Monday, August 11, 2008

(e) Those that are variations on Borges; (f) Those that are simply links to other posts

If you look closely at a few of my blogpost labels, you'll see that I have been a fan of the famous passage from Borges's essay* "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins":
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).


Rasselas said...

No Wilkins pastiches, though I've written a few Borges parodies myself. In general, I am very fond of the old man's "In Memoriam, JFK":

"This bullet is an old one.

"In 1897, it was fired at the president of Uruguay by a young man from Montevideo, Avelino Arredondo, who had spent long weeks without seeing anyone so that the world might know that he acted alone. Thirty years earlier, Lincoln had been murdered by that same ball, by the criminal or magical hand of an actor transformed by the words of Shakespeare into Marcus Brutus, Caesar's murderer. In the mid-seventeenth century, vengeance had employed it for the assassination of Sweden's Gustavus Adolphus in the midst of the public hecatomb of battle.

"In earlier times, the bullet had been other things, because Pythagorean metempsychosis is not reserved for humankind alone. It was the silken cord given to viziers in the East, the rifles and bayonets that cut down the defenders of the Alamo, the triangular blade that slit a queen's throat, the wood of the Cross and the dark nails that pierced the flesh of the Redeemer, the poison kept by the Carthaginian chief in an iron ring on his finger, the serene goblet that Socarates drank down one evening.

"In the dawn of time it was the stone that Cain hurled at Abel, and in the future it shall be many things that we cannot even imagine today, but that will be able to put an end to men and their wondrous, fragile life."

LJA said...

For me, the Ethnographer has always been the quintessential Borges story.

"I heard this story in Texas, but it took place in another state. It has only one protagonist, although in every story the protagonists are thousands, visible and invisible, living and dead."