A fictional encyclopedia of China, conceived by Jorge Luis Borges to make a point about scientific classifications in his brief essay The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, and claimed by him in that work to have been uncovered by Franz Kuhn, a German translator of novels from the Chinese, now mainly forgotten as is the usual fate of those who treat with literature after their own time, whose magnum opus was an edition of A Dream Of Red Mansions, the last of the Four Great Novels of China.


The relevant quote from the essay is this:

These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopædia entitled 'Celestial Emporium 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) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) quaking as though mad, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.


Unfortunately, as is often the case, irreparable imbeciles from Foucault onward have put far too much stock in this elegant absurdity, drawing inane conclusions in earnest in imitation of the astute irony, which in some cases still fester on the hide of society. Not least of these foolish indulgences is the notion that the encyclopedia, the taxonomy, is really real; that in truth Kuhn did uncover it and that Borges did find it in some obscure German volume in his library in Buenos Aires. These people are no less ridiculous presenting this theory than any of their others, of course, and not for no reason have they failed to find the least of evidence. Borges was more than fond of the academic lie, he loved it; he would never have managed to begin writing fiction had he not realized that he could write all invention and still treat with it as though it were true. It must be taken as granted that his sources are sometimes sketchy, yet reading the essay you will note that the argument holds, not just as well, but better with a false encyclopedia. Only an idiot would even think to research the veracity of it.


But who the fuck cares, really. Read the quote again. It's magnificent; unassailable.

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