For the actual book review: Entrevista con el vampiro, de Anne Rice
For the Spanish translation: Entrevista con el vampiro, de Nuño Sempere
Kudos to Alex Rigotti, Claudia Lombardo, Ángela del Castillo, Laura Ciuches and Alonso Campos (in no particular order).
Sometimes in life, you happen to encounter someone worth interrogating. This has been one of those times, and the victim is Jonathan Basile, the man behind The Library of Babel
Why did you start this project?
Well, it's impossible to say where the idea came from, but once it was in my head I pursued it obsessively. In the beginning, I might have thought that there might actually be some practical use for the site, that a universal library open to the entire internet community and searchable would allow its users to encounter novel texts in recognizable languages. I quickly realized that statistics made this quite far from possible, but that never dissuaded me. Since completing this version of the library, I've spent much of my time reflecting on why it exists and what it can teach us, but there was never a reason motivating me as I worked on the site. My desire mirrored the obscure, unreasoning compulsion of Borges' librarians.
What implications do you think your work has? More specifically, you've written that your work “disrupts the distinction between invention and discovery”. To what extent does it? Wouldn’t you need to have created all the infinite libraries to say that? To what other interesting insights have you arrived through the library? Are there any insights you've gained from the Babel Image Archives, or from the Permuda Triangle that you couldn't have gained through the library?
My feeling is that I haven't created anything new, and that the impossibility of novelty implied by the library applies to every one of its instantiations, including libraryofbabel.info. The universal library gives expression to something that resides always already at the essence of language, and does not wait for any reification to exert its influence. The library is possible because iterability belongs to the essence of language, and any statement is possible in the absence of intention, generated through purely mechanical processes. So it's not my work which disrupts the distinction between invention and discovery, but the essence of language which does so, and which makes possible every approximation of the library in thought, writing, or on the web.
The Babel Image Archives provide a useful opportunity to consider the relationship between language and the visual world. The classical concept of these two realms considers language to be a representation of that to which sensory experience gives us immediate access. It would preserve the reality of what we see or touch by imagining that only language was possible in the absence of what it references. But visual and tactile experience are also in this sense languages - they are composed of iterable marks and are possible in the absence of the objects supposedly making experience possible. The image archives remind us that every possible experience is haunted by language, iterability, and absence in this way.
The Permuda Triangle is more for fun, just another expression of a similar principle to the text archive. It has been tweeting all the permutations of letters in order, and is currently up to four letters starting with y. It's been interesting to see which groupings of letters attract more interest than others - for the most part, it's not the actual words. A few people who follow the bot and understand what it's doing like to pick out the words it tweets, but for the most part its fanbase consists of people who stumble across its tweets and think they are acronyms. Musicians, especially rappers, and their fans often respond to Permuda Triangle's tweets, as well as anyone obsessed with Myers-Briggs personality types (which consist of four-letter acronyms) or any business's initials or ticker symbol. It's interesting to see how international its appeal has been.
Regarding the multiple options in your version of the Library, I was discussing the other day whether filtering, through the search option, was more an act of creation or an act of discovery. What is your perspective? Why did you implement that option? Also, what is the relevance of the random English words section?
In an ordinary library or archive, it's possible to search by author, subject, title, etc. and to encounter something novel - to add something to your knowledge. With libraryofbabel.info's search function, on the other hand, one can only find exactly what one looks for. Even when searching for your text embedded in a page of random characters, the chance of finding it next to something in a recognizable language is infinitesimal. So I would say that the results of the search function offer no discovery, in a traditional sense. It is possible, however, to encounter a piece of text (by necessity something a user has already composed - thought, read, or heard) in a new context. We find our own thoughts generated mechanically, without an intention toward signification. As I mentioned before, this is less a discovery of something new, and more the uncovering of the impossibility of novelty.
At the same time, I don't believe it is an act of creation. We must have the text we seek already in order to find it in the library, so it is not as though we are creating something new when we search. Neither invention nor discovery can take place, unless we recognize that every text contains inner difference, multiplicities which ceaselessly surprise us. As Borges said, "La literatura no es agotable, por la suficiente y simple razón de que un solo libro no lo es."
As I mentioned before, I wasn't entirely sure why I was creating any of the features of the website as I worked on them. I had the idea in mind that an online library of babel ought to be searchable, and so with that idea as a compulsion, I began to decipher invertible pseudo-random number generator algorithms in a blind effort to realize this goal. I might have began with the sense that somehow this made the library more practical, but I feel otherwise now - it merely helps us to understand the essence of language, by allowing us to see that every one of our thoughts and writings is already present in the library.
And of course, since the library contains everything, it's very tempting to unearth some of its stranger conglomerations. The accidental poetry of the match with random English words function was irresistible once I had tried it out. The most important component of that feature was finding a sufficiently copious lexicon - the one I'm using has about 270,000 entries, and has taught me any number of strange words. Apparently cwm is Welsh for valley.
I'm not familiar with Welsh, but it seems fascinating. Any other bit of trivia you've come across? Any other word that I can use to tease my father? What is the relationship between one page and the next?
I do enjoy the excessive suffixes contained in the lexicon, for example, vealiest, which I assume means most vealy.
I've described the algorithm in greater detail elsewhere than I could here, for example:https://libraryofbabel.info/theory4.html
Basically, each page is generated based on its hexagon-wall-shelf-volume-page location number, but a pseudo-random number generator is used so that no relationship is visible to a human eye from one page to the next.
I was slightly disappointed to find out that the library has every 3200 lettered page possible but it does not have every 410 paged book. (How) are you working on it?
It's easy to expand the parameters of the algorithm, but it makes everything a bit slower. The program I've created to generate 410-page books only takes a few seconds to create one or to perform a search, but it's still a bit too slow for the web. I'm currently working on a downloadable application that would allow users to possess their own universal library on their computer.
I've only got two final questions, because your reflexion that the library "does not wait for any reification to exert its influence" concisely answered several inquiries of mine. So, where is your interest in permutations leading you, besides building an application? In short, where shall you go next?
There are several concepts implicit in the operation of the library that I would like to explore further. Difference and repetition, presence and absence, the archive, particularly without substrate, the relationship of image and text, etc. I hope to continue some programmatic projects to explore these ideas further, but I also want to engage in more theoretical research and discussion. I have a few lectures and discussions scheduled in the coming months (http://goodworkgallery.com/category/future-work/) at art galleries or academic conferences to discuss these ideas in relation to libraryofbabel.info. I've also been speaking with Eileen Joy from Punctum Books about writing a book-length essay about the project.
In general, there's much more to permute, and I would love to continue expanding the website to include all possible pieces of music or films. But I'm more of a writer at heart, and want to get back to working on some other forms of expression. Whatever happens, I have no doubt that both projects will continue to inform each other.