Efraín Kristal

Jorge Luis Borges, Fritz Mauthner, & John Wilkins

Borges mined Mauthner’s dictionary for ideas and relied on it when he did not have access to some primary works Mauthner had discussed in the dictionary’s entries. For example, when he wrote “John Wilkins’ Analytical Language,” an essay Michel Foucault famously cites as an inspiration for The Order of Things, Borges did not have access to the book in which Wilkins describes his “analytical language,” a language in which letters associated to concepts are purported to play a similar role in facilitating conceptual thinking, as numbers in the decimal system are able to facilitate calculation. In the essay, Borges acknowledges that he could not read the book by the seventeenth-century English natural philosopher in Buenos Aires because the Argentine national library did not own a copy, and he regrets that the most recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica he consulted removed the entry on Wilkins that had appeared in previous editions. 14 But Borges did not need to read Wilkins to write about him because Mauthner’s dictionary includes a critical account of Wilkins’s analytic language, and Mauthner also mentions Wilkins in other works Borges consulted, including his three-volume Contributions to a Critique of Language (Beitrage zu einer Kritik der Sprache). With Mauthner and other secondary sources Borges can describe Wilkins’s method, explore its literary possibilities, and discuss its limitations to conclude that “there is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural,” 15 in a way that inspired Foucault.

14  See Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger (New York: Viking, 1999), 229.

15  I modified the translation slightly by using the word “conjectural” instead of “speculative” for the Spanish “conjectural.” Ibid., 231.

SOURCE: Kristal, Efraín. “Jorge Luis Borges and Philosophy,” in Philosophy as World Literature, edited by Jeffrey R. Di Leo (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), pp. 247-260. This excerpt, pp. 248-9, 258.

See also:

Borges, Jorge Luis. “E. S. Pankhurst, Delphos, or the Future of the International Language [review]” (1939), in Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger; translated by Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger (New York: Viking, 1999), pp. 194-195.

Borges takes up artificial language in later essays and stories. Projects, languages and figures mentioned here are: John Wilkins, Letellier, Volapük (Schleyer), Esperanto, Neutral Idiom, Interlingua (Peano), Dr. Henry Sweet, with a sample sentence in Idiom Neutral.

______________. “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins” (originally “El idioma analítico de John Wilkins”).

Translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez
Translated by Will Fitzgerald
Spanish original & English translation

Fritz Mauthner - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bredeck, Elizabeth. Metaphors of Knowledge: Language and Thought in Mauthner’s Critique. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992.

Mauthner, Fritz. Aristotle, translated by Charles D. Gordon, introduction by George Brandes. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co.; London: William Heinemann, 1907.

____________. Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache. 3 vols. Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1901–1903.

____________. Mrs. Socrates, translated by Jacob W. Hartmann. New York: International Publishers, 1926. Translation of Xanthippe, 1884.

Xanthippe in Fiction, Time’s Flow Stemmed, May 26, 2019.

____________. Wörterbuch der Philosophie: neue Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache. München: Leipzig, G. Müller, 1910.

Nájera, Elena. “Wittgenstein versus Mauthner: Two critiques of language, two mysticisms,” in Papers of the 30th International Wittgenstein Symposium, 5-11 August 2007. Philosophie der Informationsgesellschaft - Philosophy of the Information Society; Hrachovec, Herbert; Pichler, Alois; Wang, Joseph; eds. (Kirchberg am Wechsel: Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society, 2007), pp. 160-162.

Vierhufe, Almut. Parodie und Sprachkritik: Untersuchungen zu Fritz Mauthners "Nach berühmten Mustern" [Parody and Language Critique. Studies on Fritz Mauthner’s Nach berühmten Mustern]. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999.

Weiler, Gershon. Mauthner’s Critique of Language. Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Selected Non-fictions: Table of Contents
by Jorge Luis Borges;
Eliot Weinberger (ed.,tr.), Esther Allen (tr.), Suzanne Jill Levine (tr.)

An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language (1668):
Part III: Philosophical Grammar: Chapter 9: Syntax

by John Wilkins (with additional links & bibliography)

"‘Philosophy’ and ‘Literature’: Relationships of Genres and the Frontiers of Thought"
by R. Dumain
(with bibliography)

Literary Theory, Philosophy, Genre, Borges et al Revisited
by R. Dumain

Stanislaw Lem on Borges & genre

Borges Ironizing Idealism: I Dream Too Much
by Ralph Dumain

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

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Study Materials on the Web

Philosophical Style: Selected Bibliography

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

Ars Combinatoria Study Guide

Irony in Philosophy, Romanticism, and Criticism:
Selected Bibliography

Gary Saul Morson: Genre, Utopia, Sideshadowing, Tempics, Prosaics, Parody,
Misanthropology, Philosophy, Literary Theory, Borges:
Select Bibliography

‘World Literature’: A Bibliography

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