The Benefactor has spoken! People of One State rejoice! A new edict! Burn all Reading Machines without delay! Consign them to the flames!
I, C772 have a new purpose and rise with vigour. The light of a new day streams into my cube and we, the citizens of One State take our exercise. More information concerning The Benefactor’s plan! A great burning and breaking of Reading Machines is to take place in the coming days. We are to take up our hammers and render our personal Reading Machines inoperable. Smash them to smithereens! Our Brothers and Sisters of Computation will send forth a great virus to infect any machines that remain physically intact and scramble them.
It has begun! I take up my machine this morning intending to crush its monochrome screen beneath one of the legs of my simple chair. In a sudden and inexplicable desire to see the words for one last time, I slide the switch and wake it from slumber: There is nothing but a string of random letters, spaces, commas and full stops. I stare in surprise unable to comprehend the feelings that arise. The machine is dead. It does not even require breaking apart. A quick glance toward one of my neighbours: Through the glass wall of my cube I can see her, the diminutive form of m308, launching a rectangular object against one of her walls. I will reject her next pink ticket.
More information concerning The Benefactor’s plan. After the great rending, all citizens of One State are to receive a Book. I roll this word around my lips a few times. I have a sparse memory of the meaning of this word; I am sure that as a child I owned such a thing and it was made of paper with thin pages containing colourful pictures. I glance over to my table at the inert, Reading Machine that lies there. In my mind it is alive and pulsing, a pulsing that throbs in my own temples. Why can I not break it -– break free of it? Yesterday, filled with guilt I feigned its destruction –– leaping around my cube like a mad thing, stamping on the floor, my anger real and directed at my own inability to understand. I cannot bare to destroy the romances of the people of Far Away Land, the instruction manuals of the Great Architect or the comedies of the Free Men and their drunkenness.
The Book arrives! It is waiting for me on my return from work and I hurry up to my cube, eager to know the Benefactor’s Plan. The Book is unadorned and perfectly white. Its cover is of a thicker paper than the creamy white pages within and I cautiously turn the first few –– they are blank. I stare dumbly and turn a few more. In the perfect centre of the book is a story. It has a title: The Library of Babel.
The author of the story is not named but I suspect it is our Joyful Benefactor and I can guess his plan: He wishes the people of One State to construct a library (that is a collection of books) –– the greatest library ever made, the library to end all libraries.There is a sudden announcement that confirms my guess –– The Library will contain all of the books than can ever be written and therefore will lead the people of One State to a great truth. There is to be a further announcement of those who will be chosen to have the job of librarian bestowed upon them –– the greatest of all honours. I sit back contemplating, when a pink ticket pops through the slot in the door –– it’s m308. I deduce that she will never be chosen to be a librarian and thus I can indulge in an alternative form of excitement without any feelings of guilt.
Joy! Strange joy! I have been chosen! I am to be a librarian!
I attend a series of instructional seminars on the duties of the librarian. The Great Architect has already begun designing the millions of interlocking hexagonal rooms that will house the book shelves within the library and I am allotted a section to look after; retrieving books for higher level librarians whose job it will be to decipher the text they find there. Many of the texts within the books will be meaningless gibberish, but of course in the library of all possible books, there will be works of incredible insight and truth.
I am content . . . But . . .
Tonight as I walk home there is a nagging sensation in my mind and I cannot throw it out. I have seen the random letters that many of the books in the library will contain, somewhere before. My Reading Machine! I had stowed it beneath my pillow, meaning to really destroy it at some opportune moment! I try not to run the remainder of the journey back to my cube and as soon as I arrive I lower the blinds as though I am having a liaison via a pink ticket (this one is a fake –– obtained just for such desperate moments of privacy).
The Reading Machine awakes and I stare at the characters on the screen for hours as though a sudden pattern will emerge. I scroll through pages and pages of nonsense with a rising panic before closing my eyes tightly. And then I have it. Oh fool! We are all fools! Even the Benefactor whose unseen presence ignites the trembling within our hearts. The Library can never be built it would require all the lives of all the men whohave ever lived in One State, and all the lives of the men to follow. But here is the answer –– in the palm of my hand. The Reading Machine with it’s constant update from our Brothers and Sisters of Computation.
I fall asleep understanding; I will not need to conspire with my Brothers and Sisters concerning this matter. All will be known soon and my Reading Machine will be saved. An announcement.
The Benefactor has spoken! People of One State rejoice! A new edict! Burn all Books without delay! Consign them to the flames!
I am content.
– Your Joyful Benefactor