Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

Title: The Library of Babel
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Genre: Literary
First published: 1941

It has been a year or two since I have last read anything by my favorite author of all time, Jorge Luis Borges.

The Library of Babel was always one of the short stories that stayed with me, and I am glad that I decided to re-read it last night.

Here, the Universe and the Library are one and the same, and the world is made up of shelves upon shelves of countless, infinite numbers of books.
The books, however, do not contain stories and histories and vast knowledge. Or, perhaps they do. In fact, many scholars insist that they must. Sadly, however, no meaning has yet been found in their pages. The books are a jumbled, random, confusing mess of letters and commas and periods that make no sense.
Here, books are things to be studied, to have theories about, and to experiment upon. They are not so much literary as they are scientific. The people of Babel know that the books are important, that the books define them. They simply cannot figure out how.

There appear to be so many varying views about the books, they are a highly controversial topic. Irrelevant or vital? There are those who worship books but cannot read, those who believe in a secret Librarian somewhere who has unlocked the Library's secrets, those who go on pilgrimages to try and find "their" book, Inquisitors who destroy books with offensive letters, and still more.

Borges does a marvelous job here of writing an allegorical story in which books parallel religion and the controversial debate of creation.
No conclusion is reached in the story, but rather you come away from it with pages of questions that you may not have thought of before.

I always feel a mixture of awe and sadness when I read of Borges' library-world of Babel. For an entire people, culture, and world to be formed around books sounds like the most amazing idea. For a library the size of an entire world to exist sounds like some intoxicating sort of heaven. And yet, what if you were unable to read a single one of those books, or comprehend them, or know anything about them? So very sad.
Also, I loved that Borges slipped in a mirror, right on the first page - of course one had to make an appearance somewhere!

Two quotes jumped out at me this time...

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.


There was no problem whose eloquent solution did not exist - somewhere in some hexagon... The universe suddenly became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind's hope.

I absolutely love Borges, above any and all other writer of all time. I think that his are the only books that I will always, always read, over and over, for the rest of my life.