A library that contains all books ever written or ever to be written, all but lost within a nearly infinite number of works of meaningless gibberish. This was the concept that philosopher Jorge Luis Borges created for his short story “The Library of Babel,” published in 1941. Brooklyn author Jonathan Basile realized that in the era of the Internet, Borges’s fantasy could become a reality by using a few choice algorithms. Basile learned to program for the project, and created a bewildering site that seems to be a fairly faithful rendering of Borges vision.
To create his Library of Babel, Basile had to not only find a way to publish every possible work, but to write them as well. Using the 26 letters of the English alphabet, spaces, commas, and periods, the number of works quickly adds up. That might be an understatement: the number of texts Basile would have to produce to complete the library would be 29^1312000, a number with more than 6,000 digits.
Borges wrote that his library would exist in the form of an endless series of hexagrams, each containing four walls of bookshelves. In “The Library of Babel,” the incomprehensibility of the library drove the librarians into a deep depression. Though they knew that every possible text (including a guide to the library itself) had to be present somewhere in its shelves, they had no way of finding it.
Basile’s site stays true to this format and proves that even today’s tools can not narrow down the scope of this paradox, and that logic and order are precious qualities in a universe full of chaos. To “browse” the library, you can pick a hexagram number, and then narrow down the wall, shelf, and specific volume you’d like to read.
But don’t get too excited: seemingly the entire library is complete nonsense. To help in divining any meaning from the random text, Basile added a “Anglishize” function, which automatically highlights combinations of letters that spell words.
You can also search the library for words, but good luck finding more than one word in a row (the closest I’ve gotten so far is finding “deep” and “fry” on subsequent lines). And if you feel like hanging on to one of these algorithmic masterpieces, they’re all downloadable. That’s right: every book ever written, for free.
To make his idea little more manageable, he’s also created a Twitter account, Permuda Triangle, which is tweeting every possible combination of 140 characters, one at a time. The account has had some surprising success, gaining follows and retweets from everyone from French rappers to the First National Bank of South Africa (who followed the bot after it tweeted “fnb”). The processes of the Internet draw searchers to the website as well–he’s noticed that misspelled searches for porn often end up on his site.
Surprisingly, analytics show that these people will usually stay around for a bit, clicking around the site to see what it’s all about. “I suppose any time something gets published, people end up seeing something the author hadn’t anticipated in it,” Basile told Flavorwire. “I’ve found that becomes even more true when the author intended nothing, or perhaps when there is no author.”
To learn more about this project, you can read Basile’s in-depth interview with Flavorwire here.