Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Of stray dogs and fossils...

Spot the difference: On the left a sea-creature sighted between Antibes and Nice in 1562 as reported by the naturalist Conrad Gesner; on the right Jorges Luis Borges, unsighted since 1986.

In The Analytical Language of John Wilkins Borges mentions 'a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that 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’s-hair brush; 
l) etcetera; 
m) those that have just broken the flower vase; 
n) those that at a distance resemble flies. 
The Bibliographical Institute of Brussels also exercises chaos: it has parcelled the universe into 1,000 subdivisions…”

In A Book on Fossil Objects, Chiefly Stones and Gems, their Shapes and Appearances, Conrad Gesner classified fossils into:.

  1. Those whose forms are based upon, have some relation to, or suggest the geometrical conception of points, lines or angles
  2. Those which resemble or derive their name from some heavenly body or from on of the Aristotelian elements
  3. Those which take their name from something in the sky
  4. Those which are named after inanimate terrestrial objects
  5. Those which bear a resemblance to certain artificial things
  6. Things made artificially out of metals, stones, or gems
  7. Those which resemble plants or herbs
  8. Those which have the form of shrubs
  9. Those which resemble trees or portions of trees
  10. Corals
  11. Other sea plants which have a stony nature
  12. Those which have some resemblance to men or to four-footed animals, or are found within these
  13. Stones which derive their names from birds
  14. Those which have a resemblance to things which live in the sea
  15. Those which resemble insects or serpents

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