Thursday, 22 December 2016

Deal Me in Challenge: The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges (1941)

Card Drawn:


Erik Desmazieres' illustration of Borges' Library of Babel December 17, 2010

This Deal Me in Challenge has introduced me to a lot of new authors that I probably would not have otherwise discovered on my own. I have heard of Jorge Luis Borges in passing but never ventured to seek out any of his writing. Not having any expectations whatsoever, The Library of Babel completely floored me. Indeed, this is an unequivocal masterpiece--a complex and mind-altering reading experience that is unlike anything that I have ever encountered in literature before. Borges not only elevates the short-story into a powerful  art-form but somehow manages to transform it into something unique. It truly defies any categorization and cannot be lumped into a single particular genre. Many readers might be inclined to label this story as science-fiction, since Borges' vision of the universe consisting of a library system that stretches for infinity can certainly be seen as dystopian but that would only be one possible interpretation. As a highly self-reflexive work full of paradoxes, Borges miraculously packs an exorbitant amount of philosophical and religious discourse in only a few short pages. The tension between epistemology and metaphysics is playfully articulated by Borges in his imaginative conceptualization of the universe. Yet, the inherent irony here is the inadequacy of language to represent the incomprehensible or sublime. Borges also seems to be satirizing human pride and the search for endless knowledge. However, such pride only leads to our downfall (the biblical allusion to 'Babel' reinforces this argument) and ironically, despite having access to the vast resources of human knowledge, we still don't know anything. I have barely scratched the surface and there are so many different ways to approach this story where each subsequent reading will produce another layer of meaning. Just incredible. 

Excerpt:

Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

You can read this story HERE.


1 comment:

  1. One of my book clubs read Borges' "Ficciones" a couple years ago. The reading is not easy going, but so worth it if you make the effort. This story was one of my favorites.

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