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The Library of Babel

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Jorge Luis Borges's famous 1941 meditation on language, alphabets, and the library that contains all knowledge is an allegory of our Universe, and in this edition is complemented and enhanced by the etching of the French artist, Érik Desmazières.

36 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1941

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About the author

Jorge Luis Borges

1,744 books11.7k followers
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, usually referred to as Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish pronunciation: [xoɾxe lwis boɾxes]), was an Argentine writer and poet born in Buenos Aires. In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in Surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. Borges was fluent in several languages. He was a target of political persecution during the Peron regime, and supported the military juntas that overthrew it.

Due to a hereditary condition, Borges became blind in his late fifties. In 1955, he was appointed director of the National Public Library (Biblioteca Nacional) and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961, he came to international attention when he received the first International Publishers' Prize Prix Formentor. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986.

J. M. Coetzee said of Borges: "He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 548 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,392 followers
August 26, 2020
In the brief prose piece The Four Cycles Jorge Luis Borges wrote that there are only four stories in the world: the story of war, the story of return, the story of search and the story of sacrifice (Troy, Ulysses, Jason, Prometheus).
“Four are the stories. During the time left to us we will continue telling them, transformed.”
And there is no other writer who can retell these four stories the way Jorge Luis Borges does, transforming them into intellectual labyrinths and scholarly conundrums.
Like all the men of the Library, in my younger days I traveled; I have journeyed in quest of a book, perhaps the catalog of catalogs. Now that my eyes can hardly make out what I myself have written, I am preparing to die, a few leagues from the hexagon where I was born. When I am dead, compassionate hands will throw me over the railing; my tomb will be the unfathomable air, my body will sink for ages, and will decay and dissolve in the wind engendered by my fall, which shall be infinite.

He turns the universe into The Library of Babel, the probability theory into The Garden of Forking Paths and the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet into a locus of all the magic – Aleph.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
February 12, 2021
In Borges's short story, the world consists of a gigantic library which contains every possible book that can ever be written. So, somewhere, there must logically be the book, the one that reveals the Library's secret! Unfortunately, there is no filing system, and no one has any idea of how to find the elusive book. In fact, it's challenging even to locate one which contains a meaningful sentence: most of them are gibberish from beginning to end.

Well, our own world isn't quite as bad - but it's still harder than it should be to locate the books you really want to read, when they're mixed up with the ones you just think you might want to read. I am often appalled at the amount of time I waste on this site, but comfort myself with the thought that it has helped me find some amazing books I normally wouldn't even have considered.

But exactly how helpful has it been? The other day, it occurred to me to try and answer this question quantitatively. I calculate that, since I started hanging out here in late 2008, I have read 42 books just because someone here has recommended them. (I didn't count books recommended by people on Goodreads whom I also know in real life, otherwise the figure would be considerably higher). After some more thought, I've picked out a Top Ten, which I present here for your amusement:

10. I've never seen anyone outside Goodreads mention Everything Explained Through Flowcharts , recommended to me by David G, but it's the funniest thing I've seen in ages. I challenge you to read it without giggling helplessly at least a couple of times. Why it isn't more famous is more than I understand.

9. À rebours , a weird 19th century French novel recommended to me by Sabrina, is another book that deserves to be better known. Nothing happens, but it's somehow utterly compelling. I think it's also been very influential.

8. I love books written under strong formalist constraints, but I'd never heard of Eunoia , recommended by Gary. Five chapters, each using only one vowel, and, even though it sounds impossible, it works remarkably well as poetry. Really!

7. Eric W recommended The Terrible Hours: The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History . If you're after inspiration and good old-fashioned heroism, look no further.

6. Choupette was so indignant about Plateforme that I had to check it out for myself. I liked it enough that I also read Les particules élémentaires . I won't promise that you'll enjoy them, but they're certainly going to make you think.

5. Everyone recommended The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains . Alas, all too true. The mere fact that I'm sitting here writing this proves his point.

4. Would you believe it, I hadn't even heard of Infinite Jest before I joined GR. Within a couple of months, I'd given in and bought a copy. Admittedly, I also bought a copy of Twilight at the same time...

3. Pavel told me I had to read Voices from Chernobyl , and he was right. Whatever your opinions on nuclear power, it's irresponsible not to. You can't take more than a chapter or so at a time; after that, you just sit there stunned, doing your best not to cry. Another book that people have unaccountably overlooked.

2. Was I really going to read a thousand page physics text full of scary math? I did a math degree in the late 70s, but this looked way over my level. However, Nick called me chicken enough times that I decided to tackle The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe . I've finally got to the end, and wow, was it a fascinating read! If you like math and physics, take Nick's advice: forget the pop science books and go for the big one. It's worth the effort.

1. I don't really know Norwegian, and how likely was it that I'd buy a three volume magical-realist Norwegian novel by an author I'd never heard of? But, moved by Oriana's glowing review, I started thinking that I speak Swedish, Norwegian isn't that different (it's a kind of Spanish/Portuguese deal), so why not give it a shot? By the time I was 20 pages into Forføreren , I was hooked, and then I immediately continued with Erobreren and Oppdageren . The trilogy is the most brilliant thing I have read this century, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Thank you Oriana!

So, there you are, and I hope I've made at least one sale :) In the interests of completeness, here's the rest of the list, in alphabetical order:

99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style

The Authoritarians

The Bent Sword

Breaking Dawn

Crowds and Power

The Dreamfighter: And Other Creation Tales


L'élégance du hérisson

Exercices de Style

Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will

Go the Fuck to Sleep

Galatea 2.2

Gray Matters

Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

How To Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on Your Own

Musical Chairs


New Moon

No Hope for Gomez!

Not a Chance: Fictions

The Riddler's Gift (Lifesong, #1)

The Sparrow


The Triple A's Check It Out

Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

Whom God Would Destroy

Zazie dans le métro

Happy Goodreading!
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
February 8, 2020
I read "The Library of Babel," one of Jorge Luis Borges’ most famous stories, as part of the Ficciones collection. “The Library of Babel” posits a universe in the form of a library made out of connected hexagonal rooms, each room filled with books and the barest necessities for life. Each book contains 410 pages, with 40 lines of 80 letters each. There are 25 letters and punctuation marks in the alphabet. The Library contains every possible combination of those letters. Most of the books are complete gibberish, of course, but like the Infinite Monkey Theorem says, if you have enough monkeys banging away on typewriters for long enough (i.e., infinite time and infinite monkeys), eventually they’ll write Hamlet.

But life for the people dwelling in this library is profoundly frustrating, even depressing, since only a vanishingly small percentage of the books make any sense at all. Borges explores the ways that people might react to this, with several nods to religion and philosophy. There's not any real plot to this story; it feels more like an essay or an intellectual exercise ("How would people react if...").

Mathematicians have had a field day with this book’s concept, figuring out how many books such a library would contain. Per Wikipedia’s article on this story, there would be far more books in this library (1.956 x 10 to the 1,834,097th power) than there are thought to be atoms in the observable universe (10 to the 80th power). It's mind-boggling.

But this story is not so much about the numbers, as about what it would be like to live in this intriguing but highly frustrating world.

You can read a copy of this story here.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 2 books716 followers
December 8, 2022
Clever, I guess, but dull and stuffy, too. Thank goodness it only ran for seven pages.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,359 reviews11.8k followers
July 9, 2021

Why read fiction? One answer I return to again and again: to fire the imagination.

You might be stumped coming up with a short story that has fired the imagination in more ways for more readers than The Library of Babel by the great Jorge Luis Borges.

"The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below-one after another, endless."

So reads the opening lines of this seven-pager. That's right, seven pages containing fifteen paragraphs, but one has the feeling all the many bits of detail within any of those paragraphs could gyrate outward to generate infinite possibilities. Sidebar: Take a moment to scan the multitude of artist's renderings of the library via a simple Google search.

For any lover of books across the globe, this Borges tale is a MUST READ (Link below). I'll contain my excitement by confining my observations to the following quartet:

Let's take a simple example: 500 of my reviews are collected into one thick volume. By a simple rearrangement of individual reviews, we come up with billions of books. How many exactly? Is there a mathematician in the house?

Anyway, you get the idea. Take a book you yourself might write - collection of reviews, essays, stories, poems, whatever. Now imagine how that one book could translate into an entire library of Babel. Easy as pie or perhaps I should say pi-squared.

Jonathan Basile created an internet version of the Babylon library. How many books are included? Jonathan notes if a user clicked through the books at a rate of one per second, it would take about 10 to the power of 4668 years to go through the library. Unfortunately, he continues, the earth will be consumed by the sun in less than 10 to the power of 10 years.

In his analysis of the library in Borges' tale, W. V. O Quine wrote: "The ultimate absurdity is now staring us in the face: a universal library of two volumes, one containing a single dot and the other a dash. Persistent repetition and alternation of the two are sufficient, we well know, for spelling out any and every truth. The miracle of the finite but universal library is a mere inflation of the miracle of binary notation: everything worth saying, and everything else as well, can be said with two characters."

Is this overstatement by an analytic philosopher? To take one example: How about Concrete Poetry or a novel like John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz where a critical part of the work is the exact placement of words on a page?

Eduardo Galeano bemoaned the fact a huge number of his potential readers are cut off from reading his books since they never had the opportunity to learn how to read. This counts as a tragedy in our modern world - large chunks of the world's population remain illiterate.

Link to The Library of Babel: https://sites.evergreen.edu/political...

Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews997 followers
September 3, 2017
Hey, you. Yea, I am talking to you! Do you want to get freaked out by the sheer magnitude of an idea that's right in front of you? Step right in!

In this short story, Author Jorge Luis Borges envisions a universe in the form of a vast library, a library of meticulous pattern and structure. In this library, you can find an incomprehensible number of hexagonal rooms with a specific number of books: Books that contain all knowledge of the universe. But here is the catch: All this knowledge is mixed with utter gibberish.

The author, Mr. Borges, was a librarian himself and it is safe to assume that the inspiration of his unique universe came from his surroundings, and it is quite brilliant. He reflects the flaws of human kind subtly here in form of rogue librarians, mystical legends, and slow madness.

Nevertheless, the short story itself is filled with bits of Babel as it's more of a detailed description of an alternative universe and not a story. I was going to give a three stars rating and move on with my life.

But then I found a Website.

I think I am late to the party, but two years before, a man named Jonathan Basile created the library of Babel online using an algorithm. Any English sentence/paragraph of length 3200 characters can be found this library mixed with Babel. There are about 10^5000 books in this library (Age of Earth is 10^17 seconds). To understand What's actually happening, you might need to watch a Youtube video. But let me tell you something, the library contains every sentence you have ever said or will say in future, It contains every book ever written or will be written, It contains the first words you ever said and last words you will say, it contains secrets to the universe and unfortunately or fortunately, it contains a lot of gibberish.

And before even I wrote this review, these sentences were there in Library of Babel.

*Zoom this image*

It's no trick, it's just about exhausting every possible combination the 26 letters of the alphabet can create!
Profile Image for Cyndi.
2,338 reviews97 followers
September 6, 2017
So, this is a short story, but there is so much in it that I reread it a half dozen times, found a few audio readings and looked up summaries trying to grasp the whole story. Basically its weird, but cool.
In this guys universe the world is made up of libraries. Each room is a hexagon with two small closets. One is a bathroom and the other is a room to sleep standing up. People are born, live and die in these rooms.
Now here is where it gets really bad. There are only four shelves of books in each room and most are in languages hard to decipher. When they are finally deciphered the are gibberish.
No fiction, none of your favorite authors. No wonder they are suicidal.
There are some wanderers who travel from hexagon to hexagon looking for the perfect book. (Which they never find) and there are others on a pilgrimage looking for a magical book that was read by a messiah. There is also a group of dissenters who destroy books that they disagree with. But the author says that doesn't matter because there are hundreds of copies of each book spread throughout.
This is a short story and definitely worth a read.😊
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,975 followers
July 26, 2015
For a book to exist, it is sufficient that it is possible. Only the impossible is excluded.”

Paradoxes abound in this allegory that has aspects of The Blind Watchmaker, especially DNA, and also the Infinite Monkey Theorem.

I have the Collected Fictions (with copious translator's notes), but am splitting my review of that into its components, in publication order: Collected Fictions - all reviews. This is one of the the longer stories in The Garden of Forking Paths, published in 1941.

The universe is an infinite Library. Maybe the universe is the internet? But Borges’ library is more beautiful: an endless series of connecting, identical, hexagons, and it has - and will - exist for eternity.

Each vestibule has “a mirror which faithfully duplicates appearances”, leading men to infer that the Library is not infinite, otherwise “what need would there be for that illusory replication?”

But it is infinite: the books contain “all that is able to be expressed, in every language”, composed of the same alphabetic elements, and each is unique. But are uniqueness and infinity contradictory?

Most of the books are indecipherable, and “trying to find sense in books” is “a vain and superstitious habit”, likened to palmistry and numerology. Surely that doesn’t apply to this, or does it? (Recursion, again.)

“You who read me – are you certain you understand my language?”

“Man, the imperfect librarian, may be the work of chance or malevolent demiurges; the universe… can only be the work of a god.” That’s “a god”, not “God”.

Who or what made me? Am I real, or just making marks on one of an infinite number of pages that may never be read?

These ideas of infinity are explored and elaborated on in “Undr” and The Mirror and the Mask, which throw minimalism into the mix. More specifically, the story of The Book of Sand is like the Library of Babel in miniature: a single, infinite book. They are all in The Book of Sand.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,380 reviews2,256 followers
December 4, 2018
Borges's philosophical short-story describes the universe in terms of an infinite library constructed in a series of hexagon galleries in which the books contain every possible combination of letters, spaces and punctuation marks providing a metaphor for thinking about knowledge and truth. As a paradox of infinite possibilities, some of the volumes within turn out to be what appears to be complete gibberish, Some go nuts from the despair of trying to logically understand and catalogue every book in the library, whilst some take a leap of faith. Beyond the abstract intentions, Borges was also expressing the angst of simply being lost in the universe, and of not being able to understand it. In other words, the limited knowledge of this infinite library by the narrator inhabiting this vast space reflects Borges’s own uncertainty about Life and the Universe, the nature of hope, and the creation of meaning. It's quite simply quintessential Borges, and not a bad place to start for the newbie, although, it still feels like throwing yourself in at the deep end. He evokes a sense of wonder and the infinite possibilities that go with it like nobody else.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,160 reviews105 followers
January 10, 2022
Absurd and perplexing, yet wryly amusing and maybe even thought provoking. Surely the infinite monkey theorem explains the existence of such a work as The Library of Babel, as well as the non-infinite volume of work it describes contained within its own infinitude.
Profile Image for Capsguy.
138 reviews166 followers
March 23, 2012
Found this to be a great analogy to the world we live in. Everyone seems to have the answer to all of life's problems, but the issue is it's not so simple to sort through all of the variables when you have little to no means of measuring each option. That's pretty much how I read this short story, in life it is feasible to live the 'perfect' life, since the variables are there, however since there is no distinctive guide to do so, we are forced to do our best to sort through the gibberish (in the story, being the books which made sense no matter how you looked at them) to opportunities that may have a glimpse of hope for positive results.

So yeah, we live in a world like The Library of Babel, where potentially the answer to all of life's issues are out there somewhere, but since we have no means of locating it, we're stuck in the chaos that is existence as we know it.

The build-up of imagery at the beginning was also spectacular. Cheers Borges!
Profile Image for Eloy Cryptkeeper.
296 reviews193 followers
October 14, 2020
"Yo sé de una región cerril cuyos bibliotecarios repudian la supersticiosa y vana costumbre de buscar sentido en los libros y la equiparan a la de buscarlo en los sueños o en las líneas caóticas de la mano... Admiten que los inventores de la escritura imitaron los veinticinco símbolos naturales, pero sostienen que esa aplicación es casual y que los libros nada significan en sí. Ese dictamen, ya veremos no es del todo falaz"

"El hombre, el imperfecto bibliotecario, puede ser obra del azar o de los demiurgos malévolos; el universo, con su elegante dotación de anaqueles, de tomos enigmáticos, de infatigables escaleras para el viajero y de letrinas para el bibliotecario sentado, sólo puede ser obra de un dios. Para percibir la distancia que hay entre lo divino y lo humano, basta comparar estos rudos símbolos trémulos que mi falible mano garabatea en la tapa de un libro, con las letras orgánicas del interior: puntuales, delicadas, negrísimas, inimitablemente simétricas"

Habría que hacerle una minuciosa autopsia a esta obra... Para analizar cada capa, cada metáfora, cada analogía y cada alegoría.
Tiene una cubierta matemática, arquitectónica y metafísica, pero en el interior creo que es bastante personal e introspectivo.
En alguna de las capas mas visibles, para un simple mortal como yo, observo que nos habla sobre la creación/Génesis.
La busqueda de un saber superior o absoluto. Pero a su vez, es alguien solitario, que esta en su ocaso y tiene muchas preguntas para hacerle a su dios.
Infinidad de preguntas que remiten a la misma humanidad. Y es bastante desalentador saber que la respuestas puedan estar al alcance, pero si uno no sabe donde buscar, siempre va a estar igualmente a la deriva .
Profile Image for Helga.
887 reviews125 followers
February 10, 2023
Borges depicts the universe as a huge library with infinite number of books. The human race’s days might be numbered but the library will endure for eternity.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,103 reviews2,953 followers
March 9, 2021
Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language and universal literature. Borges' works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre, and have been considered by some critics to mark the beginning of the magic realist movement in 20th century Latin American literature.

His best-known books, Ficciones and El Aleph, published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, philosophers, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, and mythology.

His work has been recommended to me numerous times but I was quite intimated and didn't know where to start. Therefore, I opted for reading just a single short story from Ficciones first. (Most of them can be found online actually.^^)

The Library of Babel seemed most interesting to me, mainly due to its intriguing title. Most of ya'll are probably familiar with the origin myth of the Tower of Babel meant to explain why the world's peoples speak different languages. I was curious to see how language and maybe even a competition between God and humans would come to play in this story.

In The Library of Babel, Borges speculates about a possible world which basically is a library that is preexistent and houses an infinite amount of books. The narrator explains that he therefore believes that the library contains all possible combinations of the alphabet, which means that any book that has ever been written, will be written and will never be written are already in the library.

Technically, the library should be a hoard of knowledge. Somewhere in it, the cure for cancer has already been written down. Somewhere in it, the events of your death will be narrated. The crux lies in the fact that one will never find the passages, because in order to find them, one must already know exactly what one is looking for. For example, there are an infinite amount of sentences starting with the words "the cure for cancer is ...", if one wants to find the right one, one must already what the right cure is. Therefore, it's paradox. The library houses an infinite amount of valuable knowledge, as well as an infinite amount of nonsense. Which renders the whole library nonsensical and useful in and out of itself.

Therefore, due to its infinite vastness, the library isn't accessible to the librarians who live in it. Instead, they stumble from one nonsensical book to the other. But since, as the narrator rightly notes, the library also must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages, it isn't surprising that most people in Borges' world are obsessed with finding useful knowledge in this library. They see it as their mission. It is a chilling vision of a dystopian future.

The library is composed of an infinite array of hexagonal galleries containing an indefinite number of books. The books in the library are of bounded length, "each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters".

Through reading this story, it was incredibly hard for me to envision how this library would work, but there is this amazing website (libraryofbabel.info) which is basically a simulation of how Borges' library would work. It's crazy. It is nearly impossible to find a sentence (in a English that is comprehensible to you) by simply browsing a couple of these shelves and yet, somewhere in this infinity, you could even find your own name and those of your friends and family. It's such a mindfuck and I love it!

The story is a great exploration of how something meaningful becomes nonsensical in infinity. I mean, if one wanted to estimate the size of the library, one would come to the following result: With a round library the diameter would amount to approximately 10^600,000 metres. In contrast, the universe visible for us is relatively small with a diameter of only 8,8 · 10^26 metres. How crazy is that? We, as human beings, cannot even imagine or fathom this sense of infinity.

W. V. O. Quine noted that we will theoretically come to a point in history where everything has been written and that any text that doesn't fit in a single book can be reconstructed by finding a second book (which is guaranteed to exist) with the continuation, therefore the library must be finite. The size of the alphabet can be reduced by using, say, Morse code, even though it makes the books more verbose; the size of the books can also be reduced by splitting each into multiple volumes and discarding the duplicates.
“The ultimate absurdity is now staring us in the face: a universal library of two volumes, one containing a single dot and the other a dash. Persistent repetition and alternation of the two are sufficient, we well know, for spelling out any and every truth. The miracle of the finite but universal library is a mere inflation of the miracle of binary notation: everything worth saying, and everything else as well, can be said with two characters.” — W. V. O. Quinte
So, all in all, I really love how much food for thought this short story provided in only 10 pages. However, I cannot give it a higher rating since the story in and out of itself wasn't accessible to me. I definitely learned that if I ever read a full collection of Borges, I will do that in German (my native language) rather than English because I found him incredibly difficult to follow.
Profile Image for Lisa.
398 reviews53 followers
May 29, 2022
This short story isn't plot or character driven. It's more of a philosophical treatise on the idea of the infinite and the paradox. In this work Borges seems to say that the universe is vast and we as humans will never be able to understand it.

While interesting to contemplate, this isn't my cup of tea.

Profile Image for AiK.
491 reviews112 followers
April 2, 2022
Метафоричность этого произведения позволяет всем понимать по разному, что есть библиотека – вселенную, культуру, человечество, где каждая книга – это человек? Мне ближе понимание, что библиотека - это культура или может быть даже история культуры всего человечества. Каждая книга – это кусочек культуры, знаний, истории, мифов, это культурный код. Заканчивается рассказ так: « Те, кто воображает его без границ, забывают, что ограничено число возможных книг. Я осмеливаюсь предложить такое решение этой вековой проблемы: Библиотека безгранична и периодична. Если бы вечный странник пустился в путь в каком-либо направлении, он смог бы убедиться по прошествии веков, что те же книги повторяются в том же беспорядке (который, будучи повторенным, становится порядком: Порядком). Эта изящная надежда скрашивает мое одиночество.» <?i> Повторение книг в том же беспорядке, формирует орнамент, паттерн. Это повторение истории, если хотите диалектическое развитие общества, его культуры по спирали.
Profile Image for Vimal Thiagarajan.
131 reviews78 followers
October 30, 2016

You who read me - are you certain you understand my language?

Understanding? Certain? Wouldn't even pretend. A Kaleidoscope of earlier ideas like Borel's dactylographic monkey theorem, Pascal's metaphor and Robert Burton's variations, a mathematical thought experiment with infinities and labyrinths that employs cabalistic reasoning which blurs the infinite and the finite with philosophical implications that puts the Gita in mind, a melting pot of motifs that would influence Eco's influential masterpiece - the name of the rose, and a strange allegory that had me reading all over the internet and pondering for hours I know not how many. And all these in a short-story. Moving his bigger works to top-priority.
Profile Image for Leonard.
Author 6 books105 followers
November 30, 2015
Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most imaginative writers I have come across, could have been a mathematician, a physicist, a philosopher or a theologian. I can see his influence on Umberto Eco in the manipulation of text and the blending between fiction and reality. To read Borges is to immerse myself in a magical world where the concept of infinity manifests in space and time, where the boundary between dream and reality fades, where the past and the future converge into an instant, where levels of texts superimpose on one another, where fiction imitates nonfiction and life is a drama on stage. To read Borges is to become children again, listening to stories of magic and wonder, of unfathomable worlds.

The Library of Babel

In “The Library of Babel,” Borges again plays around with the concept of infinity, but this time also with combinatorial and I can imagine Borges as a mathematician or computer scientist. A labyrinth of infinite number of rooms stores books that include all combinations of a 22-letter alphabet plus spaces and the comma and period. Since we know the number of characters in each book, we can calculate the number of possible books (not infinite). Of course, most of them are meaningless. Is this universe of repeated rooms each with five shelves and thirty-five books a mirror of our world? Interestingly, in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, the blind monk who oversees the library is named Jorge of Burges.

Jorge Luis Borges

I recommend Borges to anyone who wants to dream of magical worlds, who wants to reflect on reality and fiction, who wants to analyze the boundary between text and the interpreter, and who wants to contemplate on the nature of infinity.
Profile Image for Shahrzad.
58 reviews45 followers
August 6, 2018
استعاره ای قشنگ تر از این تا حالا نخوندم!
Profile Image for Cynda .
1,272 reviews147 followers
April 7, 2022
In the Prologue to Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges says:
The eight pieces of this book do not require extraneous elucidation.
This frees me to explore the dreamscape of The Library of Babel without too much of an agenda.

That might be best.

I have been trying to work out how to communicate idea Borges seems to be trying to communicate. If Borges can't explain it, I surely can't.

I believe that many academicians, librarians, archivists, orators, and text/code geeks understand the spiritual imagery of place.of information processing and communication. I have had dreams of showing up to a writing class where no one can write, showing up to a committee meeting too late without my materials . It is a spiritual nightmare set in a communications venue. First come the words before the actions. To say that The Divine moves in the world because we are The Hands is to forget that wprds, thoughts, words went first.

The Library of Babel struck me immediately as being a bad dream. The motif of the library is a common element in science, yes--maybe a more significantly common dream element to a librarian.

It has been a long while since I have been in an academic library, yet I do remember that along the time of mid-20th century was the time that the Library of Congress divided a century. Books were physically multiply. Books with sturdy backs and heavy weight page leaves. Books that require certain conditions. Books that. . . . ad infinitum.

For someone like Borges was a constant reader, this increase in books was a special level of hell, one so special that it had no levels. But there were levels that while not round were less box-like.

I can see how this dream that Borges describes in The Library of Babel was a nightmate, a horror, for him.

I am listing this book among my 10 horror selections of 2021.
Profile Image for Sarah.
74 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2016
بورخس رو خيليا دوست ندارن، و خيلي بيشتر از اون خيليا، بار اول دوستش ندارن. دو بار خوندمش پشت هم تا فهميدم چي شد، شايدم هنوز كامل نفهميدما! از شدت پست مدرني گاهي شبيه به مقاله ميشه، از اون مقاله ها كه خط بعدو ميخوني خط قبلو يادت ميره، بي نظير بود.

Borges! Welcome to favorite zone!
Profile Image for Andrei Vasilachi.
78 reviews74 followers
May 28, 2022

Imaginează-ți o bibliotecă formată dintr-un număr infinit de galerii hexagonale, în care găsești orice carte posibilă, „tot ceea ce este posibil să fie exprimat, în toate limbile” — fiecare virgulă diferită, fiecare cuvânt schimonosit ar însemna o altă carte. „Nu există, în vasta Bibliotecă, două cărți identice.”. O carte care comentează altă carte, o carte care comentează comentariul cărții precedente, o carte care neagă validitatea cărții care comentează cartea inițială ș.a. Cum te vei simți, știind că orice carte imaginabilă e posibilă în această Bibliotecă, dar în același timp practic inaccesibilă, din pura limitare fizică și improbabilitate matematică de a o întâlni pe raftul pe care o vei căuta? Vei avea pofta de a descoperi, sau te vei deznădăjdui înțelegând că totul e în van? Cam astea sunt întrebările pe care Borges implicit le pune cititorului în această scurtă poveste.

Biblioteca Babel e practic o alegorie a Universului, a ordinii lui aparent divine, „universul, cu eleganta lui zestre de rafturi, de tomuri enigmatice, de scări fără odihnă pentru călător și de latrine pentru bibliotecarul așezat, nu poate fi decît opera unui zeu.”, dar și a deșertăciunii care se impune asupra psihicului uman, „Înainte, la fiecare trei hexagoane găseai un om. Sinuciderea și afecțiunile pulmonare au distrus această proporție. Amintire de indicibilă melancolie: uneori am rătăcit nopți întregi pe coridoare și scări șlefuite de pași fără să întâlnesc nici măcar un singur bibliotecar.”.

Partea mea favorită e paragraful în care Borges descrie schimbarea în atitudinea oamenilor față de Bibliotecă, sugerând implicit și schimbarea percepției față de descoperirile științifice despre imensitatea Universului și, inevitabil, conștientizarea nulității noastre ca specie; destrămarea lumii biblice, lumii lui Copernicus, Euclid ș.a. Mirarea aristotelică se transformă treptat într-un dogmatism și spre final într-un nihilism „lucid” caracteristic lumii post-industriale:

„Cînd s-a proclamat că Biblioteca posedă toate cărțile, prima impresie a fost de insolită fericire. Toți oamenii s-au simțit stăpîni ai unui tezaur neatins și tainic. Nu exista problemă personală sau mondială a cărei soluție elocventă să nu se fi aflat acolo, într-unul din hexagoane. Universul era justificat, universul uzurpase brusc dimensiunile nelimitate ale speranței. În vremea aceea s-a vorbit mult de Vindicații, cărți de apologie și profeție, care justificau pentru totdeauna actele fiecărui om din univers și ascundeau taine prodigioase pentru viitorul lui. Mii de avizi își părăsiră dulcele hexagon natal și se năpustiră pe scări în sus, mînați de zadarnicul țel de a-și descoperi Vindicația. Acești pelerini se înfruntau pe coridoarele înguste, rosteau blesteme sumbre, se sugrumau pe scările divine, azvîrleau cărțile înșelătoare în adîncurile tunelurilor, mureau prăvăliți în abis de către oamenii ținuturilor îndepărtate. Alții înnebuniră... Vindicațiile există (eu am văzut două care se referă la persoane din viitor, la persoane poate nu imaginare), însă căutătorii pierdeau din vedere că posibilitatea ca un om să și-o găsească pe a sa, ori o perfidă variație a acesteia, este nulă.

S-a speriat atunci și în lămurirea misterelor fundamentale ale umanității: originea Bibliotecii și timpul. Este verosimil ca aceste grave mistere să poată fi explicate în cuvinte: dacă limbajul filozofilor nu este suficient, Biblioteca multiformă va fi produs idiomul nemaiauzit de care este nevoie, ca și vocabularele și gramaticile acestui idiom. Sînt mai bine de patru secole de cînd oamenii răscolesc hexagoanele... Există căutători oficiali, inquisidores. Eu i-am văzut în exercițiul funcțiunii: sînt întotdeauna istoviți; vorbesc despre o scară fără trepte care le-a scos sufletul; vorbesc cu bibliotecarul despre galerii și despre scări; din cînd în cînd, iau cartea cea mai apropiată și o răsfoiesc, în căutare de cuvinte infame. În mod evident, nimeni nu speră să descopere nimic.”

Oamenii au devenit istoviți de abundență și de lipsa răspunsurilor definitive. În același timp, posibilitatea teoretică a răspunsurilor îi propulsează să caute, aproape din inerție:

„Certitudinea că un anume raft dintr-un anume hexagon ascunde cărțile prețioase și că aceste cărți prețioase sînt inaccesibile părea aproape de nesuportat.”

E ceea ce Einstein și-a pus ca scop final, încercând fără succes să stabilească „A Theory of Everything”. Totuși, putem trage paralele cu viața contemporană, și observăm că suntem departe de a afla Răspunsul. Dar poate că o conștientizare mai matură ar fi să admitem că nu putem, de facto, să găsim Răspunsul, și ar trebui să ne mulțumim cu descoperirile pe care până acum le facem, pas cu pas, având un efect nul asupra Universului în ansamblu, dar văzând consecințele acțiunilor noastre aici, pe Pământ. Poate că Răspunsul adevărat e o simplă scindare a perspectivei, de la infinit la ceva perceptibil, la mai mic, la ceea ce putem afecta aici și acum.

„Certitudinea că totul este scris ne anulează sau ne umple de vanitate.” — Jorge Luis Borges.
Profile Image for Lady Selene.
359 reviews20 followers
January 25, 2021
25th January 2020:

Re-read this week and still, what a beautiful exercise in manifestation of thought and expression.

"If honour and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let your enormous Library be justified. "

Curiosity took the better of me and I admittedly read it in English, Spanish, German, and Italian for comparison.

"Para percibir la distancia que hay entre lo divino y lo humano, basta comparar estos rudos símbolos trémulos que mi falible mano garabatea en la tapa de un libro, con las letras orgánicas del interior: puntuales, delicadas, negrísimas, inimitablemente simétricas."

"Anche si spero, a quel tempo, nella spiegazione dei misteri fondamentali dell'umanita: l'origine della Biblioteca e del tempo."

"Oh Zeit, deine Pyramiden."

The modulation of language is intoxicating.


20th October 2019:

“I cannot combine some characters


which the divine Library has not foreseen and which in one of its secret tongues do not contain a terrible meaning. No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god. To speak is to fall into tautology.”
Profile Image for Aiden Heavilin.
Author 1 book70 followers
September 16, 2017
This story is not fiction. The library of babel exists. You can view it here: https://libraryofbabel.info/

At present, the site has catalogued every possible combination of 3200 characters. You can read how its done on the site – its really incredible. You can type in any paragraph, from the opening of your own novel to the end of your favorite thriller, and find that it already exists in a specific page of a specific book on a specific shelf in the library.

Navigating the site is an eerie experience. You can look through pages upon pages of gibberish, encountering random words, mysterious strings of letters. I highly recommend you spend a little while getting acquainted with the library. Every conversation you have had or will ever have exists there.

A precise description of the manner and date of your death exists in the library.

A precise description of what your friends really think about you exists in the library.

They already exist, waiting to be uncovered, amongst unimaginable piles of gibberish and fragments.

I only wonder what Borges would've thought of it.
Profile Image for John Wiswell.
Author 39 books406 followers
September 20, 2007
Easily one of the strangest books I've ever read. I actually ordered it by accident, thinking it was an anthology. But actually this entire slender volume is devoted to one Borges short story, complete with beautiful etchings showing that his impossible library is actually possible. While it's not worth the cover price for everyone, anyone who dismissed his fictional library should flip through these pages and see that he wasn't writing flippantly. As "Library of Babel" was possibly Borges' most imaginative piece of fiction, it's wonderful to see it given shape - as wonderful as it is unexpected.
Profile Image for Mél ☽.
83 reviews27 followers
November 23, 2021
Borges' novels have always been what literature anywhere should be: a constant invitation to Humility.

We read all these wonderful books and refer to critics and theorists to try to unlock the core of the stories...
The recognition of the complexity of the world and the excitement of simply finding a heap of truth... that's what literature is about.

Thank you for reminding me of how mysterious and vaste the world is, Borges.

Profile Image for Natalie.
2,801 reviews136 followers
March 26, 2022
Now that my eyes can hardly make out what I myself have written, I am preparing to die, a few leagues from the hexagon where I was born.

I was intrigued from the moment I started reading and that was the first line that really drew me in. Why was he born in the library? Is this where we all live?

For every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency.

This line felt especially poignant, considering what’s happening in the world.

There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist-somewhere in some hexagon.

Are all the solutions at our fingertips? I like to believe they are. Humans are capable of incredible things. The answer is somewhere. But, as the author continues, maybe we can lose hope in that future.

That unbridled hopefulness was succeeded, naturally enough, by a similarly disproportionate depression. The certainty that some bookshelf in some hexagon contained precious books, yet that those precious books were forever out of reach, was almost unbearable.

They would invade the hexagons, show credentials that were not always false, leaf disgustedly through a volume, and condemn entire walls of books. It is to their hygienic, ascetic rage that we lay the senseless loss of millions of volumes.

It made me think of book bannings, and people that don’t wish for more knowledge because they think it goes against their personal beliefs. Think of the uproar made within the past year about what is being taught in schools. I’ve always been of the firm belief that the light of knowledge should never be hidden under a bushel. The more we know, the more we grow as a society and as individuals.

I enjoyed reading this short story. I thought it was beautifully done and gave me a lot to think about.

Let heaven exist, though my own place be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, wherein thy enormous Library may find its justification.

Profile Image for Dylan.
214 reviews
May 9, 2022
Despite the length, this short story definitely packs a punch. I don't know how to exactly process it. Would recommend a read, a fascinating piece of literature and if you are a big fan of Gene Wolfe.
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