Saturday, February 08, 2014


I've been trying to write some things about names, some things about the way they have threaded the needle of everything again and again. It is hard. Too hard, today. So many things. Things without names and things with the same name, two things with two names, one thing with two, two things with one.  Master Namers and me in places and bird guides and moth species and basketmakers and sheep, garden tools and bookbinding and Linneaus and the skeleton of the real.  

The softest, mightiest names are the ones for collections of things. Collections of things which are a certain thing. What the philosopher calls 'a kind'. Robin. Capybara. Toothpaste. Bookcase. Bookcases and toothpaste are not the same kind of kind as robins and capybaras. Or protons and moons. That is a much longer story than you'd think.

But there is no end to the way we sort things into piles. Moths. Corvids. German-made pencils of the post-war era. Star Wars merchandise, all-time. Vertebrates of the Amazon basin. X-Men comics from the Whedon period. Not only the collections of the natural world but things we build just for the satisfaction of counting them. Later people will taxonomise the things others have built for the delight of resorting the piles. 

Collections of things don't have hard edges, but people are indefatigable in their desire for precision. For accuracy, for detail, for the useful illumination of things-in-common, for what might be called the truth, I suppose, although that's not what I mean. 

Collect, compile, sort, label, coloured dividers, Köchel number, coded sticky flags, new subspecies, not-a-planet-any-more. We sort and count and resort and count until we turn to dust, world without end, amen. Death and taxa.

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