What if there was an infinite library containing every book ever written? All of the knowledge ever discovered? Would you want to explore every gallery, or remain in your comfort zone aware there is an an abundance of information around you?
This raises two problems.
“Those who imagine it to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have such a limit. If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder.”
In this letter I would like to share with you a short story I recently read. It describes the universe as an infinite library, The Library of Babel, containing ever book ever written. The library is made up of hexagonal galleries with four walls of bookshelves and two doors connecting to other galleries. The galleries are endless. A big part of the story is about when people of the library realise that somewhere, in some hexagon, is the secret. One book containing the formula for the perfect life. They struggle for years, climbing to higher galleries and descending tragically to lower ones trying to find this book, or the supreme person who has read it. Of course, there really is no such book, or person.
“It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe. If honour and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let your library be justified.“
The author shares his thoughts about how people live in their personal gallery. He explains that he was a traveller in his youth and explored galleries far and wide. To him, the library really is infinite and he will never read all of the books. He may die near where he was born, no matter how much he endeavored to travel. But at least he tried.
“Like all men of the Library, I have travelled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite. I say that the Library is unending.“
Of course, The Library of Babel is not a library. The Library of Babel is the universe. The library is unending. The books contain the greatest knowledge you could ever hope to discover, and the more you travel between the galleries, the more you will understand. I think the galleries are countries, or cities, or villages. The books are the people you might hope to meet on your travels. It’s not the places you gain knowledge from, at their core they are almost identical. It’s the people and the journeys between the places that are the biggest education.
Most importantly, it doesn’t matter how you chose to live, how much you travel, or how much you learn. Your library is justified. Your universe is justified.
This book prompted me to think about my library. I aspire to live my library travelling between galleries and reading as many of their books as I can. For me, I don’t need to visit every gallery in this infinite library. I just want to leave each one knowing I have read all of it’s books.
“Let your Library be justified.”
I read this book because I am currently working towards designing a library on my course. I came across the title and thought it may be relevant. It’s influenced my design no end and I thoroughly enjoyed it’s messages.
I hope you enjoyed this letter. If you would like to read this short story you can find a link below. It’s called ‘The Library of Babel’ and is written by Jorge Luis Borges.
How will you live your library?