ii.4. The Library of Babel
Issue No. 1
The Library of Babel
The Library of Babel is the very first issue of library library, and is a visual reading of Jorge Luis Borge’s 1941 story about an infinite library the size of the universe. Instead of interpreting this issue in the form of a book, I opted for a grander format—a 12-foot poster that invites the viewer to glance at it first from a distance before they commit to reading it up close.
In the spirit of collaborative design processes, this issue began with a series of discussions about Borge’s library with friend and illustrator, Martin Dupuis. After several exchanges about the text, Martin shared of his notes that he scribbled directly onto the page. This marginalia became the base layer for an artifact that expresses quite literally what it might look like for a visual artist to engage with a literary text.
This massive reading sheet combines several different translations of Borge’s story. The pages containing Martin’s marginalia are from Andrew Hurley’s translation of the story published by Penguin Books in 1999, and all text excerpts and book spread scans are from a translation of the work by James E. Erby published by New Directions in 2007. The presence of these different translations on the poster echo the library in Borge’s story which contains every possible version of every book ever written.
This piece also features abstract graphics representing a bird’s-eye view of a book with no beginning and no end, hexagonal geometric diagrams which reflect the shape of the library as described in the story, book spreads containing the story in-situ, and computer generated babel created with Jonathan Basile’s Library of Babel text generator which, if ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters including lower case letters, spaces, commas, and periods.”
“In all the Library, there are no two identical books. From those incontrovertible premises, the librarian deduced that the Library is ‘total’—perfect, complete, and whole-and that its bookshelves contain all possible combinations of the twenty-two orthographic symbols (a number which, though unimaginably vast, is not infinite)—that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language.”
“Mystics claim that their ecstasies reveal to them a circular chamber containing an enormous circular book with a continuous spine that goes completely around the walls. But their testimony is suspect, their words obscure. That cyclical book is God.”
This large-scale print piece performs differently than would a book or a magazine—it captures the viewer’s attention from afar, then slowly pulls them in for a closer reading. This unconventional format brings attention to short yet profound piece of literary fiction, and challenges the norms of mainstream magazine publishing by proposing a format intended for display in a public space rather than distribution at a newsstand.
—Poster dimensions: 33” x 144”
—Printing: large format laser