These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies. (Trans. Lilia Graciela Vázquez)This passage from a fairly obscure Borges piece was made famous by its citation by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things, although its fame has now out-stripped those who heard of it that way. In some ways, it is the quintessential Borges passage -- the one sentence that best conveys his spirit. (That, of course, is a challenge: anyone got a better one?)
Anyway, in one of the games that make Making Light such a delightful blog to read, Jim McDonald, aping Borges, has now proposed the following classification of novels:
a) Those that are best-sellers, (b) those that were assigned to you in school, (c) those that you feel you have already read even though you have not, (d) classics, (e) those that are not read as the author intended, (f) those that many intend to read “some day,” (g) fantasy trilogies, (h) those that are otherwise not flawed, (i) those that were written on manual typewriters, (j) those that can be judged by their covers, (k) those that were padded by their designers during production to appear longer than they are, (l) those that are only called ‘novel’ by courtesy, (m) those that have been condensed by Readers Digest, (n) those that look well upon the shelf.The comments that follow are filled with additions, as well as some revisions and other ions. Check them out if you found the above at all amusing.
(See also the list of types of novels from the first chapter of Italo Calvino's incomparable novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.)
Then, via comments in an earlier Making Light post, we have the following classification of people who site the Borges quote cited above:
Citers of John Wilkins are divided into: (a) government employees, (b) tenured faculty, (c) LIS graduates, (d) freshmen, (e) the transgendered, (f) Mac users, (g) laid-off dotcommers, (h) programmers who write recursive code, (i) those on their fourth espresso of the day, (j) webloggers, (k) those using XML with a valid DTD, (l) et cetera, and so on, und so weiter, (m) Microsoft users, (n) geeks.Currently I fall into (f), (j), (n) and arguably (l).
Any other Borges-on-Wilkins pastiches that my Noble Readers have noticed?
Update: While I'm on the subject of Borges's fabulous non-fiction (in both senses), let me link to this post of mine from a few months ago, which reprints, in its entirety, one of those fabulous non-fictions. If you haven't read the piece, do: it's simply amazingly wonderful.
* Yes, essay: at the very least, it's included in the Selected Non-Fictions volume, not the Collected Fictions volume. But in Borges, these categories always look like flies (from a long way off, anyway).