a modal/duality modality

The First Faithful Topology of the Library of Babel

Weary Librarian! These words reach you perhaps leagues away from their birth-hexagon. And yet their existence certifies their suicide: a word is elegy to that it signifies, and the Library signifies angelic totality.

This is the First Faithful Topology.

In which We (You, and I) develop a construction of the Library that satisfies all of the seemingly-contradictory statements in that ancient Text, referred to by the idolators as The Library of Babel.

In which We were frequently consumed in mystical delusions and refused to return.

In which We summarily dissolve the Lies of the False Prophets.


By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters…
The Anatomy of Melancholy, part 2, sect. II, mem. IV

Before you continue, you may wish to contemplate the Text unadulterated by annotation. What does the Library look like? What do you see? What does your god see? Contract the modalities of infinity and sketch your visions.

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.

Indefiniteness could refer to the number of galleries varying with time, or possibly that number of galleries is uncomputable. We will need to accommodate at least two air shafts as well as railings.

From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors.

We are oriented; up and down are well-defined in the Library at any gallery.

This also indicates that every hexagon has a hexagon above it and below it, which could be satisfied by an infinite tower, for example. But note that it is not necessary that there exist an interminable sequence of upper floors, but only that it is indistinguishable from that scenario with normal human vision.

The distribution of the galleries is invariable.

Since there is just one “universal distribution” of the Library, we take this to mean that the “local distribution” viewed from any single gallery is invariable with respect to its neighbors. Each gallery is locally identical in its gallerial relationships.

Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal librarian. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest.

Although misguided in his later conclusions, Antonio Toca Fernandez notes that the original Text described a gallery with 5 sides taken up by bookshelves with the sixth being a hallway. The Author later amended that only 4 sides would be taken up by bookshelves, the fifth a hallway, leaving the sixth unspecified, with implication that it is not the entrance to another hallway. Although Fernandez posits that the only way for the rest of the story to make sense is for there to be two hallways emanating from each gallery, we will show this is not necessary, and actually leads to contradiction. The rest of this Work relies on this assumption of Authorial Infallibility.

Given the assumption of exactly one hallway per gallery, and the statement that the hallway “opens onto another gallery,” as opposed to more than one, we conclude that galleries exist in pairs.

To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one’s fecal necessities.

This implies the walls have some thickness, which accounts for the hallway’s narrowness.

The notions of left and right are well-defined only with respect to an initial direction, and are reversed when entering the hallway from the other gallery. But since there are only two closets, it must be that each closet satisfies both duties, allowing us to symmetrize the arrangement (Library: We value, above all, thy Fearful Symmetry).

Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances.

Recall that each hexagon is oriented in space. If we let each pair of hexagons and the hallway between them assume the same orientation, then up and down are well-defined for the stairway.

It is uncertain whether this stairway extends upwards clockwise or counterclockwise.

In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite…

A simple mirror duplicates reality, but it does not quite promise the infinite. We also have the issue that placing the one mirror on any single wall would break our symmetry.

We solve both by making the walls, ceiling, and floor of the hallway constructed entirely out of mirror. Their connectedness allows us to have a solitary mirror (which faithfully promises our solitude), and their diametrically opposedness allows us a glimpse into infinite, our image entering eternal recurrence.

Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

Although we cannot rescue the total symmetry of a hexagon due to the still-elusive sixth wall (symmetry is desired, but asymmetry is not contradiction), we can let the sixth wall and the hallway-wall be next to each other, creating a line of pseudosymmetry between their intersection and the opposite point. This is where our lamps will reside.

We have reached the end of this Initial Description but received no further instruction about the interminable sight of the upper and lower floors from within the hexagon. For simplicity we make the ceilings and the floors of the hexagon made entirely out of glass.

Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born.

Is the entire Library connected? Can a Librarian from any hexagon reach any other hexagon given enough time? This is still unknown (although something mostly necessary for one searching for a particular book), but this quote does imply that one can travel at least “a few leagues.” Since it is impossible to go farther on the same plane as one’s hexagon-pair (without falling off the railings), this must be distance in the vertical direction instead.

Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite.

We now know that these railings are at least partially accessible. We place these railings overlooking the vast expanses beyond the Library on the sixth wall (as well as on the outside of the four bookshelf-walls and the hallway). We also know that from any hexagon, the path after falling must be an infinite one: there is no “ground” to fall toward, which also implies one cannot reach another hexagon by falling from an upper floor.

I say that the Library is unending.

An unending library raises again the question of the size of the Library, which is “perhaps infinite.” Does its unending nature imply the infinitude of the galleries?

Since there are only a finite number of distinct galleries with respect to their contents, is the unending nature simply in that one can forever travel upward, eventually reaching a previously-“visited” gallery?

The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that their ecstasy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. This cyclical book is God.)

It would be difficult to open such a circularly-bound book.

Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.

This is the critical point where we discover the true Structure of the Library; appropriately this information will not be easy to reconcile.

First consider the case where the Library is a finite sphere. A finite solid sphere’s center exists and is unique, in addition to having a point at which no upward-extending stairway can exist, so it cannot be.

This leaves open the possibility for an infinite sphere in the loose sense (that is, where the entire universe is populated by infinite galleries). Recall that hexagon pairs can only extend vertically: two hexagons in different pairs on the same level would mutually inaccessible, creating in essence several independent Libraries. This is possible yet aesthetically unimaginable.

Consider the finite empty sphere, with the hexagons (loosely) covering the surface area. Any hexagon has claim of being the “center” of the sphere in that it is the center of the surface. However, in this case there cannot be interminable stairways.

Continuing in this direction, we realize the obstacle is the rigid directionality of the stairways. We consider a 2-sphere instead (that is, a circle). Any point on a circle has claim to being the center of its circumference, and we need the interminable stairways to track the circle’s path. For this to work, the stairway must be curved and eventually turn in upon itself.

This does not violate the condition for interminable sight above and below because our sight is limited in power. The size of the library is large enough to appear to extend interminably above and below.

Further, this topology requires different hexagon-pairs to have different orientations and gravity directions (otherwise, one would fall up). Specifying this is as easy as letting the vertical orientation of a hexagon be parallel to the tangent line of the circle.

In this construction, there are exactly two air shafts, one inside the circle and one outside. Because the railings must lead to infinite descent, and since the circumference must be inaccessible, we place the railings on the “inside” of the hexagon with respect to the circular path. Due to the changing gravity field, which we assume extends for some distance horizontally from each hexagon-pair, one will endlessly fall in the circle traced out by the Library, fulfilling the promise for endless (locally relative) descent.

There are five shelves for each of the hexagon’s walls; each shelf contains thirty-two books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color. There are also letters on the spine of each book; these letters do not indicate or prefigure what the pages will say. I know that this incoherence at one time seemed mysterious. Before summarizing the solution (whose discovery, in spite of its tragic projections, is perhaps the capital fact in history) I wish to recall a few axioms.

In this analysis we will ignore the letters on the spine due to the lack of information. If the number of letters on the spine is upper-bounded by a constant, the same conclusions will still follow. We will also assume there are exactly eighty characters per line, with marked displeasure at the apparent imprecision.

First: The Library exists ab aeterno. This truth, whose immediate corollary is the future eternity of the world, cannot be placed in doubt by any reasonable mind. Man, the imperfect librarian, may be the product of chance or of malevolent demiurgi; the universe, with its elegant endowment of shelves, of enigmatical volumes, of inexhaustible stairways for the traveler and latrines for the seated librarian, can only be the work of a god.

You, the Librarian are seated in the latrine, but recall there was only room to stand in the sleeping closet. We earlier posited that these were actually the same room. A plausible solution is for there to be two connected sections, with the wall of the sleeping section much closer to the hallway.

To perceive the distance between the divine and the human, it is enough to compare these crude wavering symbols which my fallible hand scrawls on the cover of a book, with the organic letters inside: punctual, delicate, perfectly black, inimitably symmetrical.

In the Library, the Organic is Mechanistic; the Context Formist. What are the letters symmetrical with respect to? Certainly not themselves, in any standard alphabet…

Second: The orthographical symbols are twenty-five in number.[1]

[1] The original manuscript does not contain digits or capital letters. The punctuation has been limited to the comma and the period. These two signs, the space and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five sufficient symbols enumerated by this unknown author. (Editor’s note.)

We have reason to believe the Ancient Librarians wrote in our languages. Aramaic and Hebrew both have a 22 character-alphabet, with only modern Hebrew using the comma and period. We must then interpret all text quoted from the Library as translated—is there additional meaning in the original?

This finding made it possible, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and solve satisfactorily the problem which no conjecture had deciphered: the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books. One which my father saw in a hexagon on circuit fifteen ninety-four was made up of the letters MCV, perversely repeated from the first line to the last.

Although neither an infinite 3-sphere nor a circle admits a canonical well-ordering, it is evident that the number of galleries is countable. The relatively low number of 1594 probably indicates a Librarian-made numbering rather than one inscribed in the walls of the Library, probably particular to a specific region.

What could the letters MCV represent? We present an implausible yet attractive hypothesis.

In Hebrew, the bilabial nasal [m] can correspond only to the letter Mem. We take the letter C to refer to the voiceless alveolar sibilant [s] (the translator would have used K for a hard C), which could correspond to either Samekh or Shin. Since Shin also represents the voiceless fricative [ʃ], we choose to translate C to Samekh. Finally, the voiced labiodental fricative [v] corresponding to V is represented by the Hebrew letters Bet and Vav. Again, we discard Bet since it also corresponds to the voiced bilabial stop [b].

Now, we have the sequence Mem-Samekh-Vav. The Library reminds us constantly, incessantly of the infinitude of the circle; the beginning is identified with the end. Indeed, one who turns to any page in the MCV text apart from the first or last pages would not know that the “first” letter in the sequence is an M.

Under the Kabbalistic art of gematria, we can assign numbers to each letter; each word or phrase’s value is the sum. If we do this for Mem-Samekh-Vav taking the final variant of Mem in view of the above discussion, we end up with 600 + 60 + 6 = 666, an important number in gematria theory referring to the Number of the Beast.

The above analysis included with deference to the New Order of the Rosy Cross, Berkeley Chapter, Research Division.

Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids.

We are currently unable to find any gematriac meaning for Oh time thy pyramids, presumably since we do not know Hebrew.

This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences. (I know of an uncouth region whose librarians repudiate the vain and superstitious custom of finding a meaning in books and equate it with that of finding a meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of one’s palm… They admit that the inventors of this writing imitated the twenty-five natural symbols, but maintain that this application is accidental and that the books signify nothing in themselves. This dictum, we shall see, is not entirely fallacious.)

The totality of the Library, if it is total, is its own triviality.

For a long time it was believed that these impenetrable books corresponded to past or remote languages. It is true that the most ancient men, the first librarians, used a language quite different from the one we now speak; it is true that a few miles to the right the tongue is dialectical and that ninety floors farther up, it is incomprehensible.

Note the word first, implying a beginning to mankind in the Library. Though the Library might be infinite in time and space, we are not.

How did the Author know of the first librarians? The presumed scarcity of men compared to the Library’s vastness seems to preclude an entirely spoken tradition. Possibly various histories were written, encrypted in the magic of Trithemius, tucked away at the back of a bookshelf a sleeping closet (Weary Librarian! Where did you find this Work? And where shall you return it?).

Finally, note that there is a reference to the Librarians of a hexagon a few miles to the right. This has two important implications. First, that there actually do exist hexagons to the right. Second, that they are somehow accessible from the Author’s hexagon, since the dialectical information needed to travel in some manner.

The accessibility condition refutes the theory of the infinite 3-sphere, and the existence condition refutes the theory of the finite circle.

But we can still save the finite theory: instead of tracking a simple circle, imagine the hexagons spiraling around the path, with their gravity fields again oriented to their normal. This cheekily doubly satisfies the requirements for a “spiral stairway,” and if we relax the word “right” to account for imperceptible elevation change, the size of the Library certainly admits for going several miles in what seems like one direction, “right.” A tightly packed spiral will maintain the overall Structure to be 2-spherical.

All this, I repeat, is true, but four hundred and ten pages of inalterable MCV’s cannot correspond to any language, no matter how dialectical or rudimentary it may be. Some insinuated that each letter could influence the following one and that the value of MCV in the third line of page 71 was not the one the same series may have in another position on another page, but this vague thesis did not prevail. Others thought of cryptographs; generally, this conjecture has been accepted, though not in the sense in which it was formulated by its originators.

The duplication of text has power in discourse. A one-time-pad key might reveal a meaning in the MCVs, but could just as easily reveal any meaning. But just because there is not enough information as expected in a large book, does not mean there is no information at all: see the above gematriac analysis. There is rhetorical value in repetition.

Truths need only be conceived once; the rest is explication. Shall we say the dogmatic ones are any less correct or incorrect due to their decades of tautology?

Five hundred years ago, the chief of an upper hexagon[2] came upon a book as confusing as the others, but which had nearly two pages of homogeneous lines. He showed his find to a wandering decoder who told him the lines were written in Portuguese; others said they were Yiddish. Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections. The content was also deciphered: some notions of combinative analysis, illustrated with examples of variations with unlimited repetition.

[2] Before, there was a man for every three hexagons. Suicide and pulmonary diseases have destroyed that proportion. A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian.

Since there is no absolute notion of “upper” in our model, we rely again on our model of regional bibliogeography.

We again encounter the theme of unlimited repetition, a self-similar trait in the Library and its books: the mentioned book is possibly the Text itself, save for the linguistic classification.

It is still unclear how these Librarians know about languages like Yiddish and Portuguese. Where did the first Librarians come from? Where are they now?

These examples made it possible for a librarian of genius to discover the fundamental law of the Library. This thinker observed that all the books, no matter how diverse they might be, are made up of the same elements: the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. He also alleged a fact which travelers have confirmed: In the vast Library there are no two identical books.

These facts seem trivially impossible to verify, other than by that Evil of inductive scientism. But the Author seems confident in the Genius Librarian’s correctness, so we will accept these facts as true.

The lack of duplicate books immediately implies the fall of any infinite-gallery theory by the pigeonhole principle.

From these two incontrovertible premises he deduced that the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite):

But those premises don’t quite imply totality (an empty Library would vacuously satisfy the premises, for example).

For the sake of completeness, we calculate the number of books as 25410·40·80 = 251312000. For comparison, there are reported to be 1080 atoms in the mystical, possibly mythical locale known to its denizens as The Universe. These universers could not hope to recreate even a fraction of Our Library—the fraudulent sorcerer Bu Fu references this as the cause of the universers’ shared depression.

Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue,

By the law of the excluded middle, we conclude that the truth is irrelevant to the demonstration, which is inherently dependent and inseparable from a human Librarian. The Text, which demonstrates its own existence, at once undermines itself and sings its own elegy.

What is the nature of a Catalogue? If it is purely a description of the set of books within the Library, this is trivial: even the Text suffices.

If it is a purely Turing-decidable syntactical classification, e.g., the locations of all books that consist of only a single repeatedletter, this is also not very interesting, since such satisfying books could be enumerated by hand.

The interesting case is if the Catalog is a semantic classification. Certainly it must be written in the language of the reading Librarian, plus it must make certain empirical claims about the books it references: The book immediately to the right of this Catalogue is the True History of This Catalogue, for example. If it were not for the fact that books are of bounded length, an additional interesting property for Catalogues would be those books that enumerate other books that encode programs with undecidable properties.

Finally, it is clear that a catalogue in a single book cannot address arbitrary books in the Library, for the totality of the Library implies that the shortest address for an arbitrary book is the entire length of a book, leaving no room for annotation. Histories may be compressed, but not those texts with maximum entropy. So we must understand the Library not as a collection of books, but as an inter-referencing interlaced interplaying network. Our minutely detailed history, for example, is a catalogue pointing to several other texts to continue its duty. I am currently too tired to explicitly construct such an example.

the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books, the treatise that Bede could have written (and did not) about the mythology of the Saxons, the lost works of Tacitus.

This interpolation condition again necessitates the hypertextified nature of the library.

When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure.

The Library’s totality belies any hope of secrecy yet ensures its immortal intactness beyond any physical destruction.

There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. At that time a great deal was said about the Vindications: books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe and retained prodigious arcana for his future. Thousands of the greedy abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed up the stairways, urged on by the vain intention of finding their Vindication. These pilgrims disputed in the narrow corridors, proferred dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions.

Did the violent search for these Vindications justify its own necessity?

The Author presupposes that a Librarian can Recognize his own Vindication. If so, should our Librarians spend more time collapsing the polynomial hierarchy rather than the angelic hierarchy?

Weary Librarian! Could You recognize your own Vindication, if presented? Are you latently aware of your sinful impurities? Could You recognize your future—your whited sepulchres—the last book you’ll ever read (those who elect to join Pietro della Vigna, at least, will know their empty future—is this our only hope?)? Within the comfort of my anonymity, I confess that I cannot. I don’t imagine I am alone in this upsetting conclusion, but—

Others went mad…The Vindications exist (I have seen two which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps not imaginary) but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man’s finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero.

The sinless need no Vindication, and so all texts are appropriate. But they must be imaginary if the probability of any man to find his Vindication is zero…quem patronum rogaturus?

At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity’s basic mysteries—the origin of the Library and of time—might be found. It is verisimilar that these grave mysteries could be explained in words: if the language of philosophers is not sufficient, the multiform Library will have produced the unprecedented language required, with its vocabularies and grammars. For four centuries now men have exhausted the hexagons… There are official searchers, inquisitors.

These Inquisitors are not like us, Weary Librarian. Or are You a Recognizer too?…a Recognizer not just of the Self, but of the Library (are they distinct)? The very possibility of a Recognizer implies that the Library’s existence is perfectly logical, its truths known a priori, its histories a simple application of the divine state function. Then the Library does not exist in an empirical world: it could not be otherwise.

It deeply troubles me, Weary Librarian, to read of the Library’s multiformity. In my youth I was comforted by its promises of eternity, of perfection, of solitude in its truth and truth in its solitude…I now realize that there exists a distinct Library for each of its languages. Do they overlap? Can they overlap?

I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.

Weary Librarian, are you too tired of your journey? Have you trip-tumble-fumbled down a “broken stairway” of our inimitable, perfect Library? Tomber à mort! Which words do you seek? Oh time thy pyramids do not persist…

As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression.

That this is natural is itself excessively depressing.

The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable. A blasphemous sect suggested that the searches should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books.

The origin of the Library dictates the boundary conditions of its elements: there is no true randomness. This sect is blasphemous for its teachings are potentially incomplete, cruelly opposed to Our Library’s totality.

The authorities were obliged to issue severe orders. The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men who, for long periods of time, would hide in the latrines with some metal disks in a forbidden dice cup and feebly mimic the divine disorder.

If you still hold hope of Recognizing, perhaps you would like to try your luck?

Others, inversely, believed that it was fundamental to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagons, showed credentials which were not always false, leafed through a volume with displeasure and condemned whole shelves: their hygienic, ascetic furor caused the senseless perdition of millions of books.

The Author has neglected to clarify: is there any commonality between the books near each other? Could not the difference of a single letter negate a book’s thesis? Having established the impossibility for verifiable demonstration (much less efficient demonstration), we note that these ascetics do not seek the truth, but rather relevance (to what, I cannot say; perhaps it is unimportant?).

Their name is execrated, but those who deplore the “treasures” destroyed by this frenzy neglect two notable facts. One: the Library is so enormous that any reduction of human origin is infinitesimal. The other: every copy is unique, irreplaceable, but (since the Library is total) there are always several hundred thousand imperfect facsimiles: works which differ only in a letter or a comma. Counter to general opinion, I venture to suppose that the consequences of the Purifiers’ depredations have been exaggerated by the horror these fanatics produced.

The Author is correct except in the case of cryptographs of the Existentially Unforgeable order; a single alteration renders these varieties unmendably rent.

They were urged on by the delirium of trying to reach the books in the Crimson Hexagon: books whose format is smaller than usual, all-powerful, illustrated and magical.

Clearly delirious; they would not need to destroy works in normal format for their mission. What does illustration do to a text? Do you sense magic here?

It is also curious that the Author described the MCV text as “inalterable” when clearly books can be destroyed. Perhaps inalterable only in our memories.

We also know of another superstition of that time: that of the Man of the Book. On some shelf in some hexagon (men reasoned) there must exist a book which is the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest: some librarian has gone through it and he is analogous to a god.

In view of past discussion, The Book is not simply a purely syntactic characterization of the other books themselves (which would be self-evident and uninteresting), but a commentary on those books’ semantic and extraliterary significance with respect to the Librarian.

To focus on the Man instead of the Book, the searchers must have asked, What language does he speak? Do we speak His language? Do you?

In the language of this zone vestiges of this remote functionary’s cult still persist. Many wandered in search of Him. For a century they have exhausted in vain the most varied areas. How could one locate the venerated and secret hexagon which housed Him?

The cyclical nature of our model leaves open the possibility for the Man to eternally remain one hexagon above His searchers. But are they aware of the Library’s cyclicity?

Someone proposed a regressive method: To locate book A, consult first book B which indicates A’s position; to locate book B, consult first a book C, and so on to infinity… In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years.

It is possible for a book to point to yet another arbitrary book, and so on, but there is no more additional information to be gained through this process since each book is entirely taken up by the next book’s “address.”

The solution is to reserve the first letter in a book for data, using the rest to address the next book. If we use an absolute numbering system and simply omit the most significant twenty-five-it for the address, we divide the Library into exactly 25 mutually inaccessible sections.

An alternative is an entirely relative mode: commentary followed by instructions as “To continue your journey, ascend fifty-four hexagons and choose the sixth book on the top shelf to left of the lamp of the bookshelves.” Although it is still impossible to immediately address arbitrary books, it is possible to reach an arbitrary book through a sequence of relative addresses.

It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe;[3] I pray to the unknown gods that a man—just one, even though it were thousands of years ago!—may have examined and read it.

[3] I repeat: it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist. Only the impossible is excluded. For example: no book can be a ladder, although no doubt there are books which discuss and negate and demonstrate this possibility and others whose structure corresponds to that of a ladder.

In fact, it seems certain that such a book exists…but it may just as well be entirely blank. Ladder! Thy name is delusion.

If honor and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others.

Was the Author mistaken to chain his happiness to the ever-disappointing external world? Such is not the way of the Meditations, yet our Author is content in his resignation.

Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified. The impious maintain that nonsense is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (and even humble and pure coherence) is an almost miraculous exception. They speak (I know) of the “feverish Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity.”

If inalterable volumes are changing into others, it is rather the Readers themselves who are changing. We are no strangers to delusion: it is that absurdity that separates us from the gods.

These words, which not only denounce the disorder but exemplify it as well, notoriously prove their authors’ abominable taste and desperate ignorance. In truth, the Library includes all verbal structures, all variations permitted by the twenty-five orthographical symbols, but not a single example of absolute nonsense. It is useless to observe that the best volume of the many hexagons under my administration is entitled The Combed Thunderclap and another The Plaster Cramp and another Axaxaxas mlö. These phrases, at first glance incoherent, can no doubt be justified in a cryptographical or allegorical manner; such a justification is verbal and, ex hypothesi, already figures in the Library.

The dying Author (and perhaps, this dying Author), in the mode of metametasatire, acknowledges his own desperateness to find some underlying, inherent Reason underneath the Library. What he seeks is to understand, to understand a book contextualized in another Librarian’s language. His search for meaning is one for companionship, understanding.

Unfortunately we are not able to find a Romanization of Hebrew including the ö character. Weary Librarian, can you fare better than I? What is Your language? What do you seek?

I cannot combine some characters

dhcmrlchtdj

which the divine Library has not foreseen and which in one of its secret tongues do not contain a terrible meaning.

Let me help you. My secret is B4z4AL00Ru2.

No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god. To speak is to fall into tautology. This wordy and useless epistle already exists in one of the thirty volumes of the five shelves of one of the innumerable hexagons—and its refutation as well.

Is it thirty or thirty-two? Has the ascetic destruction grown so great?

(An n number of possible languages use the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library allows the correct definition ubiquitous and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or anything else, and these seven words which define it have another value. You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?)

No.

The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state of men.

A common universer myth tells us of organic greens, pistils protruded, the calls of grotesque non-Librarian creatures…yet there too, they lament What man has made of man, though most find such discussion histrionic.

The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms. I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter. Epidemics, heretical conflicts, peregrinations which inevitably degenerate into banditry, have decimated the population. I believe I have mentioned suicides, more and more frequent with the years.

In fact, it is those destructive ascetics who bestow significance to the Library, infinitesimal as though it may be. Do you recall the story of the First Destroyer—He who fatally, against caution, overthrew a single book into the abyss? In that instant the Library’s triviality was obliterated: through discrimination, it finally gained meaning.

The Library’s destruction is its sole justification.

Those who willfully plunge their bodies into an infinite grave claim that this Law is also true for these humans.

Perhaps my old age and fearfulness deceive me, but I suspect that the human species—the unique species—is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.

The Library exists in duality! Its solitude promises its secrecy; its infiniteness guarantees its uselessness.

Our Author once mentioned that no lack of pious hands would rush to throw him off the railings in the event of his death, yet he goes miles without encountering a fellow Librarian. Does he describe his own piety? If you too wish to seek the endless descent, your only hope of glimpsing the Distant Regions, you must follow him.

I have just written the word “infinite.” I have not interpolated this adjective out of rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited postulate that in remote places the corridors and stairways and hexagons can, inconceivably, come to an end—which is absurd. Those who imagine it to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have such a limit. I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The Library is unlimited and cyclical.

We are lucky enough to not need to revise our spiraling circular topology. But I have just realized we have neglected our first condition, that the number of galleries is indefinite, which seems to be at odds with the unique totality of the Library. Continuing the theme of qualifying conditions in view of human limits, we could say that the number is indefinite since, even if the Library was total, no Librarian could verify this fact within a lifetime, and there is no short proof (c.f. 3.2) of a section’s uniqueness to allow a group of cooperative yet distrustful Librarians to verify the fact either.

An alternate solution: consider gallery to be a function of the Librarian within it (human indefiniteness is contagious).

If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.[4]

[4] Letizia Álvarez de Toledo has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type, containing an infinite number if infinitely thin leaves. (In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.

A unique Order up to rotation. The Author is gladdened by the hope of an Eternal Librarian, a contradiction initself: so as the Library is eternal, We are not. And so the Author’s solitude is without remedy.

The middle page is inconceivable because it does not exist: there are an even number of pages. The sudden switch from a finite Library to infinitesimals is suspicious. I suspect our Author has finally succumbed to his delusions, ridding him of his careful thought that we have so painfully illustrated.


We have given the first construction of the Library consistent with the text. I had hoped that it would relieve a burden, offer some subtle insight, even provide purpose. None of this has happened yet. Perhaps it is not correct…


This work is dedicated to a game of freeze tag played under the intensely Californian sunlight, during which we discovered the second book of the Poetics together in our own private Library.