LINGUIST List 7.1446

Tue Oct 15 1996

Sum: Borgesian joke

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. "PXX06625niftyse", Borgesian Joke, Sum

Message 1: Borgesian Joke, Sum

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 1996 22:31:00 +0900
From: "PXX06625niftyse" <>
Subject: Borgesian Joke, Sum
Re: Summary: Borgesian joke?

A few days ago I posted a question about the
funny classification of animals on page 103 of the
_Other Inquisitions_ by J. L. Borges (1899-1986).
*** The Analytical Language of John Wilkins. --
 pp. 101-105 in BORGES, Jorge Luis 1964. Other
 Inquisitions. 1937-1952. [Otros inquisiciones]
 tr. by Ruth L.C. Simms; Austin: University of
 Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-76002-7
 The Spanish text of "El Idioma Analitico
 de John Wilkins" is available at:

Borges gives a vague reference to some work by Franz
Kuhn allegedly commenting on the classification
of animals by a Chinese encyclopedia called the
_Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge_.

>> ... animals are divided into:

(a) those that belong to the Emperor,
(b) embalmed ones,
(c) those that are trained,
(d) suckling pigs,
(e) mermaids,
(f) fabulous ones,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) those that are included in this classification,
(i) those that tremble as if they were mad,
(j) innumerable ones,
(k) those drawn with a very fine camel brush,
(l) others,
(m) those that have just broken a flower vase,
(n) those that resemble flies from a distance. <<

I found the humor of this classification very
elaborate (cf. /h/ or /l/, for example). First, I
assumed that this must have been a Borgesian joke,
as we (i.e. my Chinese colleagues and myself) had
been unable to find any encyclopedia whose title
may have been rendered in English as the Celestial
Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.
However, Borges referred to Franz Kuhn (1884-1961),
whose work I have been familiar with. Franz Kuhn
was a renowned translator and scholar of Chinese
literature. Bernard Miall$B%f(Bs English version of
the early 17th century erotic novel, Jin (= Chin)
Ping Mei, i.e. _Chin Ping Mei: the Adventurous
History of Hsi Men and his Six Wives_ (New York:
Putnam, 1947) was based on Kuhn$B%f(Bs (sensitively
condensed) German translation of the original
(_Kin Ping Meh, oder die abenteuerliche Geschichte
von Hsi Men und seinen sechs Frauen_, Leipzig:
Insel Verlag). Since I knew that Franz Kuhn was real,
I felt I should assume that the Chinese encyclopedia
was also genuine.

Here is the list of those scholars who kindly explained me that this
was an absolutely wrong assumption, as Borges enjoyed making up
pseudo-learned references mixing facts and fiction:

Caitlin [...] <>
Eric J. Adolphson <>
Raul Aranovich <>
James F. Bisso <>
George Aaron Broadwell <>
Hugh Buckingham <>
Monica Casco <>
Scott DeLancey <>
Alex Eulenberg <>
Pablo Fessel <>
Warren Frerichs <>
Marti Hearst <>
David Houghton <dh2ACSU.Buffalo.EDU>
Simon Kaufmann <>
Suzanne E Kemmer <>
John Konopak <>
John E Limber <>
Gerardo A. Lorenzino <>
Stavros Macrakis <>
Mark Mandel <>
Mari Broman Olsen <molsenumiacs.UMD.EDU>
Gonzalo Rubio <>
Ingrid de Saint-Georges <>
Francisco J. Salguero <>
Geoffrey Sampson <>
Allan Wechsler <>
Martin Wynne <>


The respondents pointed out that the Borgesian
passage was also commented upon

1. in the preface of Michel Foucault's
 _The Order of Things_ [Les mots et les choses]
 New York: Random House, 1970, pp.xv-xxiv;

2. in ROSCH, Eleanor 1978. Principles of
 Categorization. in ROSCH, E. & B.B. LLOYD 1978.
 eds. _Cognition and Categorization._ Hillsdale:
 Erlbaum, pp. 27-48, as well as

3. in LAKOFF, George 1987. _Women, Fire, and
 Dangerous Things_, Chicago UP, p. 92.

There was a detailed discussion of Borges, with
sources and conjectural origins on the Darwin list.
Archives are at
There exists an important book on the sources:
BALDERSTON, Daniel 1986.
_ The literary universe of Jorge Luis Borges:
An index to references and allusions to
persons, titles, and places in his writings. _
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

AUTHOR: Daniel Balderston, Chair
 Department of Spanish and Portuguese
 Tulane University
 New Orleans, LA. 70118
There exists even a journal called
_Variaciones Borges: International Journal for
Philosophy, Semiotics, and Comparative Literature_
The respondents also turned up the data of
a book for those who still want to have a look at
Franz W. Kuhn$B%f(Bs works:

KUHN, Hatto.
1980. _Dr. Franz Kuhn (1884-1961):
Lebensbeschreibung und Bibliographie seiner
Werke: mit einem Anhang unveroffentlichter
Schriften._ , 180 pp. Wiesbaden: Steiner,
Sinologica Coloniensia; Bd. 10
ISBN 3515032312. ISBN 3515033513
Franz (Walter) Kuhn is, by the way,
not to be mixed up with Franz Felix Adalbert Kuhn
(1822-1881), the philologist and folklorist

The responses I have received leave no doubt
that I$B%f(Bd better give up on the search for the
_Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Creatures_
(and stop pestering my colleagues at the Chinese
Department). However, I believe that one cannot
prove the non-existence of a book conclusively,
and I have had no chance to follow all the
conceivable leads in a major library.

Thank you for your help, again!

Best wishes,

- ---------------
Prof. of Ling.
Shikoku Gakuin University
765 Kagawa-ken, Zentsuji-shi,
Bunkyo-cho 3-2-19 (JAPAN)
TEL=FAX -81-877-63 5451
- ---------------------------------------------

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