The origins of Babel

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    Germán Ricoy

    The story repeats the theme of Borges’ 1939 essay “The Total Library” (“La biblioteca total”), which in turn acknowledges the earlier development of this theme by Kurd Lasswitz in his 1901 story “The Universal Library” (“Die Universalbibliothek”):

    Certain examples that Aristotle attributes to Democritus and Leucippus clearly prefigure it, but its belated inventor is Gustav Theodor Fechner, and its first exponent, Kurd Lasswitz. […] In his book The Race with the Tortoise (Berlin, 1919), Dr Theodor Wolff suggests that it is a derivation from, or a parody of, Ramón Llull’s thinking machine […T]he elements of his game are the universal orthographic symbols, not the words of a language […] Lasswitz arrives at twenty-five symbols (twenty-two letters, the space, the period, the comma), whose recombinations and repetitions encompass everything possible to express in all languages. The totality of such variations would form a Total Library of astronomical size. Lasswitz urges mankind to construct that inhuman library, which chance would organize and which would eliminate intelligence. (Wolff’s The Race with the Tortoise expounds the execution and the dimensions of that impossible enterprise.)

    Kurd Lasswitz (German: Kurd Laßwitz, 20 April 1848 – 17 October 1910) was a German author, scientist, and philosopher. He has been called “the father of German science fiction”.

    #1803 Reply

    Jonathan Basile

    That’s correct. I’ve written a bit about this here: and in flavorwire.

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