Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Borges and His Libraries

Sunday's New York Times contains an article on Jorge Luis Borges, the onetime director of Argentina's National Library. Borges wrote many famous short stories, among them "The Library of Babel," upon which the Library of Babel Paradigm is based.

The author of the article notes that Borges wrote this short story while working at the Miguel Cane municipal library, and remarks somewhat oddly:

Borges later wrote that "the innumerable books and shelves that appear in the story are literally those I had beneath my elbow." But like the room in which the story was written, which can be visited, the library itself is small with a limited collection of books, and hardly seems worthy of the immortality Borges bestowed on it.

I'm not sure what Borges did or didn't say about that library but I guess any library he knew would be potentially "worthy" of inclusion in his own writings and the inevitable immortality, regardless of how large or small it was.

The author, Larry Rohter, thinks the National Library would have been a much better model for "The Library of Babel" because it is much larger and closer in size. I think it's easy to see how Borges sat in the smaller library and fantasized about one that was infinite--the opposite of his immediate surroundings. It seems the sort of thing a creative writer would think about. A shadowy shelf in the basement of the National Library is where the narrator of "The Book of Sand" left that troublesome tome.

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