Fictional essay: “The Library of Babel”

by look i have opinions

“The Library of Babel” (“La biblioteca de Babel”), by Jorge Luis Borges

From El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths); translated apparently by James E. Irby here and here

2,902 words in this translation

One of Borges’ wonderfully strange thought experiments. Before the internet era, he was writing lines like “The universe (which others call the Library)” and describing all things as forms of information.

When speculative fiction spends long passages describing a nonexistent world, it’s usually a hard sell. But Borges isn’t worldbuilding, he’s idea-building. The hexagonal chambers aren’t a setting, they’re the structure on which to hang philosophical speculations, or parodies of philosophical speculations. Which is probably a hard sell for some readers too, but whatever.

On a more prosaic note, did anyone else notice that Borges equips his library with bathrooms but no cafeterias? Not even a vending machine. I like to think of it as the sort of otherworld where no one needs to eat or drink. The bathrooms exist only to stop snarky or scatological-minded readers from asking Borges where everybody goes to the bathroom. (Edited to add what occurred to me later: there is a place to dispose of corpses, but no place to bear children.)