Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Library of Babel

For OUT3's first Short Story Weekend I read one of my favorite Borges short stories, The Library of Babel. Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian author and librarian most famous for his short stories. Indeed, Borges never wrote a novel or novella and some of his short stories are so short that they are only a single page. In addition to fiction he also wrote poetry, literary criticism, essays and screenplays and translated many works into Spanish from English, French, German, Old English and Norse. Common themes in his work include the nature of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, reality and philosophy.

The Library of Babel imagines the universe as a vast, if not infinite, library which contains all possible books. The books contain all possible combinations of the 25 symbols (22 letters, the space, comma and period) arranged in apparently random order. There are no two identical books in the library. This means that the vast majority of books make no sense but the librarians endlessly search for sense in the books and the mythological one book that would explain all the other books. Young men travel throughout the labyrinthine library searching for books that will explain the origins of the library or the Crimson Hexagon that is rumored to hold those books that are “all-powerful, illustrated and magical”.

It is not very long and you can read it for yourself online here. In my mind the art accompanying the story online is far more contemporary and well kempt than I envision the library. But that is the great thing about reading - everyone gets to interpret the story in their own way. The labyrinth library from Umberto Eco’s book Name of the Rose (complete with a librarian named Jorge Burgos) is more in keeping with my vision of this library.


Maree said...

That sounds fascinating _ thanks :)

Carl V. said...

That sounds like quite the idea for a story. And what book lover wouldn't love a story about a universe comprised of books?

Moo said...

Maree and Carl - I hope you both get a chance to read it and I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Carl - I would be curious after you read it whether you consider the universe it portrays appealing to a book lover. It certainly does not turn out to be the book lovers paradise that a universe comprised of books brings would seem to suggest.

Shelley said...

I hadn't planned on reading any short stories for this challenge, but I'm getting a collection of ones that I want to read--like this one. It sounds like a great premise.