Exhaustive Exhaustion

Jorge Luis Borges wrote of a “certain Chinese encyclopaedia” in which taxonomy had run amok. “The animals,” we are told, “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.”

When I first stumbled upon Killing the Buddha, the site’s structure seemed to bear an uncomfortable resemblance to that fictional encyclopedia. I still have to hover my mouse over categories for a little reminder (What was “dogma,” again? “Features,” of course… “or, anything else”).

Thus my first assignment as the KtB intern: organizing the magazine’s archives. With this post, we have published 1,027 articles, stories, rants, and blog posts since we began in 2000. I have read and classified each one of them. The project has been almost complete for over a month. I keep returning to the archives, looking for previously unnoticed details to come into focus, discovering new relationships among them.

This endless wading has been alternately mind-numbing (most of the memoirs have blended together to form a single, endless story of a half Jewish, half Christian, half Buddhist’s confused search for identity), provocative as any long-time reader would expect, and, after too many hours in a row, particularly conducive to superstition.

The first time I read Daniel Stillman’s “Praying the Deus ex Machina,” I was alone, in my room, late at night. Halfway into it, I realized that I could hear the Lord’s Prayer. Of course, it was just iTunes on shuffle—Yaz’s “In My Room” playing at too low a volume—but I was immediately compelled to memorize the Lord’s Prayer anyway.

But for every coincidence, there was an unsettling displacement. I relived 9/11, the preparations for war, and Hurricane Katrina. The articles’ immediacy were a reminder of how quickly even horrors become the mundane facts of the past.

The result, months later: no more hovering your mouse over KtB’s categories, unless, of course, you’ve managed to figure them out. (What was “witness,” again? “Sinners and saints,” of course.) At the bottom of every article, you’ll now find links to related categories you can browse. The Reliquary also includes a topic cloud of all the topics on the site.

But is it finished? Well, sort of. The process is intrinsically compulsive. Classifications, it seems, beg for endless refinement. Just look at the Dewey Decimal System; first published in 1876, it was just 42 pages. Today it’s nearly 4,000 pages. Pray, for my sake, that this project doesn’t come to that.

Still, there are a few categories that remind me too much of Borges’ “(g) stray dogs” or “(l) et cetera,” and there are maybe just another handful of articles I should read over again, but I’m almost finished, I swear.

Garrett Baer is a graduate student in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.