Somewhere in Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel,” the imagined infinitude of hexagonal chambers lined with every book that has or will ever be written, this blog post already exists. The Library, subject of a 1941 Borges story by the same name, contains all possible combinations of letters, and is tended to by melancholy Librarians trying in vain to locate meaning within the nonsense. (Per the law of factorials, most of the precisely 410-page volumes hold nothing but gibberish.) If that sounds like a less-than-appealing place to spend your time—not to mention a logically impossible one—keep your rational, unfevered brain away from libraryofbabel.info, where Brooklyn-based writer and coder Jonathan Basile has set out to bring Borges’ dream/nightmare to life.
“If completed, [The Library of Babel] would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lower case letters, space, comma, and period,” Basile explains on the site. “Thus, it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be— including every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture, and so on. At present it contains 1,024,640 volumes.”
If you decide to brave Basile’s Library of Babel, you can browse among random texts, search for your name (or any other arrangement of letters), or wander through the digital hexagons by number. You’ll find a lot of gdlfkn.afi sfo and alfksjn ao,fin—law of factorials again—but you may also stumble upon a Shakespearean sonnet, 19th-century novel, or simple string of coherent English. (I didn’t, but you might!) As Basile told Flavorwire: “The project … gives that brief glimmer of hope that reason might win out over nonreason, then crushes it.”
Of course, he continued, “even if the universe were just racks of hard drives,” there still wouldn’t be enough space in the digital world for a true Borgesian library. The 2015 imitation won’t come near its capacious goal of containing the text of every possible 410-page tome, in Borges’ words: “The minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.” But still: Borges intended his story to be ironic—haunting because it was impossible—so he would surely be alarmed to know we’ve moved a bit closer to its realization. He imagined his Library as an infinite place full of depressed librarians futilely searching for sense amid the gobbledygook. Thanks to libraryofbabel.info, we can all be those depressed librarians now.