June 26th, 2005


Literary synchronicity

Today, thumbing through Schott's Original Miscellany, which I bought this Saturday in a charity shop in Chorlton, Manchester, I found the following:

A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia
Although possibly an elaborate literary joke, one of the most curious lists is that quoted (and perhaps invented) by J.L. Borges. In one of his essays (made famous by Michael Foucalt), Borges claims that Dr Franz Kuhn discovered a 'certain Chinese encyclopedia' entitled Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge which stated that all animals can be classed thus:

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) that shake like a fool
j) innumerable - k) drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush
l) etcetera - m) having just broken the water pitcher
n) that, if seen from a distance, look like flies.

The oddest thing about this is that I had already read that particular and peculiar list yesterday: it crops up in Whistling for the Elephants by Sandi Toksvig, which I bought on Friday in a charity shop in Bury.

Very odd.