Monday, January 13, 2014

Reader's Diary #1081- Jorge Luis Borges, translated by J. E. I.: The Library of Babel

I know last week's Short Story Monday was a Jorge Luis Borges story, as well, and I don't often do two stories by the same author in a row but the premise of "The Library of Babel," seemed too good to pass up. The Library of Babel is an infinite library with an infinite number of books. Though the books all appear to be ordered at random and hold gibberish, because it is infinite must also contain comprehensible books. There must also be, as inhabitants hope, books that contain the answers to all of their questions, including a book that catalogs all the other books and provides order.

In Googlization of Everything, Siva Vaidhyanathan does a fine job of using this story as a metaphor for Google, stating that "amassing vast, infinite collections of information ultimately gets us no closer to wisdom." And while I think we would both acknowledge that Google isn't literally infinite, it can feel like it and I think the metaphor holds up.

As I read the story I was struck by the minute details. Describing the dimensions of the rooms, the precise number of letters and punctuation, it reminded me somewhat of Old Testament stories that described objects such as the Ark of the Covenant in detail that lasted for pages at a time. Then, it also reminded me of the sciences in which laws and theories are discovered and proposed all the time. And in both religion and science, isn't that what we are trying to do? Find answers amongst the infinite? A method to the madness? 

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

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