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🦋 Before the Library of Babel

The caprice, the fantasy, the utopia of a Total Library has certain characteristics which are easily mistaken for virtues. Incredible, in the first place, how long it took mankind to arrive at this idea. Certain passages which Aristotle attributes to Democritus and to Leucippus clearly prefigure it; but its tardy inventor is Gustav Theodor Fechner; its first expositor, Kurd Lasswitz.
The note in Sur #59 to which Borges referred in the foreword to The Garden of Forking Paths, is his essay "The Total Library" -- I thank Daniel Balderston of the Borges Center at U. Pittsburgh for pointing this out to me. "The Total Library" (which has appeared many times in translation, most recently in Selected Non-Fictions) is a lovely read and excellent companion material for "The Library of Babel" -- it lacks the haunting, overpowering sense of futility which is that story's strongest characteristic, but it lays out clearly and concisely the premises underlying the story and its sources of inspiration.

See also Theodor Pavlapoulos' essay, Lasswitz and Borges: Indexing the Library of Everything; and Lasswitz' story Die Universalbibliothek.

posted evening of Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
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