Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lottery of Babylon

The Lottery of Babylon by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells the myth of a lottery run by the secret “Company”. Centuries ago the lottery started out as chances to win prizes such as we are familiar with today but it soon evolved into “a major element of reality”. First the idea of only winning money was done away with because it had no moral force and the idea of unlucky draws was added. As the lottery evolved, eventually the Company had to assume all public power and made the lottery free, universal and secret. “The mercenary sale of lots abolished; once initiated into the mysteries of Baal, every free citizen automatically took part in the sacred drawings, which were held in labyrinths of the god every sixty nights and determined each citizen’s destiny until the next drawing.” As the lottery permeated all elements of life it is described as “an intensification of chance, a periodic infusion of chaos into the cosmos”. At the time of our narrator there is much debate as to whether the Company still exists or even if it ever existed. Some argue “that it makes no difference whether one affirms or denies the reality of the shadowy corporation, because Babylon is nothing but an infinite game of chance.”

I don’t want to tell you too much for fear of ruining it for you but you can read it on line here. This is one of my favorite Borges stories which not only asks what is reality but what role random chance plays in the universe. Is the universe run by a higher authority such as the Company or does the lack of discernable meaning signify that it really is all chance?


me said...

I generally don't like short stories, but this sounds really interesting.

Gavin said...

Wonderful review and thanks for the link. I read this ages ago and now can read it again.

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