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The Library of Babel Hardcover – August, 2000

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Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Spanish

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 39 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156792123X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567921236
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on July 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The Library of Babel" is one of the most memorable stories by the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. This slim book contains Andrew Hurley's English translation of the story, eleven illustrations by Erik Desmazieres, and an introduction by Angela Giral.
"Library" is the quintessential "Borgesian" tale. The story concerns an infinite library, composed of endlessly connected hexagonal galleries, and populated by inhabitants among whom have risen various weird belief systems and subcultures. The first-person narrator is one of the library's residents. "Library" is a masterpiece of the fantastic and the metaphysical.
Giral notes in her introduction that Desmaziere's engravings are not literal representations of scenes from the story, but rather "the product of a parallel imagination, inspired to create in visual images his own, equivalent universe." The etchings have an elegant, majestic, and sometimes whimsical quality that effectively complements Borges' unique imagination. This book would make a nice gift for lovers of Borges, or of fantastic literature in general.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By "krchicago" on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"The Library of Babel" is one of Borges' finest short fictions -- a meditation on the possible, the infinite, the nature of hope and the creation of meaning. The Library contains all possible books, all possible combinations of the 25 orthographic symbols in all possible languages, and therefore everything man is capable of knowing and expressing -- but it appears to have no order, no organization. It contains the true catalogue of the Library, as well as innumerable false catalogues, books proving the falsity of the false catalogue, and books proving the falsity of the true catalogue. Yet from chaos arises meaning: "There is no combination of characters one can make . . . that the divine Library has not foreseen and that in one or more of its secret tongues does not hide a terrible significance. There is no syllable one can speak that is not filled with tenderness and terror, that is not, in one of those languages, the mighty name of a god." (35)
This volume is intended for the lover of fine books and contains "only" this single, quite short, fantasy by Borges, beautifully illustrated with duotone etchings by Erik Desmazieres. The etchings are not particularly consistent with Borges' description of the Library, although they are plainly inspired by it. Although Desmazieres' Library appears to be physically bounded in a way that Borges' Library is not (there is no "outside" for Borges), the etchings present a magisterial universe that by the overwhelming size and fine detail of its rooms evokes a sense of the infinite in the same way that High Gothic cathedrals function. My only real quarrel with Desmazieres is that his Library is too populated. He captures the sense of infinite space, but misses the fundamental loneliness of the librarian.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Eric Halsey on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The Library of Babel" is Jorge Luis Borges' take on an astounding library that contains every possible volume, of a given size and number of pages, that can be printed with a standard alphabet of a given number of characters. This library contains everything that could possibly be written, and so transcribes everything that could be experienced, thought, or imagined. And yet, although it is unimaginably large, it is mathematically of a finite size.

Borges did not originate this idea, and indeed got it from a short story by the minor turn-of-the-century German philosopher-author Kurd Lasswitz. But although the earlier author attempted to spice his story with pungent bits of business suggesting the hauntingly inhuman completeness of the library ("Fortunately it contains its own true index. Unfortunately it also contains every conceivable false index to itself."), he had nowhere near the quirky, evocative genius of Borges, who describes what happens when a librarian in the essentially infinite library dies of old age: he is dropped over the railing of one of the endlessly vertical ventilation shafts, to fall for centuries through the air, eventually desiccating and turning to dust.

The story of the Library of Babel is told from the inside, by a librarian who in his youth explored thousands of the galleries and rooms of the limitless institution, but is now content to stay close to the home shelves. There are hints of wars, revolutions, and the clash of bibliognostic creeds, all tied up by Borges to the essential mathematical nature of the library with malicious, dazzling cleverness.

Erik Desmazieres is a French lithographer renowned for his meticulous, surrealistic etchings (look for him on the Web).
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Peter Jennings on April 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Bibliophiles will be drawn to this wonderful little volume combining fine writing, fascinating artists engravings and top quality book production. Borges' meditation on the library of Babel - an infinite universe of hexagonal galleries containing every possible book - provides a metaphor for thinking about knowledge and truth. While only a few thousand words long, Borges' story draws the reader into a world both deeply familiar and utterly surreal. His descriptions of how people have searched for the ultimate truth, to be found (they imagine) in a volume somewhere on the endless library shelves, makes for an unsettling parable.
Print maker Eric Desmazieres provides eleven engravings, offering intricately detailed architectural drawings of the library - a monstrous, looming tower of Babel; huge internal chambers with book-shelves reaching into the darkness; urgent, scurrying librarians pushing books in barrows across narrow bridges, meticulously arranging volumes on shelves. The moody darkened images perfectly compliment Borges' prose.
The publisher, David R Godine, from Boston specialises in fine quality editions. The book itself is a wonderful example of the publisher's art. It too will have a well-deserved place in Borges' Library of Babel.
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