Tuesday, 7 July 2015

taxa or nomina dubia

Harking back to a time when humour was considered both an indemnifying and heuristic tool even in academic circles, stuffy, impenetrable old Michel Foucault deferred to the classification of the animal kingdom not down Linnaean lines but rather thus, alluding to the comprehensive Jorge Luis Borges having himself been influenced by the oriental method:

  • A: Those that belong to the emperor
  • B: Embalmed ones 
  • C: Those that are trained 
  • D: Suckling pigs 
  • E: Sirens 
  • F: Fabulous ones 
  • G: Stray dogs 
  • H: Those that are included in this classification 
  • I: Those that tremble as if they are mad 
  • J: Innumerable ones 
  • K: Those finely drawn with a camel hair brush 
  • L: Et cetera 
  • M: Those who’ve just broken the flower vase 
  • N: Those which from a distance resemble flies 
Of course, funny, quirky examples and illustrative scenarios are the staple of educational programming nowadays, but aside from embedding riddles or marriage proposals in research abstracts, it’s just done done to be provocatively jokey in serious scholarly discourse. The unlikely comic trio of Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard were meant to be attended to with a slight smirk in order to get to the respective punchlines, rallying a tradition that goes back all the way to the deportment of Socrates but oversaw the end of that light-hearted tradition. Respectable, peer-reviewed academics, however, took a very dour and austere turn once we were able to give to everything a precise and interrelated place. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major General’s Song is probably the best lampoon of this new science and new learning. Information animal, vegetable and mineral. I hope we can better balance going forward not hamming it up with engaging an audience that’s not restricted to the Ivory Tower.