The Library of Babel

Trinity College Library, Dublin. (Photo credit: Diliff via Wikipedia)

In 1941, Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges published The Library of Babel, a short story remembered nowadays as one if his most famous works. The whole plot takes place in a fictional library; as Borges described, “the universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.” All those galleries display numerous shelves gathering an even-more-infinite number of books, which contain in fact a random arrangement of letters and three signs (space, period, and comma).

That’s for the plot. Now imagine you’ve been given a ticket to the Library of Babel. You’re now wandering through the library, among undifferentiated shelves covered with dusty books. You stop in front of one, which you decide to pick up and open to its first page.

“heyhd dune fkd ,doi dzhb, dz,nj   c,ejfhk z,n” may be the first sentence you’d encounter. (I actually played piano with my keyboard to get that). But here’s the thing: random arrangement of letters and signs do necessarily make sense, statistically, in just a few cases.

As all the combinations are likely to occur, the letters making up your high school nickname (yes, that one you’re not proud of), the place where you grew up or the recipe of your favorite food are already somewhere in the library. Along with everything that’s once been said, next year’s best-seller, future political speeches, all the knowledge of the world and what hasn’t been discovered yet. Also what you intend to say right now (let me guess: “whoah, that’s amazing! Is this blog from another world or something?”) and well, thanks.

Borges’ assumption is not new, in fact it was developed even before – the German author Kurd Laßwitz, for instance, described his own “Universalbibliothek” in the early 20th century – but there has been a recent update. A web project has been designed to complete Borges’ hypothetical work and take it to the next level: thanks to computer technology advancements, it is now possible to generate such a library into a digitized format. Still, it is limited to a search of 3,200 following characters for now, and remains incomplete – but the digital library nevertheless gathers some 104677 books down here.

LOB Random joke
Example of random search. You can do your own via this link. Enjoy!

You can also browse the library by yourself or simply load a random page – be prepared though to feel like an archeologist who just unearthed some vestige from an unknown civilization.

And please, remember that, whatever you plan on searching there is already written, deep down the labyrinthine galleries of the Library of Babel.

You just need to open the right book.



Author: Nicolas

Ingrédients : 33% d'anecdotes insolites, 19% de livres poussiéreux, le reste de curiosité névrosée. Auteur du Petit dictionnaire des sales boulots (Vendémiaire, 2022). Chroniqueur chez Slate et RetroNews.

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