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A Night in the Royal Ontario Museum

A group oral commentary on the Margaret Atwood poem from 1968.
by

Naomi Middleton

on 28 October 2012

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Transcript of A Night in the Royal Ontario Museum

YOU ARE HERE A Night in the Royal Ontario Museum By Margaret Atwood About the Royal Ontario Museum Who locked me

into this crazed man-made
stone brain
where the weathered
totempole jabs a blunt
finger at the byzantine
mosaic dome

Under that ornate
golden cranium I wander
among fragments of gods, tarnished
coins, embalmed gestures
chronologically arranged,
looking for the EXIT sign

but in spite of the diagrams
at every corner, labelled
in red: YOU ARE HERE
the labyrinth holds me,

turning me around
the cafeteria, the washrooms,
a spiral through marble
Greece and Rome, the bronze
horses of China then past the carved masks, wood and fur
to where 5 plaster Indians

in a glass case
squat near a dusty fire

and further, confronting me
with a skeleton child, preserved
in the desert air, curled
beside a clay pot and a few beads.

I say I am far
enough, stop here please
no more

but the perverse museum, corridor
by corridor, an idiot
voice jogged by a pushed
button, repeats its memories

and I am dragged to the mind's
deadend, the roar of the bone-
yard, I am lost
among the mastodons
and beyond: a fossil
shell, then

samples of rocks
and minerals, even the thundering
tusks dwindling to pin-
points in the stellar
fluorescent-lighted
wastes of geology Analysis "Who locked me

into this crazed man-made
stone-brain
where the weathered
totempole jabs a blunt
finger at the byzantine
mosaic dome at once, violent and accusatory and helpless
totempoles and mosaic domes: grand structures, humbling, frightening
locked: an after-hours feeling, dim emergency lighting. Or a self-inflicted locked, a lost, nothing is right, the wolrd is against me where am I locked.
the zeds. the bees. the emms. Walking the line between harsh, direct, quick consonants and indirect, soft, soothing consonants. Tranquillizer sounds. Under that ornate
golden cranium I wander
among fragments of gods, tarnished
coins, embalming gestures
chronologically arranged,
looking for an EXIT sign" an air of ruin
wander, EXIT: slow, desperate, tranquillizing again
cranium, brain, mind motif
eerie adjectives
years and years of gesture, of gods, of people, of stuff all reduced, withered, fallen tragically into the order of things
gods, tarnished: the break creates a purposeful association "but in spite of the diagrams
at every corner, labelled
in red: YOU ARE HERE
the labyrinth holds me, diagrams ambush, feigning useless in their good intentions
YOU ARE HERE: you are trapped, in a museum, in this time, in this life, with these people, for a little while anyway. Reassuring, but inevitably affiliated with its darker opposite
labyrinth holds me: almost melodramatic. turning me around
around the cafeteria, the washrooms,
a spiral through marble
Greece and Rome, the bronze
horses of China then past the carved masks, wood and fur
to where 5 plaster Indians
in a glass case
squat near a dusty fire" "and further, confronting me
with a skeleton child, preserved
in the desert air, curled
beside a clay pot and a few beads I say I am far
enough, stop here please
no more but the perverse museum, corridor
by corridor, an idiot
voice jogged by a pushed
button, it repeats its memories" "and I am dragged to the mind's
deadend, the roar of the bone-
yard, I am lost
among the mastodons
and beyond: a fossil
shell, then samples of rocks
and minerals, even the thundering
tusks dwindling to pin-
points in the stellar
fluorescent-lighted
wastes of geology." turning: turning - the museum has stolen all sense of motor control, and is now director of any sort of movement. What's more, the only way to move is in circles.
around around: reinforces the classic motif: "Haven't we been here before?" The sense of entrapment is hereby augmented.
cafeteria, the washrooms: an interesting sequence of locations, both known to be loud and cramped, with an air of suffocating nausea.
spiral: the never-going-to-find-the-exit-oh-my-god paranoia shows up again.
marble: cold, unrelenting, the lock and permanency of stone - a sly cohort to the "stone brain".
Greece and Rome: two very different terrains, yet two very similar cultures. A game of cat and mouse, the Romans chasing the Greeks - both of which are edging upon the speaker.
bronze horses of China: everything in this stanza is made of something cold and ungiving. The tone darkens as a whole herd of these metal monsters hem in any attempt of escape. carved masks: such malicious syllables, all designed to further intimidate and muffle any thoughts of positivity or security.
wood and fur: compounding that fear of the alien and unknown.
5: a rather blunt way to put it, isn't it? 5. The speaker continues to grow claustrophobic - just a percussive "5" of panic.
plaster: again with the impassive and indifferent tone. An objectifying mocking tone, suggesting the museum is more of a prison than public house for history.
in a glass case: hammers home the labyrinth imagery, as if the speaker has now become one of the museum's own, being reduced by its trite displays. Isolated as this line is, it makes the boundaries of the maze constrict ever more. There is a sense of disconnect, of abandonment.
squat near a dusty fire: a primitive pose by a dead fire. All that represents man inevitably decays. A sense of disgust. Located in Toronto, Ontario, The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is one of the largest in North America, welcoming over one million visitors a year. Being Canada’s largest museum of world culture and natural history, it has maintained close relations with the University of Toronto since its opening, being founded in 1912. Originally under the direct management of the U of T, it became an independent institution in 1968. Today, the museum is Canada’s largest field research institution, with research and proactive conservation activities occurring all throughout the world. With more than six million items and forty galleries, the museum's diverse collections of world culture and natural history are part of the reason for its international reputation. The museum contains notable collections of dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites, Near Eastern and African art, East Asian art, European history, and Canadian history. It also houses the world's largest collection of fossils from the Burgess Shale with more than 150,000 specimens. The museum even contains an extensive collection of design and fine arts. These include clothing, interior, and product design, especially Art Deco.

"samples of rocks": rocks tell the history of the geology substitute the word "history" for "rocks"
"thundering tusks dwindling to pin-points": with tusks, one can read age rings, the pin-point is the birth, where the tusk started, as it matures, or reaches death, the tusk falls off tying to the “deadend” and the extinct “mastodons”
"thundering tusks dwindling": something that started strong in the end amounted to nothingness
"fluorescent-lighted": cold, unpleasant and unnatural light, trapped feeling, dizziness.
"wastes of geology": as opposed to treasures kept for preservation in a museum. one may feel that these treasures (the bones, fossil shells, rocks, minerals, and tusks) are not fulfilling their natural purpose to fertilize and give nutrients to the earth where they landed; instead they are wasting away in a museum. "Mind’s deadend": prehistoric, before memory, consciousness, lost
speaker is trapped inside her man-made world/mind, nowhere to get out
"the roar of the bone yard": an assault of images, looming. Before there was any other way of understanding. deafening sensory perception without emotion, reason, or language, personification
"Mastodons": in Canada, they are most prominently found in Ontario "skeleton child" -- death, life. the penultimate in images of despair.
"preserved" -- petrification.
"desert air" -- death, life.
"curled... clay pot and a few beads." -- embryonic image; lifeless symbols of life. sounds like something at the end of a life.
the gaps of gasping. "corridor/by corridor" -- the effect of the line break.
the idea that the museum, symbol of intellect, has an "idiot voice". Skye Naomi Aisha Vik DISCUSSION QUESTION? Ozymandias?
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