巴別圖書館 = The Library of Babel

那時,天下人的口音、言語都是一樣。他們往東邊遷移的時候,在示拿地遇見一片平原,就住在那裡。他們彼此商量說:來吧!我們要做磚,把磚燒透了。他們就拿磚當石頭,又拿石漆當灰泥。他們說:來吧!我們要建造一座城和一座塔,塔頂通天,為要傳揚我們的名,免得我們分散在全地上。耶和華降臨,要看看世人所建造的城和塔。耶和華說:看哪,他們成為一樣的人民,都是一樣的言語,如今既做起這事來,以後他們所要做的事就沒有不成就的了。我們下去,在那裡變亂他們的口音,使他們的言語彼此不通。於是耶和華使他們從那裡分散在全地上;他們就停工,不造那城了。因為耶和華在那裡變亂天下人的言語,使眾人分散在全地上,所以那城名叫巴別。
-- 創世記11:1-9(中文和合本)

巴別在希伯來文裡,就是變亂的意思。

1941年,阿根廷作家兼圖書館員豪爾赫·路易斯·波赫士(Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges, 1899–1986)發表短篇小說《巴別塔圖書館》(La biblioteca de Babel, The library of Babel);1962年, James E. Irby 與 Anthony Kerrigan 不約而同地,分別將其譯為英文。這個短篇小說的主題重複作者在1939年發表的另個小說《全面圖書館》(La biblioteca total, The Total Library)的主題,其源頭則來自有德國科學小說之父稱號的 Kurd Lasswitz (1848-1910),於1901年發表的小說《宇宙圖書館》(Die Universalbibliothek, The Universal Library)。

1938年,40歲的波赫士在首都布宜諾斯艾利斯市立圖書館 Miguel Cané 分館謀得一份助理的工作,館藏量少,工作量低,每天祗需編目百本圖書。每天一個小時,波赫士就做完份內的工作,其餘的時間就躲入地下室,撰寫文章、短篇小說與翻譯。

1946年,裴隆(Juan Perón,1895年10月8日 - 1974年7月1日)執政後,因為政治因素,波赫士被調職至公營市場,督導家禽與兔子的交易。不甘受辱,上任即辭職。
 a library containing every possible 410-page text ("The Library of Babel"),

1955年,佩德羅·尤金尼奧·阿蘭布魯·西爾維蒂(Pedro Eugenio Aramburu Cilveti,1903年5月21日-1970年6月1日)贏得總統選舉,迫使裴隆流亡,任命被任命為阿根廷國立公共圖書館(Biblioteca Nacional de la República Argentina)館長,直至1973年。

1953年,55歲時,波赫士全盲。

我心裡一直暗暗設想,天堂應該是圖書館的模樣。——波赫士(Jorge L. Borges)

巴別塔(Tower of Babel)是《聖經》創世記第11章的記載,人類企圖興建通往天堂的巴別塔。為了阻止人類的計劃,上帝讓人類說不同的語言,使人類相互之間不能溝通,此計劃因而失敗,人類自此各散東西。

宇宙(別人管他叫圖書館)由許多六角形的迴廊組成,數目不能確定,也許是無限的。迴廊的護欄很矮,任何一個六角形都可以看到上層和下層,沒有盡頭。

譯文

豪爾赫·路易斯·博爾赫斯(阿根廷)

    通過這种藝術,你可能仔細考慮二十三個字母的變体
                    ——憂郁的解析

  宇宙(另有人把它叫做圖書館)是由不定的,也許是無限數目的六角形藝術館組成的,在中心有巨大的通風管,周圍用低矮的柵欄相圍。從任何一個六角形看,我們可以看到無止境的上面或下面的書架層。二十個書架排放在周圍,四條邊上各有五個長書架——只有兩邊沒有,書架的高度也就是樓層的高度,很少超過一個普通的圖書管理員的身高。沒有書架擺放的兩邊中的其中一邊有個狹窄的過道,通向另外一個藝術館。所有的藝術館都是相似的,在過道的左右兩邊是兩間小房間,一間供睡覺所用,只有站立位置那么大。另一間是作為廁所使用。經過這部分,就是一架螺旋型的樓梯,樓梯一頭扎進無底洞又升至最高處。在過道處挂著一面鏡子,鏡子真實無誤地照出你的面容,人們習慣于從這面鏡子中推斷出:圖書館不是無限的,(如果宇宙真不是無限的,為什么照出這個夢幻般的面容?)我宁愿希望這張精心修飾的臉孔是虛偽的,并且是無窮盡的……

  光線從一些天体水果中發出。這些天体水果是按照照亮天空的天体的名字而稱呼的。天体水果有兩個,并在每個六角形中橫著飛行,他們所發出的光是連續不斷但又相當微弱的。

  像圖書館的所有人一樣,我年輕時也曾在此處旅行。我旅行是為了尋找一本書,或許是卡片目錄中的目錄,但現在我的眼睛已經很少能夠看懂我寫的東西。我准備在我出生的六角形中死去。我一旦死了,就不缺那些虔誠的手把我使勁地拋過柵欄的柱子,我的墳墓將是無法測知的空气,我的軀体會無盡地往下拋,會腐爛,并在下墜產生的風中消解。我相信圖書館是元止境的。理想主義者爭辯說,六角形的廳是我們絕對宇宙,或至少是宇宙直覺的一种必要形式。他們又說:一個三角形或五角形廳是不可思議的。(神秘主義者聲稱,對他們來講,出神的境界顯示了一個包含著一本有無限伸展的封底的書的大廳,書的封底圍繞著整個房間。但是他們的聲明值得怀疑,他們的話語模棱兩可,那本無限循環的書是上帝。)請允許我,暫時地复述這個古典的斷言:圖書館是一個天体。它的正中心是任何六邊形,它的圓周是無限的。

  每個六邊形的每個牆壁都有五個書架。每個書架有三十二本相同版式的書,每本書有四百一十頁,每頁有四十行,每行大約有八十個黑体字母。在每本書的書脊上也有字母,但這些字母并不表明或預先說明每頁會講些什么。我知道,有時候缺少某种關聯,看起來很令人費解。在我做總結前(結論的公布,不管它的悲劇含義,可能是有關歷史的基本事實),我想先回憶一些公理。第一:圖書館确實存在。任何一個有理智的大腦都不會怀疑這個真理。它的最直接的推論是世界的永恒性。人作為不是十全十美的圖書管理員,可能是机遇或邪惡的物質世界創造者的作品。而充滿著全是書的書架,謎一般的書卷,為旅行者准備的堅持不懈攀登的梯子,和為坐著的圖書管理員准備的隱藏之處的圖書館,只能是上帝的杰作。為了看清存在于人与神之間的距离,只需把用我難免犯錯的雙手在書的后面几頁隨便涂寫的粗魯的畏怯的代號与里面的那些有机的字符相對照就可以知道。那些字符:精确,細致,相當濃黑,有無与倫比的對稱性。第二:拼寫的代號有二十五個1,這個證据使得對于三百年前(1現行符號的最初手稿不包括阿拉伯數字或大寫字母。標點符號只有逗號和句號兩种。這兩個符號,加上空格號和字母表中的二十二個字母,總共是二十五個已經足夠的代號。這些代號是一個不知名的作者羅列的。)圖書館的通用理論系統的闡述成為可能,并且滿意地解決了一個任何猜測都無法弄清的問題。那就是關于几乎所有書本的不定形性和雜亂性。我爸爸曾在一個循環數目1594的六邊形中看到過一本書。這本書是由字母mcv顛倒過來從第一行到最后一行重复出現而組成的。另外,在這個區域經常查閱的只是一些字母的迷宮,但是在倒數第二頁上,我看到了“零調整你的金字塔”等字。眾所周知的是:在一行有意義的文字或一個直截了當的注解中,都有無生命力的不和諧字的組合或文字大雜燴或不連貫的語意。(我知道一個很偏僻的地方,在那里,圖書管理員都譴責從書本中尋找任何有用性,并把它比作在夢中或在某個人手掌雜亂的紋路中尋找生命意義的迷信之徒勞的習俗……他們承認書寫方法的發明者都模仿了這二十五個自然的代號,但他們又說這种模仿是偶然的,況且書本本身也沒有什么意思。這种意見一我們可以看到——并不完全是錯誤的。)

  很久以來,我們一直相信:這些令人費解的書屬于過去或生疏的語言。但這點是真的,即最古老的人類——最初的圖書管理員,很好地利用了一种与我們今天在說的語言大相徑庭的語言。這點也是真的,向右几英里處,語言是邏輯辯證的。而在書架九十層高處,語言是晦澀難懂的。所有這些,我重复一下,都是真實的。但是一成不變的總共四百一十頁的mcv与任何語言,不管是邏輯辯證或晦澀難懂都不對應。一些圖書管理員旁敲側擊地說,每個字母都能影響下一個字母。七十一頁第三行上的mcv的价值,和屬于同一系列,但在另外一頁的另外位置上的mcv的价值不一樣。但這個模糊的論點沒有能夠進一步發展:而有一些人把這些歸為密碼体系,雖然他的發明者不可能按這种方式构成這些字母,但是這個猜測已被廣泛認同。

  五百年以前,上層六角廳的主管1曾看到過一本書,它和另(1原先,每三個六角形都有一個主管。但自殺和肺部疾病使這個比例大減。我記得那些無可名狀的凄涼的景象:有許多個晚上,當我走下走廊和那些樓梯時,一個人也沒有碰到。)外所有的書一樣難懂。但這本書,差不多有兩頁都包含著相似的句行。主管要求一個四處漫游替人破譯古代文字的人解釋這些類似的句行。這個人告訴他:這個句行是用葡萄牙語寫的。而另有人告訴他這些句行是用依地語寫的。最后用了快一個世紀的時間,這些句行總算被弄懂了。這是瓜拉尼人的薩莫那德——立陶宛方言,還附帶古典的阿拉伯語變音。而句行的意思也弄懂了:是用無限量的重复變幻的例子來解釋的關于組合分析的概念。這些例子使得一個天才的圖書管理員可能發現圖書館的基本原則。這個思想者發現:所有的書本,雖然种類繁多,但都是由一些統一的因素組成。包括句號,逗號,空格號,字母表的二十二個字母。他還引證了一個被所有的旅行者認同的觀點。那就是:在這個龐大的圖書館中,沒有兩本書是完全相同的。從所有這些無可辯駁的假定中,他推斷出:圖書館容納了一切事物,它的書柜包含了這二十多個拼寫代號的所有可能的組合。(組合的數目,雖然很大,但不是無限的。)它們就是我們所有語言可以表達的事物的總和。包括關于未來的縝密歷史、天使長的自傳、圖書館的真實的目錄、數千种錯誤的目錄、這些錯誤目錄的謬誤性的展示以及真實目錄的謬誤性的展示、巴士底的諾斯替教的教義、對這個教義的評說、對這個教義評說后的評論、對你的死亡的真實記錄、用各种語言寫成的每本書的版本以及每本書的改編本。

  當我們聽到圖書館包含所有的書的第一個印象是感到非常高興,所有的人都認為自己是這些完好無損的秘密寶藏的主人,在某些六角形中,所有的個人問題和普遍問題都能夠得到圓滿的解決。宇宙被認為是正當的,并突然擴展到無邊無際的希望的空間。在那個時候有許多關于辯解手段的言論,關于道歉和預言的書,證明了世界上每個人任何時候的行動都是合理的,并為將來設置了許多奧秘,許多貪婪的人都放棄了他們原先在此出生的六角形,被一种為找到他們行動的正當解釋的空虛的目標所驅動,蜂擁而上梯子。這些朝覲者在狹窄的走廊里爭吵,互相咒罵對方,在神圣的樓梯上互相殘殺,把那些騙人的書本憤然擲到地道的未端。然后,他們被遙遠地方的人們扔進太空,悄然死去。而有些人瘋了……辯解方式确實存在。我自己曾看到過這樣兩本書。都是關于未來的人們的,這些人們大概不是憑空想象的。但是苦苦尋求的人們忘記了,一個人找到屬于他自己的書,或這本書的完全不同的變体,能計算出的可能性接近于零。

  我們還希望人類的基本秘密——圖書館和時間的起源得到證明。而我們相信,這些重大的秘密可以用言語來解釋:如果哲學家的語言還不夠,這個龐大的圖書館會制造出我們所需要的出人意料的語言和必要的詞匯和語法。

  自從人類開始折磨這些六角形開始,四個世紀過去了……
  官方的尋求者:審訊人出現了。我曾見過他們執行任務。他們經常是精疲力竭的,他們講到了一架沒有台階的樓梯,以至于他們几乎摔死。他們又講到了有當地管理員的藝術館和樓梯。他們會不時地抓起一本最靠近的書,然后很快地翻閱,尋找一些可恥的字。但是,從沒有人發現過什么。

  很自然地,由于深深的失望就產生了一些异常的希望。他們不能忍受那种确信在某個六角形中的某個書架上有寶貴的書,而這些書又是可望不可及的觀點,一個褻讀上帝的派別建議所有的尋求者放棄努力,并且建議每個地方的人搞亂字母和代號,直到它們被一种不太可能碰到的運气——教會法規的書的指點后,再把這些字母和代號組合好。官方認為他們不得不發布嚴厲的命令,因此這個派別消失了。但當我還是小孩子時,我看到過一個老人,他宁愿長時間躲在隱秘處,在一個已被禁止使用的骰子筒里放上金屬盤,無效地模仿著上天的混亂狀態。

  另外一些人,相反地,認為首要的任務是清除那些無用的著作。他們會侵入這些六角形,把那些不是經常出錯的證明書公布于眾。他們還憤怒地只測覽一本書卷,并要求把所有的書架都毀掉。他們這种禁欲者似的清除一切的憤怒行為應該對這么多書的無辜被毀負責。他們是受到了譴責,但那些哀痛這些寶藏被毀的人卻忽視了兩個眾所周知的事實。第一:圖書館是如此龐大,因此人類的任何毀滅行為都是微不足道的。第二:每本書都是獨一無二,不可替代的。但是(在圖書館全部范圍內)總可以找到成百上千本稍不完善的摹本,而這些摹本与原本只相差一個字母或一個逗號。逆著公眾言論,我敢推斷:這些淨化者所干的好事的后果,已經導致了被這些瘋子的行徑所激發的恐怖感的擴大,他們被攻擊猩紅色的六角形的書本的這种狂熱所鼓動:猩紅色的六角形里的書比通常的版本要小,有插圖說明,并且無所不能,具有魔力。

  “我們也知道那個時代的另外一种迷信行為:書本的全能者。人們認為在某個六角形的某個書架上,肯定有一本書。這本書是所有另外書的密碼索引和完整的概要手冊,一些圖書管理員已經預先用過這本可以比作上帝的書。對這本遙遠的書的崇拜仍然存在于這個區域的語言中,許多朝覲者都想把它找到,他們整整一個世紀,徒勞地踏遍了每條道路,如何去找到這本書存在的六角形?某人提出了一种回歸法:為了找到書本a,首先查書本b,它會指出書本a的位置。為了找到書本b,首先查書本c,如此下去,永不停止……

  我也在這种探索中消耗了我的歲月。對我來說,我認為在宇宙的某個書架上可能有這樣一本全能的書1。我向無名的神祈禱,(1我重复一下:除掉不存在的可能性,只需有這樣的一本書存在就足夠了。比如:雖然書架中有些書是在討論、否定和展示這种可能性,而另外一些書的結构正和一個樓梯的結构相對應,但是沒有一本書又可以充當一架樓梯。)

  保佑那些人——即使這在數千年以前,即使只有一個人——找到這本書,并能親眼閱讀!如果榮譽、智慧和快樂都不屬于我,就讓這些歸于他們吧!希望有天堂的存在,雖然我的位置是在地獄。就讓我受到侮辱并毀滅吧!希望證明這個巨大的圖書館合理!只需片刻,只有一种存在。

  那些褻讀上帝的人宣稱,荒誕是圖書館的准則。任何合理的(甚至謙遜和純粹的連貫性)都几乎是不可思議的例外。他們講(我知道)這個發瘋的圖書館,它的危險的書卷常有被變成其他書卷的危險。而在其他書卷中,任何事物都像被一個狂熱的神靈一樣肯定,否定,直至弄得糊涂為止。這些言論,不僅譴責而且舉例說明了混亂狀態,明白無誤地表現了這些人的低級情趣和那种可怕的無知。事實上,圖書館包含了所有文字結构,二十五個拼寫代號所能變幻的表達方式。但圖書館并沒包括完全的荒誕性。至于說到這些六角形中,在我管理之下的最好的書的書名是〈雷霆的梳過的轟隆聲》,另一本是《石膏約束性》,還有一本《axaxaxasmlo》是沒有意義的。這些書名包含了這些議題,開始看起來是不連貫的,但無疑它們產生了密碼或寓言式的辯解方式。既然它們是屬于文字方面的,這些辯解方式已經指出圖書館的假設前提。我不能把這些字母像dhcmr1chtdj組合起來。因為全能的圖書館還沒能預見到這种組合,圖書館某种秘密的語言也沒有包含一些可怕的意思。沒有人能夠清晰表述一個粗野的不太可能存在的音節,也沒有人能夠清晰表達一個不屬于任何一种語言的某個有權威的神的名字的音節。如果要講述這些音節就陷入了累贅的深淵,但這种無用的冗長的東西已經存在于這個圖書館的一個六角形的五個書架中的三十本書卷中的一本——它的駁斥的觀點也存在著。(無限量的可能的語言都使用了同种詞匯。在某些語言中,圖書館的正确定義是“無所不在的”和“永恒存在的六角形藝術館体系”,但是圖書館又是“賴以生存的事物”或“金字塔”或另外一些東西。而定義圖書館的十九個字又隱藏著另外的含義。你作為讀者,能确信已懂得我的語言了嗎?)

  這种有條不紊的寫作使我對人類的現狀感到困惑。但是世上万事都已被人寫盡的事實又使我們感到無用和精疲力竭。我听說有個地方的年輕人,他們甚至不能領悟一個字母,但還是瘋狂地翻閱著這些書。流行物、异教徒之間的爭執和朝圣都不可避免地墮落成強盜行徑,這种行徑已經毀滅了人類。我記得我曾經提到越來越頻繁的自殺行為,可能我受到了年老和恐懼的欺騙,但是我怀疑人類——獨一無二的人類正在走向滅亡。然而這個圖書館卻會永遠存在,充滿著寶貴的書卷,無用的,但又不會腐蝕的秘密,靜止的,但又是光輝燦爛的。

  我剛剛寫到了“無限”這個詞。我不僅僅是從修辭習慣來篡寫這個形容詞。我說:認為這個世界是無限的是不合邏輯的。那些斷定世界是有限的人認為在遙遠的地方,這些走廊、樓梯和六角形都會難以置信地停止運行——個明顯的謬誤,而那些想象世界是無限的人忘記了世界中的書本的數目仍是有限的,我敢對這個古老的問題提出下面的見解:圖書館是無限的,但又是有周期的。如果有一個永恒的旅行者朝任何方向前進,他能夠發現,許多世紀以后,同樣的書卷仍以同樣的無序重复出現(而這种重复,能夠組成一种有序:那就是順序本身)。我的多年的孤獨也能在這個偉大的希望中得到快樂1
  ---------------
  (徐雪英譯)
  ----------------

  1另個阿根廷作家 Alvarez de Toledo, Letizia 曾說過太大的圖書館是無用的。嚴格說來,只要一集書卷就夠了。一集普通文本的書卷,正文用九或十种字体印刷,并包括無限量的無限薄的頁數就足夠了,(17世紀初,卡維里爾說任何堅固的實物体都是無限量平面的重疊。)使用這個絲一樣的書卷不可能是方便的,書的每一頁都可分寓成另外相似的几頁,而最中心的那頁卻沒有相逆的一頁。

English

    By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters...

The Anatomy of Melancholy, part 2, sect. II, mem. IV

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

      Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite. I say that the Library is unending. The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that their ecstasy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. This cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.

      There are five shelves for each of the hexagon's walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color. There are also letters on the spine of each book; these letters do not indicate or prefigure what the pages will say. I know that this incoherence at one time seemed mysterious. Before summarizing the solution (whose discovery, in spite of its tragic projections, is perhaps the capital fact in history) I wish to recall a few axioms.

      First: The Library exists ab aeterno. This truth, whose immediate corollary is the future eternity of the world, cannot be placed in doubt by any reasonable mind. Man, the imperfect librarian, may be the product of chance or of malevolent demiurgi; the universe, with its elegant endowment of shelves, of enigmatical volumes, of inexhaustible stairways for the traveler and latrines for the seated librarian, can only be the work of a god. To perceive the distance between the divine and the human, it is enough to compare these crude wavering symbols which my fallible hand scrawls on the cover of a book, with the organic letters inside: punctual, delicate, perfectly black, inimitably symmetrical.

      Second: The orthographical symbols are twenty-five in number. (1) This finding made it possible, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and solve satisfactorily the problem which no conjecture had deciphered: the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books. One which my father saw in a hexagon on circuit fifteen ninety-four was made up of the letters MCV, perversely repeated from the first line to the last. Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids. This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences. (I know of an uncouth region whose librarians repudiate the vain and superstitious custom of finding a meaning in books and equate it with that of finding a meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of one's palm ... They admit that the inventors of this writing imitated the twenty-five natural symbols, but maintain that this application is accidental and that the books signify nothing in themselves. This dictum, we shall see, is not entirely fallacious.)

      For a long time it was believed that these impenetrable books corresponded to past or remote languages. It is true that the most ancient men, the first librarians, used a language quite different from the one we now speak; it is true that a few miles to the right the tongue is dialectical and that ninety floors farther up, it is incomprehensible. All this, I repeat, is true, but four hundred and ten pages of inalterable MCV's cannot correspond to any language, no matter how dialectical or rudimentary it may be. Some insinuated that each letter could influence the following one and that the value of MCV in the third line of page 71 was not the one the same series may have in another position on another page, but this vague thesis did not prevail. Others thought of cryptographs; generally, this conjecture has been accepted, though not in the sense in which it was formulated by its originators.

      Five hundred years ago, the chief of an upper hexagon (2) came upon a book as confusing as the others, but which had nearly two pages of homogeneous lines. He showed his find to a wandering decoder who told him the lines were written in Portuguese; others said they were Yiddish. Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections. The content was also deciphered: some notions of combinative analysis, illustrated with examples of variations with unlimited repetition. These examples made it possible for a librarian of genius to discover the fundamental law of the Library. This thinker observed that all the books, no matter how diverse they might be, are made up of the same elements: the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. He also alleged a fact which travelers have confirmed: In the vast Library there are no two identical books. From these two incontrovertible premises he deduced that the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite): Everything: 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.

      When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. At that time a great deal was said about the Vindications: books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe and retained prodigious arcana for his future. Thousands of the greedy abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed up the stairways, urged on by the vain intention of finding their Vindication. These pilgrims disputed in the narrow corridors, proferred dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions. Others went mad ... The Vindications exist (I have seen two which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps not imaginary) but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man's finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero.

      At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity's basic mysteries -- the origin of the Library and of time -- might be found. It is verisimilar that these grave mysteries could be explained in words: if the language of philosophers is not sufficient, the multiform Library will have produced the unprecedented language required, with its vocabularies and grammars. For four centuries now men have exhausted the hexagons ... There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.

      As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression. The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable. A blasphemous sect suggested that the searches should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books. The authorities were obliged to issue severe orders. The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men who, for long periods of time, would hide in the latrines with some metal disks in a forbidden dice cup and feebly mimic the divine disorder.

      Others, inversely, believed that it was fundamental to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagons, showed credentials which were not always false, leafed through a volume with displeasure and condemned whole shelves: their hygienic, ascetic furor caused the senseless perdition of millions of books. Their name is execrated, but those who deplore the ``treasures'' destroyed by this frenzy neglect two notable facts. One: the Library is so enormous that any reduction of human origin is infinitesimal. The other: every copy is unique, irreplaceable, but (since the Library is total) there are always several hundred thousand imperfect facsimiles: works which differ only in a letter or a comma. Counter to general opinion, I venture to suppose that the consequences of the Purifiers' depredations have been exaggerated by the horror these fanatics produced. They were urged on by the delirium of trying to reach the books in the Crimson Hexagon: books whose format is smaller than usual, all-powerful, illustrated and magical.

      We also know of another superstition of that time: that of the Man of the Book. On some shelf in some hexagon (men reasoned) there must exist a book which is the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest: some librarian has gone through it and he is analogous to a god. In the language of this zone vestiges of this remote functionary's cult still persist. Many wandered in search of Him. For a century they have exhausted in vain the most varied areas. How could one locate the venerated and secret hexagon which housed Him? Someone proposed a regressive method: To locate book A, consult first book B which indicates A's position; to locate book B, consult first a book C, and so on to infinity ... In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years. It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe; (3) I pray to the unknown gods that a man -- just one, even though it were thousands of years ago! -- may have examined and read it. If honor and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified. The impious maintain that nonsense is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (and even humble and pure coherence) is an almost miraculous exception. They speak (I know) of the ``feverish Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity.'' These words, which not only denounce the disorder but exemplify it as well, notoriously prove their authors' abominable taste and desperate ignorance. In truth, the Library includes all verbal structures, all variations permitted by the twenty-five orthographical symbols, but not a single example of absolute nonsense. It is useless to observe that the best volume of the many hexagons under my administration is entitled The Combed Thunderclap and another The Plaster Cramp and another Axaxaxas mlö. These phrases, at first glance incoherent, can no doubt be justified in a cryptographical or allegorical manner; such a justification is verbal and, ex hypothesi, already figures in the Library. I cannot combine some characters

dhcmrlchtdj

      which the divine Library has not foreseen and which in one of its secret tongues do not contain a terrible meaning. No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god. To speak is to fall into tautology. This wordy and useless epistle already exists in one of the thirty volumes of the five shelves of one of the innumerable hexagons -- and its refutation as well. (An n number of possible languages use the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library allows the correct definition a ubiquitous and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or anything else, and these seven words which define it have another value. You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?)

      The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state of men. The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms. I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter. Epidemics, heretical conflicts, peregrinations which inevitably degenerate into banditry, have decimated the population. I believe I have mentioned suicides, more and more frequent with the years. Perhaps my old age and fearfulness deceive me, but I suspect that the human species -- the unique species -- is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.

      I have just written the word ``infinite.'' I have not interpolated this adjective out of rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited postulate that in remote places the corridors and stairways and hexagons can conceivably come to an end -- which is absurd. Those who imagine it to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have such a limit. I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope. (4)

      Translated by J. E. I.
    
Notes

  1. The original manuscript does not contain digits or capital letters. The punctuation has been limited to the comma and the period. These two signs, the space and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five symbols considered sufficient by this unknown author. (Editor's note.)
  2. Before, there was a man for every three hexagons. Suicide and pulmonary diseases have destroyed that proportion. A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian.
  3. I repeat: it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist. Only the impossible is excluded. For example: no book can be a ladder, although no doubt there are books which discuss and negate and demonstrate this possibility and others whose structure corresponds to that of a ladder.
  4. Letizia Álvarez de Toledo has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type, containing an infinite number if infinitely thin leaves. (In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.

      [If you liked this, you should consider checking out some of the stuff over at The Universe of Discourse, such as The Zahir , Luis Briceno y Confuerde de la Juemos: A Look Back and Adolfo Bioy Cassares and the Real World. Also of possible interest would be the HyperDiscordia Reading Room. --Al]

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