The nonsense of the Library of Babel

On last Wednesday’s date, 24th August back in 1899 Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most talented writers of all times was born in Buenos Aires. Borges spent his childhood playing with his sister on imaginary worlds, built together while acting out the books from their father’s labyrinthine library. Since then, the fascination for the libraries would accompany him for the rest of his life.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” — Jorge Luis Borges

Unable to support himself as a writer, he found his first remunerated job in 1938 and started working as a library assistant on the Biblioteca Municipal Miguel Cané, in Buenos Aires. One of his most important texts, “The Library of Babel”, was written in the basement of the library as an allegory for his job.

“The impious maintain that nonsense is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (and even humble and pure coherence) is an almost miraculous exception” — The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges

The Library of Babel is an infinite collection of books with all combinations of symbols, so all the posible books are there. It’s as impressing as useless, so every sentence and its opposite are written in some unfindable book placed in this infinite virtual shelf.

Borges died in 1986, when the Internet was just inside a laboratory. So we don’t know if he ever imagined the access to such a huge source of knowledge could be possible. In any case, having Borges known Internet I’m sure he would agree such information may need a librarian to make sense of it.

About this post

This post was first published on LibTechNotes, a blog from the Library team at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya to share our everyday findings, solutions and inspirations.