Libraries in pop culture: The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

Originally published in Spanish in 1941, The Library of Babel  was part of  Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’ book of stories El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths).  Borges imagined a world made up of a library that contained every book that ever was and ever will be:

The Library is arranged non-hierarchically; all of the volumes — from the most rudimentary to the most inscrutable — are equally important in this infinite space. Its rooms are hexagons. Its staircases are broken.

The Library’s many visitors — elated, dogmatic and anguished types are all represented — strangle one another in the corridors. They fall down air shafts and perish. They weep, or go mad. Desperate characters hide in the bathrooms, “rattling metal disks inside dice cups,” hoping to mind-read the call number for a missing canonical text. Others, overcome with “hygienic, ascetic rage,” stand before entire walls of books, denouncing the volumes, raising their fists. (Kate Bernheiner from Places’ Fairy Tale Architecture Series)

Photo: 'La Biblioteca de Babel' by Malglam CC-BY-NC

Photo: ‘La Biblioteca de Babel’ by Malglam CC-BY-NC

According to Wikipedia:

The Library contains at least 25^{1,312,000} \approx 1.956 \times 10^{1,834,097} books. (The average large library on Earth at the present time typically contains only several million volumes, i.e., on the order of about 10^{6} books. The world’s largest library, the Library of Congress, has  2.18\times 10^{7} books.)

Places Journal explored The Library of Babel as a part of their fairy tale architecture series, in which they explore how the ordinary yet impossible architecture of the Library could be constructed for the “real” world. It includes some stunning images architects Rice+Lipka created for the project.

The Library of Babel influenced many authors and creators that came after,such as Umberto Eco and Jasper Fforde laying the ground work for many stories to come.

3 comments

  1. KRLemmons · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Lifelong Quest.

  2. Borges was a great author, but he also was a librarian : in 1955 he was appointed director of the national public library of Argentina in Buenos Aires.
    A NY-based artist, Jonathan Basile, created lately a library of Babel online : you can actually browse the library of Babel ! It’s located here : http://libraryofbabel.info/
    And there is a twitter account : @PermudaT

    1. Excellent additional information thanks Manuel!

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