Borgesian Blog Quiz

Long-time readers will know that I love strange lists, especially lists of categories. In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, Borges describes a (presumably fictional) Chinese encyclopedia:

These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge’. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.*

Last night, I received an email with a similarly-formatted list, though one not quite as amusing:

a) items sold by weight or volume which are not in a package or container;
b) items sold in a coin-operated vending machine;
c) prepared food intended for immediate consumption;
e) unpackaged food items;
f) items which have a total weight of not more than 3 ounces, a total volume of not more than 3 cubic inches, and a total price of not more than 30 cents;
g) live plants;
h) live animals;
i) motor vehicles;
j) motor vehicle parts;
k) packages of 20 or fewer cigarettes;**

Without using Google, what do you think this list is a list of? As a hint, the email was from a close friend who is a lawyer in Michigan (Thanks Max!).

* A bonus round of Sociology trivia:
1. A famous social theorist begins a book by referencing Borges’ reference to the above encyclopedia. Can you name the author and the book? (Difficulty: Easy)
2. The list is also referenced in a review (in a reasonably prominent journal) of a famous social movements book. Can you name the book reviewed and the reviewer? (Difficulty: Hard)
** I have redacted list items d), l) and m) for the purposes of this quiz.



  1. Nice blog feature! I guessed (lacking any confidence) that it had to do with what you could bring over the Canadian border.

    • An excellent guess, but not quite. I’ll spill the beans:
      The list is a partial list of items which are exempt from Michigan’s “item pricing law“, which is currently the subject of some debate.

  2. David Moss

     /  February 21, 2011

    Q1) Foucault: The Order of Things!
    Q2) Pass

  3. What was the answer to #2 by the way?

    • Sorry! Here are the answers to the bonus round:
      1. Was indeed Foucault’s Order of the Things.
      2. A review symposium on “Dynamics of Contention” in the social movements journal, “Mobilization”, from the first piece by Mario Diani.

  4. Things the police won’t bother to steal when they find them during a search.

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