Justin E. H. Smith Is My Master Now

It is an old formula — I’d call it Borgesian if I knew that was actually how to make an adjective our of Borges’s name and if Borges’s work weren’t already a certain riff on ethnographic exoticism. But Justin E. H. Smith’s “recent work on Yuktun”:http://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2007/03/selected_minor_.html is worth more than the price of admission.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

One thought on “Justin E. H. Smith Is My Master Now

  1. I agree, the JE Smith post about the Yuktun has a very Borgesian flavor. I think its the narrator’s adopting the tone of a late 19th century or early 20th century gentleman scholar – focusing on minutae in a fascinated and yet somewhat dilletantish manner – while engaging with a world beyond the edges of the cultural map for most members of that class.

    At any rate, your comment about Borges sent me scurrying back to my battered edition, and I was struck by an eerie resonance that made me think the similarity was far from fortuitous. In the opening of Borges’ story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (about an imaginary country, and ultimately, and imaginary world, that encroaches increasingly on the real one), one finds the following sentence:

    “En las últimas páginas del volumen XVLI dimos con un árticulo sobre Upsala; en las primeras del XLVII con uno sobre “Ural-Altaic languages”, pero ni una palabra sobre Uqbar.”

    [In the last pages of volume XVLI we encounterd an article about Upsala; in the first (pages) of volume XVLII one about “Ural-Altaic languages”, but not one word about Uqbar.]

    Note that JE Smith’s piece begins with a reference to “Aral-Ultaic [sic] linguists” which, with the fact that the piece has the subtitle “Imaginary Tribes #1”, is all but an homage to Borges. (And I seriously doubt the transposition wass accidental.)

Comments are closed.