On Borges’ “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”

Pouring Out the Stars

Pouring Out the Stars (the image is purely gratuitous & has nothing to do with what follows)

The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

by Jorge Luis Borges

The word salmon does not tell us anything; zana, the corresponding word, defines (for the man knowing the forty categories and the species of these categories) a scaled river fish, with ruddy meat. (Theoretically, it is not impossible to think of a language where the name of each thing says all the details of its destiny, past and future).

My reaction to this was similar to Foucault’s in his introduction to “The Order of Things”

That passage from Borges kept me laughing a long time…

though that was in reference to Borges more famous paragraph on “Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge” which includes “…(e) sirens, (f) fabulous…” that has been quoted innumerable times from Eco to some current thinking on the Semantic Web (which means Web 3.0 may or may not be part of the postmodern condition.)  Since we have no knowledge of the extent, if any, of the universal limits of literary and philosophical allusion, we cannot say whether or not this work’s impact on actual knowledge (that specie we think of as important and necessary) will contain a system of categories that allows all possible progressions of primitive to advanced morphologies. Darwin attempted something of this sort as an extension of Linnaeus and we all know how that turned out.

There is a similar attempt at a fabulous system of categories here.

– seb


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