The Library of Babel [Jorge Luis Borges]

Sunkan Kwon

“The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any hexagon and whose circumference is unattainable”

In The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges depicts an infinite library. You’re here reading a book blog, you’re probably a bit of a book nerd; surely this is an appealing premise. The universe comprises countless adjacent, identical hexagonal rooms, each containing four walls of bookshelves. Each book is 410 pages long. The inhabitants of the universe, who have studied the books for generations, understand that there are infinite books – containing every possible combination a finite set of twenty five characters, however the books are not arranged in any meaningful order. Selecting a book at random, you would probably find that it contained nothing but gibberish, but all intelligible combinations must also exist somewhere in the library. The residents’ logic is that there must be a book somewhere in the library to answer any given question. “How will I die?”, “Who has a crush on me?”, “Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?” etc. A core belief is that there exists a book to index and explain the library itself, and some devote their lives to seeking out this “key” tome. Some believe that a man must have read the book, the “Man of the Book”. Many are driven to madness.

Without a plot, without a protagonist, and in just a handful of pages, Borges achieves something phenomenal. You come away totally dazzled by ideas and questions about infinity, the multiverse, microcosm and macrocosm – the literary equivalent of smoking a superbong. You can read The Library of Babel in your lunch hour with time to spare (good job, because it’s going to take some time to put your mind back together once Borges has blown it apart). The best bit? It’s online for you to read free of charge. Do it. Now. Seriously.

“When I am dead, compassionate hands will throw me over the railing; my tomb will be the unfathomable air, my body will sink for ages, and will decay and dissolve in the wind engendered by my fall, which shall be infinite.”

Until next time.


Artwork Credit: Sunkwan Kwon ‘A man standing on the apartment balcony, looking out side, and a woman watching the man without a word’


2 thoughts on “The Library of Babel [Jorge Luis Borges]

    • Thank you! I’d absolutely recommend this as a first Borges; after all, it was my first experience reading him. As for feeling intimidated, I think it helps that it is very short – the online edition linked is just 8 pages long. I know that when I read short-format works I’m always predisposed to take a bit more time over really understanding the prose, rather than feeling I have to keep up with the momentum of a grand story arc. Let me know how you find it, if you do check it out!

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