The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières


The print work of French artist Érik Desmazières has featured here on several occasions, and I’ve also had reason to mention more than once his aquatints and etchings which illustrate Jorge Luis Borges’ celebrated short story The Library of Babel (1941). The prints were produced in 1997 with a small book edition being published in 2000. Copies of that volume now sell for upwards of $100, and at a mere 36 pages this somewhat exceeds my acquisitiveness threshold. Hence this post which gathers some of the better online reproductions, one or two of which have only come to light in the past couple of years.


Borges’ description of the architecture of the universe-size Library is sketchy so Desmazières opens out some of the spaces to give a Piranesian sense of space to what would otherwise be little more than views of the same small rooms and corridors, endlessly repeating. MC Escher could have made something of those infinite perspectives—the hexagonal chambers are the closest to the story descriptions—but the larger rooms convey without words an impression of colossal spaces filled with nothing but people and an infinitude of books. The volumes in Borges’ Library don’t contain illustrations but one of them at least would describe this very book. Another would describe this book with a minor variation in one of the plates; another would describe MC Escher’s depictions of the Library, and Piranesi’s, and Salvador Dalí’s, and on and on…



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