Borges Epigraph in Loop of Jade (1)

I’ve been continuing with my re-read of Loop of Jade poetry collection by Sarah Howe. Recurring motifs and themes are rising to surface. More about those in a later post but a couple of pictorial clues below.

This post is about one of the first things I loved abgfp-mouse-mdout the book when I flicked it open at a bookshop. The epigraph Sarah Howe chose – a quote by Jorge Luis Borges.

The quote describes a supposedly ancient taxonomic / classification system for animals found in an ancient Chinese Encyclopedia. It is complete magical realism joy. It starts a) belonging to the emperor b)embalmed… and just gets madder.

At least, I assumed the taxonomic system, although ancient, was fictional but to make the reader question their own sanity, the quote tells us the name of the encyclopedia and the person who translated it from Chinese (Dr Franz Kuhn). Both details encouraging us to suspend our disbelief (adding the title of Dr is a nice touch) and attempt to blur the boundaries of magical realism and fact. I still don’t know with absolute certainty that the contents of the quote are not real but it is most definitely a magical quote.

It wasn’t difficult to find an English translation of the Borges Essay and I’m so glad I did. If you’re a magical realism fan or even a Monty Python fan please read it (it’s not that long). If you need to be convinced that adding specificity to your writing makes it more believable to the reader, then please read it. If you haven’t got time or are not convinced it’s your thing, four of my favourite quotes are below.

‘All of us have once experienced those neverending discussions in which a dame, using lots of interjections and incoherences, swears to you that the word ‘luna’ is more (or less) expressive than the word ‘moon’.’

‘Descartes, in a letter dated November 1629, had already noticed that, using the decimal number system, it may take only one day to learn how to name all the numbers up to infinity and how to write them in a new language, namely that of ciphers.’

‘Beauty belongs to the sixteenth category; it is a living brood fish, an oblong one.’

‘Theoretically, the number of numbering systems is unlimited. The most complete (used by the divinities and the angelmadam-butterfly-posterss) has an infinite number of symbols,’

Incidentally, some of the motifs that appear in Loop of Jade are also mentioned in the Borges essay and Sarah borrows the classification categories (a) belonging to the emperor b)embalmed…) to title and presumably inspire some of her poems.

All this joy just from the epigraph. Some thoughts on the poems still to come.


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