the sea, represents the primordial and pre-human for the modern mind, existing prior to the formation of life on a young planet that is imagined as hostile and foreboding; a monstrous and fearful environment. A recent and worthwhile review of maps and monstrosity titled ‘Here be Monsters’ states that,

primordial monsters are hybrids defying nature. They belong to dark places, those underworlds under land and sea—volcanoes, ocean abysses—because they embody our lack of understanding, and mirror it in their savagery and disorderly, heterogeneous asymmetries of shape.

Another recent and worthy review titled 'Triumph of the Strange' riffs on the topics of wonder and curiosity and the resurgence of interest in odd polymaths such as Athanasius Kircher:

As museums were built for science and galleries for art, the curiosity cabinet went underground, resurfacing in 20th-century Surrealism... By the 1990s, curiosity cabinets resonated with the ambitions of interdisciplinarity in the humanities and, more specifically, the post-positivist turn in the history of science. If one no longer regarded the Wunderkammer as a bizarre pre-scientific foible, it became possible to ask what kind of epistemology it implied.

The plush volcano, then, is perhaps viewable as an interdisciplinary bit of surrealism in the commodified Amazon locker/cabinet of collections? The 'Triumph of the Strange' piece might give a more accurate description of its soft and squishy materiality as being more specifically that of,

"Untranscended materiality": this is how the anthropologist Peter Pels defines curiosities—as singularly unrepresentative things—things that almost point to other things, but ultimately only back at themselves, like the shapes in Roger Caillois's dreamily patterned stones...

To return to points brought out in the 'Here be Monsters' review, that which could be potentially dismissed as whimsy (Medieval cartographic sea monsters) or play (the lyric drama of Fishskin Trousers) is in fact indicative of a great deal more. Our envisioning of a primordially monstrous environment of the past is less fearful than that of a future bounded by environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change. Our monstrous ignorance 'is no longer epistemological but ethical' and the true monstrosities of our high modern period are scientific overreach, cruelty, exclusion, and intolerance.


*This particular plush volcano comes with a set of resident dinosaurs who live in caves at the base of what appears to be an andesitic stratovolcano. While a dinosaur is a thing of wonder and fright, monstrous in form and size,  the volcano is more powerful than the dinosaur [though do see this app for some pterodactyl comeuppance].


2013-12-12 plush volcano.JPG