Library or Universe?

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While I was talking with some friends about my project the other day, one of them began talking about “The Library of Babel” and immediately I was excited to learn more.  A library that was also the universe and geometrically organized.  In Jorge Luis Borges own words, “The library is a sphere whose exact center is any hexagon and whose circumference is unattainable.”  It is a fantastical and complete form of knowledge!

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The labyrinth represents the never ending search for the one book that will decode one’s “self.”  Statistically speaking this has a 0% chance of happening according to the unknown narrator of the story.  The book is told from the point of view of a nearly blind elderly man who has always lived in this library or universe.  The man explains the inner workings of the library.  He describes his younger years and the quest for finding the book of his self.  Now he is just waiting to die and be thrown into a fall of infinite time and depth where his body will decompose and turn to dust.

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“One of the hexagons free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first – identical in fact to all.” (19)

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“I am perhaps misled misled by old age and fear, but I suspect that the human species – the only species – teeters at the verge of extinction, yet that the Library – enlightened, solitary, infinite, perfectly unmoving, armed with precious volumes, pointless, incorruptible, and secret – will endure. ” (36)

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“They speak, I know, of “the feverish Library, whose random volumes constantly threaten to transmogrify into other, so that affirm all things, deny all things, and confound and confuse all things, like some mad and hallucinating deity.” (32)

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“At that same period there was also hope that the fundamental mysteries of mankind – the origin of the library and of time – might be revealed. In all likelihood those profound mysteries can indeed be explained in words; if the language of the philosophers is not sufficient, then the multiform Library must surely have produced the extraordinary language that is required, together with the words and grammar of that language.” (26)

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“The certainty that on some bookshelf in some hexagon contained precious books, yet those precious books were forever out of reach, was almost unbearable. ” ( 29)

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“The universe was justified; the universe suddenly had become congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of human-kinds hope.” (26)

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“To locate book A, first consult book B, which tells where book A can be found; to locate book B, first consult book C, and so on, to infinity….It is ventures such as these that I have squandered and spent my years.” ( 32)

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“In the vestibule there is a mirror, which faithfully duplicates appearances.  Men often infer from this mirror that the library is not infinite – if it were, what need would there be for that illusory replication?”  (19)

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“On some shelf in some hexagon, it was argued, there must exist a book that is the cipher and perfect compendium of all other books, and some librarian must have examined that book; this librarian is analogous to God.” (32)

Library of babel009 copyNotes: “the original manuscript has neither numbers nor capital letters; punctuation is limited to the comma and the period.  Those two marks, the space, and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five sufficient symbols that our unknown author is referring to.” [Ed. Note]

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So many questions arise from Borges concepts that I wouldn’t even know where to start.  I am interested in looking at some of his poetry and other ideas.  The fantastical allegory of The Library of Babel encompasses what I would hope for my thesis project, in that it completely conveys complex theories of reality into an amazing story that provokes thought and the desire to understand more.  It seems as though the library is inherently at a level of complexity that no human could ever attain.  The exploration of the space and form of knowledge could seemingly take many forms so maybe confining it to one building/form/shelf is an oversimplification.



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