Jonathan Basile & libraryofbabel.info
November 6th, 2015, 6:30-9 p.m
On November 6th, Jonathan Basile and Recess will present Uninventional. Basile will host a discussion about the implications of the universal library—both the digital version housed at the website he created, libraryofbabel.info, and the idea that has haunted philosophers and poets from Democritus to Borges.
Basile’s website translates Borges’ vision of a library containing every possible permutation of letters over 410 pages, as expressed in “The Library of Babel,” while the Babel Image Archives expand this notion to the visual realm. During the event, artist David Horvitz and bibliographer David Senior will have ongoing access to libraryofbabel.info. As the program unfolds, they will look up pictures of the event and quotations from the conversation in libraryofbabel.info’s image and text archives, inevitably finding that these were foretold in its pages.
Long before this archive existed on the web, the idea of a library containing every possible permutation of letters—everything that ever has been and ever could be written—has exerted an influence from its place at the essence of language. Rather than waiting for some novel instantiation, the universal library has always existed as the deconstruction of the distinction between invention and discovery, and reminds us that every action and thought, including the creation of the library itself, is a found text.
This iterability is not limited to the realm of discourse, as though language were a layer of representation superimposed on a reality spared these vicissitudes. In addition to the universal text archive, libraryofbabel.info also contains a universal image archive of every possible 4096-color, 640x416 pixel image. Though the classical concept of linguistic and aesthetic experience regards the latter as an immediate access to reality and the former as a layer of representation added extrinsically, the image archive exists to remind us that nothing can be accessed without the mediation of the iterable mark. Thus, such sensations as sight and touch are possible in the absence of any motivating occasion or object, and every experience is already interwoven with conceptual or discursive thought.
Borges relates his library to a certain vision of the eternal return, which, as he says, returns eternally. The atomist philosophers who first understood language as the permutations of its basic elements—the letters—described the universe as a finite set of atoms that would, by necessity, exhaust its possibilities and begin to repeat itself. Though it is impossible to deny that our experience does not reach beyond the signifiers subject to this exhaustion, an existence composed of them alone would not be internally coherent. Thus we remain open to the impossible possibility of the inner difference of things and the ceaseless novelty of time (rather than the temporal), which grants us an elusive inexhaustibility.