Has it been written? – Library of Babel

LibraryOfBabelSnapshotI came across the Library of Babel some time ago, yet it continues to intrigue me and allows me to indulge in the more philosophical aspects of my brain. In short, it’s a system that allows for mathematically generated text to be created and destroyed and recalled instantly. It’s a gem of literary creativity, even if isn’t technically a human literary achievement. As taken from their website (which you should really go explore, if only to marvel at the very concept of mathematically generated text), it states that:

“The Library of Babel is a place for scholars to do research, for artists and writers to seek inspiration, for anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor to reflect on the weirdness of existence … completed, it would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters … it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be …  At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 104677 books.”

This means that every book, blog post, tweet, facebook update, article, etc. ever written or consumed exists out there. Which means everything that can possibly be written already has been “written”, regardless of whether it’s ever been committed to paper or even conceived. Which reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s L-space or Neil Gaiman’s Lucien’s library or any other hypothetical space where everything written simultaneously does and does not exist, just like that concept you wanted to work on, that poem you wanted to write about your last date, or that next entry in your diary. It’s in there… It just hasn’t been generated and exposed to the world. Not yet at least. But the concept also creates a lot of questions.

Are there be masterpieces of poetry hidden inside, waiting to be discovered rather than written? If I found one, can I publish it as my own? Or is that already someone else’s intellectual property? Or would the act of finding it bring it to existence? Furthermore, can I ever hope to be original? If what I’m writing has already been written, does it mean I plagiarized it, even if I wasn’t aware of its existence or it wasn’t written by a human or at least with human intent? Is the Library of Babel art? Should the entire idea or concept be considered an art project, or a mere exercise of mathematical magics? If so, what does it mean?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, nor do I pretend to have any. Most art comes from, or references, other art and the Library of Babel certainly references other pieces of work. In fact it references every piece of work, real and in potentia, but not explicitly so. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the creative process or a maybe it’s just a machine that recreates something that does or doesn’t really exist yet. I don’t know. But it makes me wonder.

What do you think? What does this project say about creativity, about writing in general and about plagiarism? Does it say anything at all? And just to be clear, this blog post already exists/existed in Babel.

Let me know and do like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!

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