Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garden of Forking Paths

I spend a lot of time walking in the woods in the wilderness of Kentucky. I also drink a lot of Zwack and Jagermeister out there, and lately have also been doing a lot of reading in those haunted forests.

I find the chaos of nature somehow conducive to reading, especially comic books, Victorian gothic literature, and Hardy Boys books. But lately I've been packing around the works of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges.

In his story The Library of Babel, the narrator describes how his universe consists of an endless labyrinth of beehive-like interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which is filled with walls of bookshelves.

Though the order and content of the books is purely random, the inhabitants have come to realize that the library is infinite, and therefore somewhere out there, its books contain every possible ordering of letters.

The majority of the books, of course, are total nonsensical gobbledygook, but the library also must contain, somewhere, every possible book that could be written. Additionally, by sheer statistics, an infinite library must also contain every possible permutation of those same books, including every conceivable variant.

From Wikipedia:

The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents.

Despite — indeed, because of — this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair. This leads some librarians to superstitions and cult-like behaviour, such as the "Purifiers", who arbitrarily destroy books they deem nonsense as they move through the library seeking the "Crimson Hexagon" and its illustrated, magical books. Another is the belief that since all books exist in the library, somewhere one of the books must be a perfect catalog of the library's contents; some even believe that a messianic figure known as the "Man of the Book" has read it, and they travel through the library seeking him.

There was a point to all this, but I've forgotten what it is.

I'm off now to ponder on it some more whilst listening to Robert Johnson. Cheers.

- - JSH

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