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

 The Library of Babel, a short story by Argentine author and Librarian Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
… what!?

Initially I had no idea what to make of this story, because after the first time I read it I felt like crying, especially since we had to use this as our stimulus for the module!

After many cups of tea and copious amounts of digestive biscuits I realised that:
The story conceives a universe in the form of a vast library containing all possible books imaginable. Borges narrator describes how his universe consists of an enormous honeycombed expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare requirements for human existence – and the walls of bookshelves. The order and content of the books are random and meaningless, like the library itself when in such disorder. The library’s meaning in this state is revealed in the last footnote ‘the vast library is pointless’1. The majority of the books are pure nonsense but the library also contains every book ever written and every book that will ever be written, including predictions of the future and of people yet to be born. However, in this state the books are totally useless leaving the librarians in despair.

Copies of books are found from previous centuries in replicated disorder, surely that makes it orderly!?

The essential point is that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity teaches that space ultimately bends back on itself, like the earth’s surface, so that the total amount of space can be infinite. However, the Library of Babel is a maze of endless hexagonal tombs of paper and words’, revealing that the universe is flat and infinite, so it has infinite matter. This gives reason for the similar orders, as it is creating a pattern. It also reveals the notion that the ‘librarians’ time will come around again, so that they will forever be sorting through the infinite books in search of answers and structure. The idea of the universe being so big is completely unfathomable for the human brain, ‘space could be limited only by the presence of something that is not space and that we, or rather our imaginations can only be prevented from journeying forever through space by imagining a barrier of something different from space to prevent our imaginations from passing into further space beyond’,2. The walls of the each honeycomb make it difficult to imagine an infinite possibility of the library’s grandeur and its reoccurring, cyclical nature stops the librarians from visualizing this.

The fact that the librarians are called travellers has always fabricated in my mind the impression that the Universe, which the narrator inhabits, is a non-place, ‘soulless, alienating spaces which are only of functional value’3 a place different from anthropological places that ‘cannot be defined as rational or historical or concerned with identity’,4. It is a place that ‘promotes solitude rather than social relations’,5, a place to travel through to get elsewhere.

Where are they going?
What is their purpose?

The narrator states at the beginning, ‘My eyes can hardly make out what I myself have written, I am preparing to die, a few leagues from the hexagon where I was born’6, ultimately when the narrator is dying, morality is the key theme and it emphasises the question of why these travellers are there.

In-case you want to read the real thing, here’s a PDF copy of the full story, first published in 1941:

The Library of Babel by Jorge luis Borges

What do you make of it?


Black (2011)

Word Count: 659

Works Cited

Ackerley, C (2005) Borges the Library of Babel and Jeans the Universe Around Us. Exlicator, March 2005 63(3) p170-73.

Auge, M (1995). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.

Black, Andrew (2011) The Mask of Reason (Online: http://maskofreason.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/the-library-of-babel/) Accessed on 10th May 2013)

Borges, Jorge Luis (1998) The Library of Babel, Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin.

Govan, E et al (2007). Making a performance. London: Routledge.


  1. Borges, 1998 p118 []
  2. Ackerley, 2005 p171 []
  3. Govan, 2007 p121 []
  4. Auge 1995, p 78 []
  5. Auge, 1995 p78 []
  6. Borges, 1998 p 112 []
Posted: January 29th, 2013
Categories: Borges, Early Research, Les dames des livres
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