Saturday, March 26, 2011

Prompt 1, Library of Babel

A reprint of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library of Babylon appeared in the Pitt News last week, in memorandum of Borges. It, however, was misrepresented by the columnist and the surrounding pictures. Explaining Borges’ view of the infinite universe as metaphorically illustrated through a library, the article included a finite picture of a library space not unlike the hexagonal library as described by Borges.

The article appeared on the third page placed inside a box in the upper left hand corner, farthest away from the corner’s edge, the picture an insert halfway down mid-text, on the right hand side. I almost missed reading the article. They place articles unimportant articles there. The important ones get first page, some cut in half so at least half of the article reaches the first page. And pictures, lots of gory, flashy, or sexy pictures. Pictures of libraries don’t ever make it to the front page unless someone has died, or it’s on fire, or someone is having inappropriate intimate relations in this library. Borges was just explaining how the universe exists.

He explains the universe to be infinite, ever continuous and containing every distortion of every possible being, action, and thought possible, there are no two identical books and only the impossible are excluded (114). But this infinite space is compounded when the last page of his story appears and he admits that in time, the library circles back on itself and therefore, there would appear to be two and three and four copies of this book, the same book, if one were to travel through infinity multiple times. His entire illusion of infinite space has been shattered at this moment where infinite simply means forever a cyclical finite.

The Pitt News chose not to include this last page. Readers would not appreciate the contradiction within the literature. Little contradiction is ever included in any article, this probably being the first time that Borges was ever included at all. The other articles in the Pitt News were about budget cuts and how to stop them, what freshman should expect coming to Pitt, and articles about different clubs and activities on campus. Nothing too difficult, nothing too dense. It was entirely politically correct and could no way be misrepresented to inflict harm on any reader. It spoke little truth. That’s why Borges’ article was on the third page.

Borges tells the truth through his representations on other aspects of life. In other works he creates characters with lives that are like parables for readers to learn lessons. In The Library of Babel he explains through his library metaphor. In every case there is a second and sometimes third story that is beyond the literal one. If the truth, his version of the truth, were told outright, there is much room for argument, much room for initial denial. People cannot handle new ideas outright. Thus Borges hides this truth in layers of text that tell stories so readers are only vaguely aware of the new truth that they are ingesting.

This is also why the Pitt News chose not to include the last page of The Library of Babel, why in the freshman expectancy article the author chose to say one should not expect not to hear about greek life, where the author means ‘greek life is a big part of your freshman year at Pitt.” What is not included in the articles on budget cuts or about the campus activities as well?

1 comment:

  1. Conceptually, this is exceptionally clever: embedding a flawed version of a Borges story on the third page of a campus newspaper is a deeply Borgesian idea; for Borges, of course, important things appear in the most unexpected and bizarre places, and stupid things can appear in the most prominent places.

    So I am thoroughly, 100% on board with the concept. There are also things I like well about the execution - the snide commentary on the kinds of things that make it into the Pitt News, for instance.

    What are you up to here, ultimately?

    I think this is an attempt to imagine a flawed, weird, or even botched version of a transcendental truth appearing on the pages of a college newspaper. For it to work, as such, I think you would need to work a little harder on the imagined contents of the school newspaper itself - maybe by pinning down where/how the newspaper's version of the story diverges *precisely* (which would make your analysis of both the story and the paper, in turn, more precise), and maybe by fleshing out (at least by offering a more precise summary) some more of your fake articles.

    In other words, it's hard, ultimately, to figure out exactly what you're up to here - but a more detailed summary or analysis of the limited discussion of Greek life in the article, combined with a more focused discussion of where the Pitt News version of the Borges story, could bring a clarity which is currently lacking in a draft which is already conceptually fascinating.