title:The Babel library (Trash Library) ver.1.4e
by Taro Kimura


A word becomes another word, a thing becomes another thing.
In this way, he tells himself, it works in the same way that memory
does. He imagines an immense Babel inside him. There is a text,
and it translates itself into an infinite number of languages. Sen-
tences spill out of him at the speed of thought, and each word
comes from a different language, a thousand tongues that clamor
inside him at once, the din of it echoing through a maze of rooms,
corridors, and stairways, hundreds of stories high.

The words rhyme, and even if there is no real connection between
them, he cannot help thinking of them together. Room and tomb,
tomb and womb, womb and room. Breath and death. Or the fact
that the letters of the word "live" can be rearranged to spell out the
word "evil." He knows this is no more than a schoolboy's game.
Surprisingly, however, as he writes the word "schoolboy," he can
remember himself at eight or nine years old, and the sudden sense
of power he felt in himself when he discovered he could play with
words in this way-as if he had accidentally found a secret path to
the truth: the absolute, universal, and unshakeable truth that lies
hidden at the center of the world. In his schoolboy enthusiasm, of
course, he had neglected to consider the existence of languages
other than English, the great Babel of tongues buzzing and battling
in the world outside his schoolboy life. And how can the absolute
and unshakeable truth change from language to language?


First of all Mr Fridriksson asked my uncle how his
research at the library had gone.
'Your library!' exclaimed the Professor. 'Why, it
consists of nothing but a few odd books on almost
empty shelves.'
'What!' replied Mr Fridriksson. 'But we have eight
thousand volumes, many of them valuable and rare,
both works in the old Scandinavian language and all the
latest books which Copenhagen sends us every year.'
'How do you make out that there are eight thousand
volumes? As far as I could see...'
'Oh, Professor Lidenbrock, they are all over the
country. On our old icy island people are fond of
study. There isn't a single farmer or fisherman who
can't read and doesn't read. We believe that books,
instead of mouldering behind an iron grating, far from
inquisitive gazes, should be worn out under the eyes of
a great many readers. Consequently these volumes are
passed from one person to another, and often return to
their shelves only after an absence of a year or two.'
'And in the meantime,' said my uncle rather crossly,
'What can you expect? Foreigners have their own
libraries at home, and, after all, the important thing is
that our peasants should be educated. As I have already
said, the love of study is in our blood.


Demoyte's books were all behind grass, so that the room
was full of reflections. Demoyte was a connoisseur of book.
Mor, who was not, had long ago been barred from the
library. Mor liked to tear a book apart as he read it, breaking
the back, thumbing and turning down the pages, commenting
and underling. He liked to have his books close to him, upon
a table, upon the floor, at least upon open shelves. Seeing them
so near and so destroyed, he could feel that they were now
almost inside his head. Demoyte's books seemed a different
kind of entity. Yet he liked to see them too, elegant, stiff and
spotless, gilded and calved, books to be held gently in the hand
and admired, and which recalled to mind the fact of which
Mor was usually obvious that a book is a thing and not just a
collection of thoughts.


Forty thousand books were burned at Alexandria;
let someone else praise this library as the most noble
monument to the wealth of kings, as did Titus Livius,
who says that it was the most distinguished achieve-
ment of the good taste and solicitude of kings. There
was no "good taste" or "solicitude" about it, but only
learned luxury-nay, not even "learned," since they
had collected the books, not for the sake of learning,
but to make a show, just as many who lack even a
child's knowledge of letters use books, not as the
tools of learning, but as decorations for the dining-
room. Therefore, let just as many books be acquired
as are enough, but not for mere show. "It is more
respectable," you say, "to squander money on these
than on Corinthian bronzes and on pictures." But
excess in anything becomes a fault. What excuse
have you to offer for a man who seeks to have book-
cases of citrus-wood and ivory, who collects the works
of unknown or discredited authors and sits yawning
in the midst of so many thousand books, who gets
most of his pleasure from the outsides of volumes and
their titles? Consequently it is in the houses of the
laziest men that you will see a full collection of ora-
tions and history with the boxes piled right up to
the ceiling; for by now among cold baths and hot
baths a library also is equipped as a necessary orna-
ment of a great house. I would readily pardon these
men if they were led astray by their excessive zeal
for learning. But as it is, the collections of the works
of sacred genius with all the portraits that adorn them
are bought for show and a decoration of their walls.


General Stumm replied that he was quite at home in this library.
Arnheim was impressed. "Almost all we have nowadays is writers,
and hardly anyone who reads books anymore," he went on. "Do you
realize, General, how many books are printed annually? I think it's
over a hundred books a day published in Germany alone. Over a
thousand periodicals are founded every year. The whole world is
writing! Everyone helps himself to ideas as though they were his
own, all the time. Nobody feels any responsibility toward the situa-
tion as a whole. Ever since the Church lost its influence, there is no
central authority to stem our general chaos. There is no educational
model, no educational principle. In these circumstances it is only
natural that feeling and morality should drift without an anchor, and
the most stable person begins to waver."

"One of the foremost rules for a good general is to find out the
enemy's strength," he said. "So I asked them to get me a card to our
world-famous Imperial Library, and with the help of a librarian who
very charmingly put himself at my disposal when I told him who I
was, I have now penetrated the enemy's lines. We marched down the
ranks in that colossal storehouse of books, and I don't mind telling
you I was not particularly overwhelmed; those rows of books are no
worse than a garrison on parade. Still, after a while I couldn't help
starting to do some figuring in my head, and I got an unexpected
answer. You see, I had been thinking that if I read a book a day, it
would naturally be exhausting, but I would be bound to get to the
end sometime and then, even if I had to skip a few, I could claim a
certain position in the world of the intellect. But what d'you suppose
that librarian said to me, as we walked on and on, without an end in
sight, and I asked him how many books they had in this crazy library?
Three and a half million, he tells me. We had just got to the seven
hundred thousands or so, but I kept on doing these figures in my
head; I'll spare you the details, but I checked it out later at the office,
with pencil and paper: it would take me ten thousand years to carry
out my plan.


"In Rome, I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library.
By reading and re-reading them, I discovered that one hundred
and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete
summary of human knowledge, at least everything that it is
useful for a man to know. I devoted three years of my life to
reading and re-reading these hundred and fifty volumes, so that
when I was arrested I knew them more of less by heart. In prison,
with a slight effort of memory, I recalled them entirely. So I can
recite to you Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Strada,
Jornades, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli
and Bossuet; I mention only the most important..."


So I went to the library and got out a lot of books to
read. I've been reading a lot now. Most of the books are
too hard for me, but I don't care. As long as I keep read-
ing I'll learn new things and I won't forget how to read.
That's the most important thing. If I keep reading, maybe
I can hold my own.


He was often at the library. Almost every time Helen went
there she saw him sitting over an open book at one of the tables;
she wondered if all he did in his spare time was come here and
read. She respected him for it. She herself averaged two weekly
visits, each time checking out only a book or two, because it was
one of her few pleasures to return for another. Even at her lone-
liest she liked being among books, although she was sometimes
depressed to see how much there was to read that she hadn't.
Meeting Frank so often, she was at first uneasy: he haunted the
place, for what? But, a library was a library; he came here, as she
did, to satisfy certain needs. Like her he read a lot because he was
lonely, Helen thought. She thought this after he had told her
about the carnival girl. Gradually her uneasiness left her.


All this time Alfred is in his room, using his remaining
hours of leisure to cram in as many books as possible. He
dreams of a vast library, kept under lock and key, for his
own private use. So anxious is he that his domain must
be safely guarded that he sometimes denies that he has
been reading at all, when his mother lays a hand to his hot
brow. 'I was thinking about next year at the factory,'
Alfred tells her, and this is not altogether a lie since the
factory is what he most dreads and fears. He does not
know that when he starts at the factory he will inherit
power, and that means power to buy books. It seems to
him, or would do, if anybody ever bothered to explain it
to him, such a complicated and uninteresting manipulation
of access to the printed word.