HomeIAMURE International Journal of Literature, Philosophy and Religionvol. 4 no. 1 (2013)

Epistemic Uncertainty in Borges "The Library of Babel"

Howard Giskin

Discipline: Literature



In his short story, “The Library of Babel” (1941), Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) examines the nature of reality, in particular epistemological boundaries to knowing in the world and universe. In this tale Borges is concerned with epistemic certainty, whether the universe is decipherable by use of reason, philosophy, or scientific investigation. I examine Borges’ tale as an allegory of the dilemma moderns find themselves in, in an age when the moorings which have anchored us, belief in God, religious faith, moral absolutes, the idea of progress, that language can mirror reality, have all been subjected to radical critique. In this regard, Borges stands at the cusp of postmodernism and can be seen as a precursor of this movement. Borges finds the search for meaning a noble yet frustrating human endeavor, underlain with a fear we are denied contact with the reality of things. The Library offers hope of revelation of the universe’s secrets, yet presents formidable barriers to understanding. In his vision Borges presents thought-provoking images of society, the search for knowledge, and of human-imposed order on a chaotic reality.