The Library of Babel is a place for scholars to do research, for artists and writers to seek inspiration, for anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor to reflect on the weirdness of existence - in short, it’s just like any other library. If completed, it would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lower case letters, space, comma, and period. Thus, it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be - including every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture, and so on. At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 104677 books.

Since I imagine the question will present itself in some visitors’ minds (a certain amount of distrust of the virtual is inevitable) I’ll head off any doubts: any text you find in any location of the library will be in the same place in perpetuity. We do not simply generate and store books as they are requested - in fact, the storage demands would make that impossible. Every possible permutation of letters is accessible at this very moment in one of the library's books, only awaiting its discovery. We encourage those who find strange concatenations among the variations of letters to write about their discoveries in the forum, so future generations may benefit from their research.

the amazing technicolor dream goat


photograph of Borges from 1951

Jorge Luis Borges is without doubt one of the most influential and innovative authors of the twentieth century. He is best known for his many short stories, each of which creates a sort of ontological thought experiment in a few brief pages. He wrote poetry and non-fiction as well, reflecting on his immense knowledge of world literature. “The Library of Babel” (“La Biblioteca de Babel”) is one of his best-known and most loved pieces, from the 1941 collection The Garden of Branching Paths (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan). It describes a version of a universal library, containing books with every possible combination of 410 pages of letters, thus containing every book that ever has been and every book that ever could be written, drowned out by an immense quantity of nonsense.

Borges was Argentinian, and aligned himself with many of the country’s right-leaning politicians. He began losing his sight in his thirties, and was appointed director of the national library after Perón’s exile, despite being completely blind. The librarian who narrates “The Library of Babel” references this condition: “Now that my eyes can hardly make out what I myself have written, I am preparing to die…”

In the 1939 essay “The Total Library” (“La Biblioteca Total”), precursor to his short story, Borges describes the dream of the universal library:

Everything will be in its blind volumes. Everything: the minute history of the future, The Egyptians of Aeschylus, the precise number of times the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true name of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and daydreams in the dawn of the 14th of August in 1934, the demonstration of Pierre Fermat’s theory, the unwritten chapters of Edwin Drood, those same chapters translated into the language of the Garamantes, the paradoxes Berkeley cerebrated concerning time and never published, Urizen’s books of iron, the premature epiphanies of Stephen Daedelus which before a cycle of 1000 years will signify nothing, the gnostic gospel of Basilides, the song the sirens sang, the faithful catalogue of the Library, the demonstration of the fallacy of that catalogue. Everything, but for a rational line or just notion there will be millions of nonsensical cacophonies, of verbal farragoes and babblings. Everything, but the generations of men can pass without finding among the vertiginous shelves - the shelves that obliterate the day and in which the chaos dwells - a single tolerable page.

A similar list in “The Library of Babel” includes “the translation of every book into every language, the interpolations of every book into all books,” and “the true story of your death.”


libraryofbabel.info is the creation of Jonathan Basile, along with the help of many friends and family. I was drawn to the idea by an interest in literature and iterability, which I suppose I might as well call iterature. I hope you find the library aids your meditations, and please let me know via the forum or email (jonathan [dot] e [dot] basile [at] gmail [dot] com) what thoughts it brings. Building the library has given me a great desire to permute, and I continue to seek other venues in which to undermine rational discourse, such as the Permuda Triangle.


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Archimboldi's Librarian, a trompe l'oeil painting of a human form composed of books

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