Borges surfaced recently in an essay by famously difficult French philosopher Michel Foucault. I couldn't finish the essay because I'm just not clever enough. But I loved the Borgesian conceit, in an essay El idioma analítico de John Wilkins [full text] alluded to by Foucault, that a chap called John Wilkins has discovered a Chinese encyclopedia called the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge which, helpfully, classifies animals into 14 distinct bins:
(a) pertenecientes al Emperador; those belonging to the Emperor
(b) embalsamados, embalmed ones
(c) amaestrados, tame / trained ones
(d) lechones, suckling pigs
(e) sirenas, mermaids / sirens
(f) fabulosos, the simply fabulous
(g) perros sueltos, stray dogs
(h) incluidos en esta clasificación, included in this list
(i) que se agitan como locos, the frenzied
(j) innumerables, the uncountable
(k) dibujados con un pincel finísimo de pelo de camello, those drawn with a fine camel-hair brush
(1) etcétera, Etc.
(m) que acaban de romper el jarrón, those which have just broken the vase
(n) que de lejos parecen moscas those which look like flies from a distance
There, you see Bob, classification of the natural world is dead simple if you're not hide-bound by what you "know for sure but just ain't true". Shaking us from our certainties is one of the prime functions of great literature.
Such a list! It gives me the excuse to put out again [first] Ann Fadiman's list of 22 words unknown to her that she encountered, as an adult, in a single book . . . about cats: adapertile; adytum; agathodemon; alcalde; apozemical; aspergill; calineries; camorra; cupellation; diapason; goetic; grimoire; ithyphallic; kakodemon; mephitic; monophysite; opapanax; paludal; perllan; retromingentadapertile; adytum; agathodemon; alcalde; apozemical; aspergill; calineries; camorra; cupellation; diapason; goetic; grimoire; ithyphallic; kakodemon; mephitic; monophysite; opapanax; paludal; perllan; retromingent; sepoy; subadar; ; sepoy; subadar. I note that only one of these (diapason) is not underlined as unknown to blogspot's spelinge chekkur. The least bit interested but slightly foxed? The 'answers' are here.
That list is not going to butter any parsnips for anyone. Robert Heinlein's list at least pretends to be useful, if only as an aspiration for humanity. Yer 'tis: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Post a Comment