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All-Star

Friday, March 24, 2017

A mystery



Anybody ever read The Book of Imaginary Beings by Borges? So there's this chapter called sometimes "The Fauna of Mirrors" and sometimes "Animals that Live in the Mirror," depending on which version you're reading. This story tells us how mirrors are actually windows into another world, and there are fish there that are one day going to come and kill us all, or something like that. Only the magic of the Yellow Emperor of China has kept us safe...for now. One day the mirror animals will become different from us; "gradually they will no longer imitate us; they will break through the barriers of glass or metal, and this time they will not be conquered."

I came across this story long ago, and some consulting work I recently conducted brought this story to my attention again. I hadn't thought much of it, but encountering it again made me want to dig through the history books to see what I could find. Borges references a certain Father Fontecchio (sometimes spelled Zallinger, depending on the edition), a Jesuit who recorded the story from Canton in the 18th century. He also mentions Herbert Allen Giles telling the same story 150 years later. Fontecchio and Giles are real people, so are the mirror fish an authentic Cantonese legend? This is Borges we're talking about, after all.

I intend to learn the truth.

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