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Blurry Boundaries of Classification

Monsters like “elephant man” and “wolf boy” horrify us because of the way they upset our orders of classification.

Great Danes have more in common with ponies, and Pekinese have more in common with cats. 

Hair, finger nail clippings, and feces occupy the blurry boundary of our bodies in relation to the rest of the world.  That’s why they are so popular in witches brews.

Knowledge is power so when someone comes along and tries changing the way we classify things, our first reaction is lighting things on fire and rioting.  “Classification schemes occupy an epistemological space that is prior to thought....  Things hold together only because they can be slotted into a classificatory system that remains unquestioned.” (Robert Darnton.  The Great Cat Massacre.

Consider for example the Chinese Encyclopedia imagined by Jorge Luis Borges and discussed by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things.  It divides animals into
one of 14 categories:

  • Those that belong to the emperor
  • Embalmed ones
  • Those that are trained
  • Suckling pigs
  • Mermaids (or Sirens)
  • Fabulous ones
  • Stray dogs
  • Those that are included in this classification
  • Those that tremble as if they were mad
  • Innumerable ones
  • Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  • Et cetera
  • Those that have just broken the flower vase
  • Those that, at a distance, resemble flies
So, if you want to take the power back, try acting in a way that defies people’s notions of  classification.    Or start classifying things according to your own subjective reasoning.

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