Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Anatole France's Library of Babel

Endowed with business-like energy and dogged patience, Monsieur Sariette himself classified all the members of this vast body. The system he invented and put into practice was so complicated, the labels he put on the books were made up of so many capital letters and small letters, both Latin and Greek, so many Arabic and Roman numerals, asterisks, double asterisks, triple asterisks, and those signs which in arithmetic express powers and roots, that the mere study of it would have involved more time and labour than would have been required for the complete mastery of algebra, and as no one could be found who would give the hours, that might be more profitably employed in discovering the law of numbers, to the solving of these cryptic symbols, Monsieur Sariette remained the only one capable of finding his way among the intricacies of his system, and without his help it had become an utter impossibility to discover, among the three hundred and sixty thousand volumes confided to his care, the particular volume one happened to require. Such was the result of his labours. Far from complaining about it, he experienced on the contrary a lively satisfaction.
(from Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France)

The Library of Babel according to Anatole France. I can sympathise with his taxomania being forced as I am to build a large bookpress for the overspill and the very explicable congeries which had their logic at some point but now have achieved a declension into chaos. (or is it it's as congeries is singular. Where's Fowler?) The press will be 8' x 5' with glazed upper section and drawers and cupboards below. It is after the plan of the bookcase of the Director General of Railroads from Rodale's Desks and Bookcases. I built one in white oak years ago which looked well. I will make some visual and constructional changes to the plan as shown: a solid plinth, a fancy cornice, lighter glazed doors. Bails or knobs turned in a contrasting wood. So many decisions knowing that at a certain point when you do too much you pass over into fussiness.

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