Modelling Borges's Library of Babel in Sketchup

Jorge Luis Borges's short story The Library of Babel describes an infinite library containing all possible books ("its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps").

For years, online Borges fandom has occupied itself with resolving the story's description of the Library's architecture into visual and physical renderings. Now, JWZ has tried his hand at it, asserting the correctness of certain views of the physical layout and then modelling the whole thing in Sketchup to produce 3D renderings.

Various other illustrations of it that I've seen seemed to assume that the sleep chamber and lavatory open off of the hallway, but "To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets" sounds to me like those closets are on the same wall as the entrance to the hallway, that is, they open into the hexagonal room. So that gives us a minimum length of each wall of about 10' (assuming pre-ADA, sub-OSHA standards of construction). That means the bookcases can't possibly fill the whole wall unless there is a lot of empty space on them, or the books themselves are each like 40" thick.

Where does the spiral staircase go? Again, a lot of illustrators stuck it off of the hallway, but it doesn't read that way to me. It sounds to me like there is a spiral stairway within each of the hexagonal book rooms. It might wrap around the air shaft, but I think that's a tortured interpretation.

I haven't added the stairwells, and I kind of think the "corridors" need to be longer to earn that word. Also those enormous and oddly-shaped voids between "circuits" of rooms bother me. So I don't think this is quite right either.

with 700 books per room, and the rooms laid out with approximately the same number of rooms on all three axes, I think that means it is roughly 10611,364 rooms wide and floors tall before you reach the end?

I can't help but think about the weight and pressure of a column of air that high, and what is it sitting on, and how to route the plumbing from all of those toilets, and that toilets imply digestion, so where does the food come from? Is there a section of the library devoted to farming, and metallurgy? But now I'm overthinking a sub-infinite but nearly boundless hill of beans.

The Library of Babel [JWZ]

Notable Replies

  1. /reaches out to first book, stumbles, breaks glasses

  2. Well Borges did describe it looking rather futuristic, but if it was my infinite library it would be a Beaux Arts monstrosity, all Ionian columns and red brick, with a structure designed by Escher, an endless maze of rooms, no two alike, impossible to map let alone catalog. My infinity is not sleek and glossy. It is a teratological Julia set made of mahogany with green brass fittings.

  3. Jilly says:

    Many of us were hatched as failed English and History majors.

  4. ugh says:

    Somewhere in the Library of Babel there are books containing ASCII-art renderings of this model of the Library of Babel from every possible point-of-view.

    You can find this comment there, too, of course.

    Some books' pages may appear incomprehensible, but that's only because you haven't yet found the book containing the correct decoding instructions.

    You can never trust anything you read in the Library of Babel.

  5. ChuckV says:

    For an English composition class, I wrote a paper about a Borges short story that didn't actually exist. The non-existent story's plot was mostly a combination of "The Library of Babel" and "The Aleph" in which Borges discovers a book which not only contains all possible texts, but also all possible critical interpretations and readings of these texts. He finds the section of the book dedicated to his own work, and becomes so obsessed with the various interpretations of it, some of which go so far as to say that he didn't even write his work and may not even exist, that he develops complete writer's block, and ever since he has had no choice but to copy his works, including this confession itself, directly from the book.

    I laid it on thick enough that I should think the professor realized I was bullshitting even without doing any looking into the facts, but I wonder if it occurred to him that my paper was very arguably an attack on the assignment and the class itself.

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