Borges and Infinity

∞ In The
Works of Jorge
Luis Borges
Rodrigo Andrade
Jeremy Stratton-Smith
Jorge Luis Borges
Born August 24, 1899 in
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Started writing at age 6
and had a translation
published at 9
Moved between Argentina
and Europe several times
throughout childhood
The Garden of Forking Paths
A German spy (Yu Tsun) in England has had his identity
compromised and needs to communicate information to the
In order to do this Tsun identifies a person (Stephen Albert)
whose name contains the information he wishes to pass along and
decides to kill them in order for the information to get to the
The Garden of Forking Paths
When he arrives at Albert’s estate, it turns out that Albert
happens to be in possession of a famous book that was written by
one of Tsun’s ancestors. The book appears to be nonsense, with
chapters not fitting together in any kind of coherent way.
This ancestor was also said to have made a labyrinth that no one
could escape from but it was never found.
The Garden of Forking Paths
Albert solved both of these riddles: the labyrinth is the
book as each chapter of the book is written to be a part
of a different potential plot. Tsun then kills Albert,
successfully communicating the information.
The Garden of Forking Paths
“The Garden of Forking Paths is a picture, incomplete yet
not false” (Kerrigan, 100)
“Differing from Newton…your ancestor did not think
of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an
infinite series of times, in [an]…ever spreading network
of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of
time…embraces every possibility.” (Kerrigan, 100)
The Garden of Forking Paths
“The book is a shapeless mass of contradictory rough
drafts…the hero dies in the third chapter, while in the
fourth he is alive.” (Kerrigan, 96)
What size infinity does The Garden of Forking Paths
imply? If time is continuously bifurcating, what is the
size of the set of all possible times?
The Book of Sand
The narrator, Borges himself, opens the door to a stranger who
offers him bibles. He quickly denies the offer, but then the seller
offers a new book, an infinite book.
This book, according to the seller, has no two pages identical, no
first page nor last.
The Book of Sand
The seller desires a high price, which Borges can’t pay.
Borges, obsessed with the thought of the infinite book
offers his retirement paycheck and a gothic Wyclif
The seller agrees to the trade and leaves. After not
being able to fall asleep, he grabs the book and starts to
read through the pages.
The Book of Sand
He realizes, months later, how the book has consumed
his life in the desire to understand how it works. He
has to get rid of it. Borges takes the book to the
national library of Argentina, where he hides it among
nine thousand books.
The Book of Sand
“I was struck by an odd fact: the even-numbered page
would carry the number 40,514, let us say, while the
odd-numbered page that followed it would be 999. I
turned the page; the next page bore an eight-digit
number.” (Hurley, 4)
“If space is infinite, we are in no particular point in
space. If time is infinite, we are in no particular point
in time.” (Hurley, 5)
The Book of Sand
Why were there numbers irrelevant to the page
number on the frame of each page? If the book is
infinite then there are no page numbers and therefore
In the story it was stated that if the book is closed, then
the page is lost forever, but if there is a limited
amounts of characters in which the book is written and
in a finite amount of languages, there will be a point
where the pages start to repeat, similar to the library of
Babel, is it true? Can a book be truly infinite?
Death and the Compass
Erik Lönnrot follows the pattern of a series of three
murders that occur at locations that together form an
equilateral triangle with vertices pointing in the
cardinal directions of North, East, and West.
Death and the Compass
He concludes that there will be another murder at the
South point of a rhombus based on the other three
points. He arrives at an estate with a garden and house
that have enough radial symmetry to begin to seem
infinite. After facing the murderer and discussing a
linear labyrinth, Lönnrot becomes the victim himself.
Death and the Compass
“He traveled through duplicate patios; several times he
emerged upon the same patio….he was infinitely
reflected in opposing mirrors” (Kerrigan, 138)
“On the second floor, on the top story, the house
seemed to be infinite and growing. It is only made larger
by the penumbra, the symmetry, the mirrors, the years, my
ignorance, the solitude.” (Kerrigan, 138)
Death and the Compass
“I know of a Greek labyrinth which is a single straight
line. Along this line so many philosophers have lost
themselves that a mere detective might well do so
too….feign to commit (or do commit) a crime at A,
then a second crime at B, eight kilometers from A,
then a third crime at C, four kilometers from A and B,
halfway en route between the two. Wait for me later at
D, two kilometers from A and C, halfway, one again,
between both. Kill me at D, as are now going to kill me
at Triste-le-Roy.” (Kerrigan, 141)
The Library of Babel
The narrator describes an infinite library made up of hexagonal
rooms arranged in lattices stacked on top of each other. The
rooms have four walls lined with books that are of uniform size
and length.
These books are composed of every possible combination of
characters. Since there is an infinite number of books, the
narrator, who is an old man that is bracing himself for his death,
suggests to the reader that every book that could be formulated is
somewhere in the library.
The Library of Babel
No two books in the library are
exactly the same. There is also
variation in languages, so each book
may be a variation of other books in
a different language.
In this library there are also books
that contain no meaning
whatsoever. All useful information
that can ever be written is
somewhere in the library of Babel.
How many Languages are there?
How many books make no sense?
The Library of Babel
The librarians are superstitious, and believe that
somewhere in the library there must exist a single book
that states the index of all other books, and therefore is
the master book.
Such a book was believed to be read by the Master of
the Book, a man that lived somewhere in the library
that knew the contents of the book.
Is this man God, or the representation of Ein Sof? He
would have to be hundreds of years old.
The Library of Babel
Some, the purifiers, decided that they should burn all
the books. Others choose to randomly adopt a book
and idolize its contents. Nevertheless the infinite
collection of information drove the population mad.
The Library of Babel
“Before, there was a man for every three hexagons.
Suicide and pulmonary diseases have destroyed that
proportion. A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at
times I have traveled for many nights through corridors
and along polished stairways without finding a single
librarian.” (J.E.I., 8)
“The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one
of its hexagons and whose circumference is
inaccessible” (J.E.I., 2)
The Aleph
At Beatriz Viterbo’s death on a February morning,
Borges realizes that he doesn’t want to be changed by
the factors of living without his love, so every year, on
her birthday he goes to her parents house to visit her
Carlos Argentino Daneri, Beatriz’s cousin lives in the
house and slowly over the years gets to know and
respect Borges for his visits. Borges has little regard
towards Carlos, since he is “too human” which means
he has an ordinary life with no purpose.
The Aleph
He also writes a mediocre poem called Earth that
Borges is forced to edit and review. The poem intends
to exemplify earth in a “chaotic” set of verses.
A couple of weeks later Carlos calls Borges asking for
help with his poem and to secure a prologue from a
renowned author. They established this meeting in
Zunino and Zungri. Ironically, months later, Zunino
and Zungri desire to demolish Carlos house to expand
their business.
The Aleph
Carlos is not sad because of his house,
but because of the Aleph in the cellar.
The aleph in the cellar is the one point
where all other points on earth are seen.
One that sees the aleph sees everything
from every single angle at that point in
Similar to Reinman Sphere, a sphere in
three dimensions being able to represent
what is viewed in four dimensions.
The Aleph
Borges, thinking the cousin was mad, goes down the
cellar by himself. Thinking he was letting a mad man
trap him in the basement he sees the aleph.
He slowly lost recollection of some of the things he
saw, days later.
Human capacity to understand infinity.
The Aleph
Carlos poem is later received and awarded by the
public, and Borges starts to question Carlos, how did
he name the aleph or was it someone else. He ends up
making Daneri doubt himself by lying about the
The Aleph
“Yes, the only place on earth where all places are —
seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any
confusion or blending.”(Giovanni, 7)
“Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in
the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps,
all sources of light are in it, too.”(Giovanni, 7)
The Aleph
“And here begins my despair as a writer. All language is a set
of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared
past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless
Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass?
.”(Giovanni, 8)
“Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an
endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single
gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and
awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space,
without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld
was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be
successive, because language is successive.”(Giovanni, 8)
The Ethnographer
A graduate student decides to
do a study of Native American
cultures and goes to live with a
tribe on the prairie. He
becomes part of the tribe, has
a mystical experience and
leaves to report back to his
advisor. When they meet, the
student decides not to finish
his paper because it would not
communicate what he learned.
The mystical experience taught
him something that goes
beyond language so he decides
to end his studies.
The Ethnographer
“Now that I possess the secret, I could tell it in a
hundred different and even contradictory ways. I don’t
know how to tell you this, but the secret is beautiful,
and science, our science, seems mere frivolity to me
now.” (Hurley)
Questions (?)
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Aleph”. Trans. Norma Thomas Di Giovanni
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Book of Sand”. Trans by Andrew Hurley
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Death and the Compass.” Ficciones. Trans.
Kerrigan. New York: Grove, 1962. 129-41. Print.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Ethnographer.” Trans. Andrew Hurley.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Ficciones. Trans.
Anthony Kerrigan. New York: Grove, 1962. 89-101. Print.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Library of Babel”. Trans by J.E.I
Ruch, Allen B. “Biography.” 1/24/2014. Web.
Pictures Bibliography
Pictures Bibliography