A Taxonomy of Surreal Taxonomists

by Prentiss Riddle

Tom Van Vleck notes that the numerous writers who refer to Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" and its paradoxical classification scheme have "the same heterogeneous character as the list itself." He's right but he fails to spell out the similarities in full detail, so I thought I'd fill in the gaps.

Animals are divided into:

(a) those belonging to the Emperor,
(b) embalmed ones,
(c) those that are trained,
(d) sucklings,
(e) mermaids,
(f) fabulous ones,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) those included in this classification,
(i) those who tremble as if mad,
(j) innumerable ones,
(k) those drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush,
(l) etcetera,
(m) those who have just broken the water jar,
(n) those who appear from a distance like flies.

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.

Note: This parodic addendum to Borges' whimsical classification was copied from the web page linked above because it was difficult to read. See links to Borges' essay below.

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Study Materials on the Web
(including all the following links)

"The Congress" by Jorge Luis Borges

"Spinoza" poem by Jorge Luis Borges

The Cyclical Night: Irony in James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges by L. A. Murrilo

On the General Characteristic by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Leibniz on the Universal Characteristic

Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography

Esperanto Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo (includes interlinguistics links)


'The Analytical Language of John Wilkins' (originally 'El idioma analítico de John Wilkins' ) by Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez
   Translated by Will Fitzgerald
    Spanish original & English translation

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