Belonging to the Emperor: An Australian Perspective on the Encyclopedia of Religion

Tony Swain


Encyclopedias are dangerous things. Whilst promising us an 'all-round' education (enkuklios paideia), they surreptitiously lay claim to the right to define the world. I can think of no better proof of this than a Chinese encyclopedia's classification of the animal kingdom as reported by Jorge Luis Borges. The categories were: a) Belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) suckling pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs, h) included in the present classification, i) innumerable, j) drawn with a fine camelhair brush k) et cetera, l) having just broken the water pitcher, m) that from a long way off look like flies.

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