A Hard Read

The Library of Babel from "Labyrinths" by Jorge Borges

Let me just cut to the chase. This short story by Borges is one of the best works I have had the chance to read. And let me just tell you know that this is only the first in a series I'll be doing on other Labyrinth stories. They are all great. This one and Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote are particularly mind-blowing. To be fair, if you don't want me revealing some of the awesomeness, please go ahead and read the story before reading this post. The story is just a few pages long.

The Library of Babel describes a universe that is literally one massive library. This library is made up of an indefinite number of hexagonal rooms. Two walls directly across from one another are entrances/exits and lead to hallways that connect the hexagons. The other four walls are lined with bookshelves with books of uniform build. Each are the same size, each contain 410 pages. Each room contains the necessities for human life, including a place to sleep and a bathroom.

You may be wondering "If every room in the library/universe is filled with books, there must be a TON of them!" Yes. In fact, the thing about this library is that it contains (take a breath) every possible combination of the alphabet. What this means is that everything that is written, or WILL BE written, is in this library.

Side note: While the number is astronomical, there is indeed a finite number of combinations of the alphabet, so the Library is not infinite.

For example, say you are looking for a Labyrinths in this library. Not only does the "correct" copy exist on one of the shelves, but an "incorrect" version containing any number of typos, false lines, or repetitions also exist. There exists a copy with one comma omitted.

Since all possible literature is written, there exists an exact account of your future out there. There also exists a ton of false accounts of your future as well. The people that live in this universe are each designated a hexagon of which they are to be the "librarian," or caretaker. When certain cults or believes arise, these people get swept up in movements that really have no effect on the actual library, since it is so massive. Gosh, the idea of this story is so awesome.

The drawing above represents one of the cult's beliefs. Some elders have claimed that there exists a circular room in this universe. The circumference of this room (the walls) act as the spine for a great book. This great book is God. I just had to illustrate that idea.

I drew someone actually stumbling upon this room. How could you get inside if the walls were the spine of the book? I put a little spiral staircase down from above.

Onto the next part of the post:

Originally I misread the cult's belief about the circular room. I envisioned a book with a circular spine, that one could hold and flip through. Since there is no end or beginning, the reading is cyclical. You could start from anywhere and keep reading indefinitely. That'd be one heck of a story, eh? I drew this book to have a stand, so you could set it down. Or press against your tum-tum, if you wanted to read on the go. It also has a handy-dandy book mark, so you'll never lose your place!

Here's a librarian who happened upon the cyclical book. Boy is HE in for a treat.

Look, I could write ten more paragraphs about all the great things in this story. But then I'd be spoiling pretty much everything for you. It's just great to think about all the things that could be found on the shelves of this universe. If you want to discuss it further, let me know. Please do yourself a favor and read the story. It's only about 6 pages or so!

Oh, let me explain the post title. This isn't a "hard read" in the sense that it was hard to finish, or understand. It's in reference to the library universe: The probability of finding what you want in a library with almost infinite books is equal to a library containing zero books.

I hope you were sitting down for that one.


Maria V. said...

whoa! very cool! thanks for sharing.

raindog said...

alright mister! where's my flippin ringwraith?! oh, i jest. this is a booksketch of a different sort. i really like the free style. in other words, neat-o. i'm a big fan of the short story and maybe i'll get to it one day, but first there's this path to mordor you set me upon ...

Burt said...

I'm going to start trying a more doodle/ink style for booksketches. I just got a new Moleskin with natural-colored paper, so i can't do much color correcting in photoshop, haha.

Elise said...

i love the librarian. very dynamic sketch.
and yes, photoshop and moleskin will just lead to you cursing at the screen.