Borges and Bush – Opposites of the Same Coin

While a library that contains infinite knowledge and in every language possible would seem to be a reader/librarian/researcher’s dream, Borges soon shows us how quickly this dream can turn into a nightmare. In his short story, Borges writes that the information is not navigable, librarians become the guardians of information, and there must be ‘Purifiers’, those who weed out the wheat from the chaff. The Purifiers immediately made me think of book banning or those librarians who refuse to have controversial books in ‘their’ library.

Despite containing all of the information in the universe, the library’s information is inaccessible, unnavigable, and may as well not even exist for all the good it does.  In many ways this can correlate with the Internet with its infinite possibilities, in all languages, with all possibilities available.  This can also be symbolic for information that is not accessible to all people, such as those who are blind, lack the ability to access the internet, or are illiterate.

It is not too big of a leap to the conclusion that the Book-Man is Google or whoever the Next Big Indexer is. Because, surely that is what the Book-Man is – the ultimate Indexer.  The gold will always go to the people and/or program that have the power to allow people to navigate and find information. In previous centuries it was the Church with those who could read and teach the Bible and the map-makers whose maps allows for safe navigation, both were information Indexers.

In Borges’ Library, the information is basically useless because the “total book” (or index) cannot be located.  In Bush’s article, the Memex is the index, connecting humans with information in a seamless manner (well, after the kinks are worked out).  Whereas Borges sees the future of information as a lost hope, Bush sees it with increasing positivity.

Both men were great visionaries and far ahead of their time.  I had to chuckle that they were seeing information overload issues 50 years before the Internet became accessible to the general public.

Below are two really great videos I found.

You really can find everything on the Interwebz.

Mini-rant follows:

Borges writes that there are 25 symbols in the orthography which while it sounds like a good fit for our Roman alphabet (who needs  /y/, /q/. /x/, or /z/ anyway?) it also disallows the inclusion of languages that use syllabics or iconography.  This suggests a closed system, one that does not have a place for information outside of the 25 symbols and/or creativity. Sorry, but the linguist in me states that if your language is not able to be creative, then it is not a language.  This selectiveness would necessarily require that there be no creative thought allowed.  In fact, there is no place for creativity in Borges’ library as he writes “…he deduced that the Library is total…though extremely vast, is not infinite”.  In fact, everything that is in the library has or will happen and repeat itself for infinity.  Humankind’s place in the world is preordained and nothing we do is of our own volition anyway.  How depressing.

Mini-rant end.

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3 responses to “Borges and Bush – Opposites of the Same Coin

  1. I had the same mini rant while I was reading the story. I went back and re-read to see if there was any nod to that sort of language in Borges’ library, and found this:
    “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. ”
    It may be out of reach, but maybe we can take some solace in the existence of the Crimson Hexagon and the apparent need of the library’s citizens to reach that hexagon where creativity is possible.
    🙂

  2. I think it’s interesting that book ban advocates came to your mind during Borges’ description of the Purifiers. The group that came to mind when I read about them is librarians. I think the terms librarians use to talk about information and the way we often speak of the internet (Thomas Mann is a great example) shows we have a normative view of information similar to the Purifiers. Terms like “information overload” imply that too much information exists and that it is the job of the librarian to force order on a natural state of chaos.

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