Kane X. Faucher, The Infinite Library
The Infinite Library
Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2011
Length: 564 pp.
ISBN: 0984603786; 978-0984603787
Follow Alberto Gimaldi, code-cracker and bibliophile, as he unravels the mystery of an infinite library and discovers the treachery of the librarian Castellemare. What is the hidden plot of the library, and how will this impossible place set into motion a catastrophic narrative by the artful textual manipulation of unwitting agents in the real world? What is the buried and secret connection between all text and all life?
A novel of dark mystery, infinity, and a compelling story for all those who love books and book-related enigmas. Codes, ciphers, and the sinister await those who would set foot inside the Infinite Library.
1: The Invisible Book
“Let your vast Library be justified!” the unnamed Librarian in Borges’ “Library of Babel” declaimed in desperation. In the face of an infinite library, it is the most thoughtful demand to make. But if the Library cannot be justified, which is to say that if the purpose of existence cannot be traced to a purpose or design as to its beginning or end, then at least it should be organized. Information is what organizes matter and energy into some stable form of random coherence. That’s the best I can make of it. Any mathematician would be exasperated by my juvenile understanding of infinity and information, and any philosopher would dismiss my musings as irrelevant or in want of reason. But I am not a mathematician or a philosopher. I believe that there is one station higher than these two, and it is the librarian, the art and grace by which he or she can organize our most seemingly miscellaneous information to facilitate its storage, retrieval, and methods for improved accessibility. I am far from being a religious man, but if there was a god, he or she or it would be a librarian — thus is the primacy of information over energy and matter.
Anchoring points of time and place: Vatican City, 2007, on a fruitless research junket, given permission to forage through the Vatican holdings courtesy of fancy letterhead, two institutions. My name is Alberto Gimaldi. His name was Castellemare, a self-proclaimed librarian. His physique was narrow and bony, composed entirely of haphazard piping and knotted joints in some kind of Soviet industrial parody on human anatomy, angular bones floating in aspic features and an odd affectation of uncertain origin. He always wore the most conspiratorial grin upon that Jack O’ Lantern of a face, I bet even in his most private moments. He said he was of mixed parentage without ever qualifying any further, and if I may say so without sounding ridiculous, he was the only person I have met that lacked the residual trauma we all bear in having once been born. Perhaps it was not that he was born, but printed, the origin of body and book being one. His specialty was, indeed, books, but books of a different type.
Of myself, there is not much to say that would bear interested hearing, nothing plangent or remarkable about the scholastic years of empty service, the dull rustle or scribble here and there to mark time. But I have to fill the time and say something, generate sympathy with whoever hears my tale, and this through being so painfully average or mediocre in as many ways that my eccentricities are absorbed and subsequently negated.
I am a largely forgettable mind desultorily hitched to a frumpy body. There are two concerns in my daily affairs, both united by bibliophilia: either I am trafficking in enigmatic texts or I am cracking the codes and ciphers of the most mysteriously penned codices. The one habit supplies the other since I make a modest enough income to fuel my travels to various manuscript libraries in Europe to continue my assiduous research, research that is largely uninteresting except to the most niche specialists. I have published a few articles on untranslatable incunabula without bothering to offer any solutions, a few reviews of what is current in glyptology, cryptology, and cryptanalysis. In such instances, I parrot what has already been said by merely grafting the seminal references in a different order, my work drawing to its end as inconclusive, petering off as a littoral of quotations and a bland toss-off summary of all the nothing that was said. Sometimes I give myself the task of debunking hasty theorists who employ the most absurd of methodologies in cracking what is a mere “Greeking” of text, or refuting those who claim that certain texts are just hoaxes by demonstrating how the code actually works. It is largely shadowboxing, but it takes on an especial importance among those of us who share a concern that is centuries dated. I have cracked a few codices in my time, most notably two: De heteromachina rerum (author unknown) and the luridly extraterrestrial Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus. Actually, I failed to crack the latter, but I let the rumour persist without worrying about anyone checking to see if there is any support for a claim I can disown if pressed. Although such preoccupation sounds to the outsider as thrilling, glamourous, fraught with penetrating the shibboleths of conspirators resulting in peril, it is nothing of the sort. It is dry and tedious work, not the sort of Da Vinci Code hijinx that seeks to uncover the one secret conspiracy that motors history. No such things exist, or at least not in the register one would mundanely imagine.
Codes and ciphers are enormously important to me. I think the Library knew that, why I must have been selected, never mind the means it did so, the agents it sent. There are keys in a code to unlock it, and keys in the frets of ornamental friezes, and everything is in hand... con clave. But given a handful of keys and being tossed in a world of locks does not demystify anything.
I have never met a book I could not decipher with but a few maddening exceptions (all exceptions in this field are the source of madness and infuriation, a dirty secret kept under the floorboards of one’s reputation and profession). But it is time-consuming work to an extreme, and I am rarely rewarded for efforts by either monetary compensation or a bump in scholarly reputation; the members of this global fraternity who occupy their time obsessively devoted to deciphering could not even fill a room at a party, and I do not mean the legion of amateurs and closet hobbyists. Besides, a party of our kind should be strictly avoided. The “community” is small, vicious, insular, zealous, and populated by professional cutthroats, inimitable egos, and belligerent windbags. We keep mostly to ourselves and share nothing until we are absolutely certain that no further work need be done. That is, none of us publish a “lead” in the cracking of the code without having deciphered it entirely unless we have to, for this community is also covetous over others’ work. The numbers have dwindled over the last twenty years for two reasons; at first the best cryptologists were seduced by stable incomes provided by governmental secret agencies and private sector think tanks with large budgets, and now computers have outmoded our antique methods, being able to cycle through a decade’s worth of permutations performed by hand in a matter of minutes. Others in our trade lament that we are an endangered breed, whereas I am more the realist by knowing that we are in fact extinct and in absolute denial of this grimly real circumstance. Why forestall the inevitable when it is already here, when it has already been here for so long? But I take comfort in the fact that there are codes written in hand that only another hand, not a computer, can decode. I like to think of this as coding with the right and decoding with the left, the symmetry of all mystery.
I once held an adjunct position at a university, lecturing on old manuscripts... But this I abandoned when it seemed that my students, and even my colleagues, ceased to share any enthusiasm when in the presence of an extremely rare manuscript. Their indifference was symptomatic of my trade’s decline; the people are no longer interested in books or book-related mysteries, and so it stands to reason that the unity of the two would cease to hold anyone’s interest for more than a fleeting moment before running toward the certainty of science or formulaic television programming. However, I do not wish to malinger here with my heavy baggage of complaint when I have in fact accepted the fate of my trade, and have supplemented my own joy by peddling texts to keep solvent. I can do nothing to change the tide of indifference, and I am too arrogant a creature to believe that I am responsible in making the attempt. And so, I made my way teaching on occasion, on a part time basis, gypsying about from one institution to another. Same old yawn.
Enough about that.
Of all places the narrative would choose for me to meet the librarian, it was just outside Vatican City, that little religious satrapy of itself. Swiss guards in their ridiculous blue suits trafficked by history’s own haberdasher rotated in their appointed guard patterns. Faith met finance in the swatches of coffee and ice-cream shops that plucked the tourist-faithful into its overpriced maw. The day began with oppressive heat that later reconciled itself with a drop in humidity. Cool winds arced into the piazzas and stirred up dust into faint rosette patterns matching souvenir Romanesque reproductions frozen in keychains. The sun was partially occulted by menacing cloud that clotted the sky with the threat or promise of melodramatic biblical weather to follow. The Vatican Library was an occasional haunt of mine, and I was but another face plucked from the indistinct sea of greying scholarly types all eager to plunder some obscure text to resolve some meaningless little conspiratorial riddle, to worship at the spine’s edge of the Codex Vaticanus Graecus. I had just finished my research stint in one of the stuffy manuscript rooms, and was satisfied with my findings the way one must justify to oneself that the research in such an illustrious place was fruitful... even if it was a dismal failure. To be honest, I had wandered through the catalogue of the Vatican holdings on so many occasions that it seemed to me what a city’s public library is to its populace: just another nexus of books sheltered from the elements, a collection point like a heavily populated car on a commuter train. By my many frequent visitations, I perhaps knew the Vatican holdings catalogue and Holy Index better than I knew the details of my own childhood. Not that I enjoyed the tedious arguments of theologically involved scholastics, but some of these books were the basis upon which codes were written, and they were beautifully bound — the finest crafted materials for the dullest possible content.
There had been a rush to acquire photocopies for study given that the announcement gave urgency to any researcher’s aims: that the Library would be closing for three years. I finished up, went to my rental car, and trundled myself off to a nearby small town.
I do not fancy myself a grand gourmand, but I could usually determine good cuisine from what was merely slapped together for the indiscriminate tongues of tourists. I knew the best local food was always in a small and narrow street, in an establishment with a modest lit sign that read VINO. I stepped in just as the wind went into crescendo and the sky’s bloated bladder emptied its contents upon the city with its hissing relief. I was determined to get a hot meal, return to my hotel, and then depart the next morning for Barcelona, then make my connector flight back to Toronto where the only living thing affected by my absence would be a pathetic and neglected house plant in one of those made in China dollar store pots that are far more florid than whatever can grow inside them.
Be it the meal or my sense of liberality with my wallet (since I had just been paid a handsome sum for a rare text that netted me a fair profit), I seduced myself into ordering a liter of expensive wine to attend my meal. The patrons seemed slightly rough without being ignorant and abrasive; working people, bakers and butchers and other such trades that still have a sense of familial honour. The place was small, a bit dingy, but very homelike. There were decorative votive candles with opulent depictions of the Virgin and child, seemingly painted in an effusive hybrid Medieval iconic and Renaissance style, softened by mass production, a holdover from that Cult of Mary now 800 years stale-dated. The tablecloths were damask. Tucked away in one corner, seated by himself over a heaping feast of pasta, soup, buns, salad, and wine, was a very odd looking fellow, as out of place as I was. I contrived to draw some attention to myself without being obtuse. The fellow ate his food greedily, but his eyes seemed fixed, perhaps mulling over an amusing anecdote. He wore the slightly apprehensive grin of someone who was unsure when it was his cue to laugh. His long, knotted fingers were ridiculously ringed like a wizard’s, and the hands were a gangly roadmap of one of those ancient, overcrowded cities where one was unsure if something was being renovated or demolished. I observed his hands for quite some time without staring too obviously — for his hands were the real scene of action. He was both ravenous and mechanical. Even his operation of the spoon betrayed his famished aspect. There were dark orange smudges on his right index and middle fingers, undeniable truth that he was a heavy smoker; in fact, there were three packages of cigarettes by his knobby elbow, and there was a cigarette on the go in the overflowing ashtray just astern his soup bowl as he absentmindedly lit another. He managed his fare and cigarette in such a precise choreography that I could look away and predict what his hands would be busying themselves with in accordance to the rhythm: fork dipping into pasta, twirl, puff, slurp soup, tear piece of bun, chew, chew, slurp wine, puff, more wine, soup, puff. It was only with the salad that he was dainty, his fingers lightly pinching the salad fork between thumb and middle finger while the other fingers splayed out like dainty antennae, an out of place affectation, hovering over the salad like one trying to sneak up on a fly, dabbing at it gingerly but with purpose for a particular green. Only later would I realize just how adept those hands actually were; he once made a signal to me with them, later on during our strange acquaintance, forming a kind of narrow edge, declaring that, “one must know where to make the division between books in order to pluck the one that is not apparently there.” He called it, ineloquently enough, a knife in the ribs.
He must have noticed that I noticed him, for he spoke to me without raising his head from the meal: “care to join me, traveler?” His accent was a mix of sultry French washing over the harsh rocks of a Slavic tongue, but even this was amorphous. There was no consistent accent; I was guessing and not half as worldly as I would liked to have been.
I felt a bit flush and embarrassed, but curious all the same. His choreography ceased, and he merely raised an eye and eyebrow hung in the complete stillness of his body to see if my reply would be to take him up on his offer. I motioned to the server that I would be changing seats, and the server grunted assent. Upon closer inspection, the man seemed and sounded like a baroque dandy — or at least some bastard derivation thereof made possible by an appetite for anachronism. He was most likely a crazy person, and yet I was choosing to sit with him for no defensible reason other than laggard, desultory curiousity.
The man gestured with an inviting sweep to the empty chair across from him, now resuming his brusque and voracious attention to his meal. I can only paraphrase a conversation that was far more awkward and filled with the gaps and lapses of my slow thought-to-speech ratio.
“Thank you,” I said.
Without any small talk preamble, he went right for it: “Yes, and so you are here to do research at the library, I take it?”
“There is only one library, extended in its parts, but all part of a whole. But I really mean the Pope’s not-so-secret textual booty. You have to wonder just how many of those books were acquired a poignard. Inquisitions always seem to increase knowledge for some. Oh, well. Book acquisition doubled after the Lateran Council in 1215... The invention of penance made it so. Full of guilt? Murderer? Rapist? Forgiveness conditional on serving in his Holiness’ Crusade. Endless bulls, diplomas, indulgences for labour traded, remissions of penance during Lent, and so forth. Dreary stuff, so blandly historical! And without an inch of humour or an inkling of character and style. The Church was one of the first bodies to effectively practice information control.”
“How did you know that I was at the library?”
“Nothing happens in Vatican City without my knowing it, it seems. As well, you are festooned with books and notes, and your eyes seem bleary with text. I know your type well, and one does not need some sort of special radar to pick you out of the crowd. Come now... no one who lives here actually reads! Unless one is a member of the College of Cardinals, what point is there? Life is simple. Texts only increase upon the burdens, giving us new puzzles to occupy our time.”
“I don’t know if I would agree with you.”
He sat back, corking me with a mischievous grin, dabbing now at the corners of his mouth with a napkin. It seemed like he was all bones, wrapped tautly with skin, perhaps too tight, which made his eyes seem to bulge slightly which made him seem as comical as it also made him appear like a regulation nightmare nemesis. He lit another cigarette and was about to, if his gestures could be read, launch into a schoolmaster’s lecture.
“Listen,” he said, “I am not an enemy of books and their retinue of paramours; quite the contrary. But it will always astound me that so many of you wander into deserts in search of trees when the forest is all around you.”
“What do you mean? Are you saying the Vatican’s holdings are sub par? That would be a controversial statement. A bit glib, maybe arrogant. I’m sorry, but I’m not following what you’re driving at.”
“You’re right. I should remember well to qualify my statements. Cigarette?”
He pointed the open pack at me; I politely and mutely declined with a low wave of my hand. I was currently on one of my short-lived jags of quitting that would invariably fail soon.
“Anyway,” he continued, “what is a library?”
“Are you asking me to provide you with a definition? Of what kind?”
“Oh, any definition will do,” he said as if it didn’t matter.
“I presume that this is your Socratic way of demonstrating to me that I have no conception of what a library is?”
“If you prefer... You may be sharp, but a bit defensive. It seems that one follows the other. How refreshing it would be to hear someone who has been in libraries all his life to declare that he had no real idea what a library actually was! Oh, I would relish that day! But men are arrogant and full of words, and they think that by making noises with their mouths and so much pen scratching they will somehow stumble upon the truth.”
“And you are not among men?”
“I am one among them, yes, but I know the limitations of words in whatever shape they contrive to take. We are both lovers of books, and so it should come as no surprise to either of us that we have made a lot of noise in history. We collect the noises that are in our heads and mouths into these bound objects meant to carry a species’ legacy, all the nominal fluctuations of thinking. To explain, to refute, to prove, to describe, to express, to indicate, to lament, to polemicize, to editorialize, etcetera. We collect these things into libraries and conflate having with knowing.”
“What do you mean?”
“How easily our vanity deceives us! Go to a library and note that it purports to be the record of all our knowledge, gained from so many millennia of strife and discovery. Now, we may have this record, but consider the individual who wanders into the library — does he know it all?”
“If he did, then this would make libraries redundant and useless. We can only potentially know all that is recorded, but it is highly implausible that we’d have the time to do so.”
“Don’t be so daft,” he scoffed. “Not all the libraries in this world can approximate the smallest slice of all our knowledge. It is all vanity and imposture! And what of this ‘potential knowledge’? That is as valuable as an empty plate when one is hungry. Say, do you read either Plotinus or Leibniz?”
“I have occasioned their works in the past, back in my undergraduate days. Nothing more than a passing familiarity.”
“Well, your sense of hope still seems intact. Either you show great fortitude or your reading was loose and frivolous.”
“I cannot say that I delved that deeply into either philosopher.”
“Pity. You know, I reject Leibniz. In my line of work--”
“Oh, I am a librarian. We will get to that later. Anyhow, Leibniz holds to the view that all matter is composed of itty-bitty things called monads, and each monad is distinct. There are no windows through which one monad can affect another. All monads proceed by their own nature, and it just so happens that everything works out because of that copout Leibniz inserts something called the pre-established harmony. The raillery of that court buffoon and his contested calculus! There is a central monad that governs all the others — it commands while lesser monads obey. I like to think of Leibniz’s theory of monadology as an analogy of the perfect library where all the books are distinct, and the harmony is the cataloguing system that allows each book to stand in its own nature, never affecting its neighbouring books. The central monad of the library is not the librarian, but the ordering system — the librarian is just a higher monad in the library, subject to the command of the harmony set down by the highest monad. This is the way in which libraries are generally conceived — and it is all bosh. It is the one version of Leibniz I despise the most, and I am sad that this one existed, for if this is the best of all possible worlds as he asserts, then this is proof that this notion is corrupt. I have read much more intriguing Leibnizes in my time, much more compelling than this court dandy! This was not the best of all possible texts by Leibniz.”
“You speak of Leibniz in the plural. Was there more than one philosopher by that name?”
“Plenty. There are as many of them as there are monads, both potential and actual.”
“A multiple worlds view?”
“Somewhat, but that sounds quite crude. Perhaps I should tell you about the Plotinian effect which constitutes libraries, that all Libraries are derived from the one Library.”
“And so you have had access to reading a different Leibnizian text than the rest of us? Or is this just a figure of speech, a different interpretive perspective on the same text?”
He just smiled at me, a broader grin than before.
“My name’s Gimaldi,” I said, a late introduction for what it was worth.
“Castellemare — pleasure,” he returned, wiping his hand briskly on his pants and jutting out his hand.
“Apart from research and deciphering code, I also specialize in the buying and selling of antiquarian editions,” I said, making an embarrassing plug.
“Fabulous! So you are both the lover and the whore of books. Books as mental and actual capital...I’ll never understand the fixation some have in bandying books around like a mercenary stock market exercise, but I suppose they’re as much a commodity as anything else — a dying one given the internetizing of everything...”
“One has to make a living.”
“Oh, of course. This may be impudent of me, but have you considered a career change?”
“Many times, but I find that careers involving books is the only thing that holds my interest; hence, my research and my business.”
“Maybe there is money in becoming a Publish-On-Demand publishing house. Seems as though everyone is writing and no one is reading! It would be far more profitable to get play on people’s vanity. Simple economics... There is no demand, only supply, and the industry may as well call itself ‘publish-for-supply’! What a failure to produce an infinite library, one stuffed with the works of intolerable amateurs and their narcissistic diarizing!”
“I can’t say that I have much care or knowledge about any book after 1800.”
“Have you ever considered becoming a librarian?”
“Yes, once or twice. I romanticized this position in my youth, thinking of how the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, spent his days in the service of the national library, reading so voluminously.”
“And then he went blind! Ha! Where is the Greek chorus when you need it? Well, do go on.”
“Yes, I had considered becoming a librarian, but I love books too much to merely be a functionary who must fight a losing battle of maintaining order in a collection that constantly expands, and the gruff disrespect of the patrons who would wrongly re-shelf at will.”
“Oh, brilliant contradiction! You love books so much that you sell them off! O ho ho! What a card you are! I love it! Well... let me be frank for a moment. I am looking for someone to play my Faust for a while, and you intrigue me. If I may ask, are you faring well financially?”
“I make do.”
“Are you familiar with library sciences?”
“I know the basics.”
“Hm. Well, I can retrain you, removing all that hooey you may have already been infested with in terms of how one should work in a library. I am willing to pay a handsome wage if you are interested in working in my library.”
“This is an enticing offer, I’m sure, but I would need to consider it and have all the conditions of my potential employment revealed before making any serious commitment.”
“But of course,” he beamed almost as though he already knew that I would take him up on his offer. “Neither of us should make a rash decision. Ask away.”
“Where is this library located?”
“Everywhere and nowhere, but to satisfy the naggingly boring demands for places and spaces, I have holdings in various locations around the globe... and some in-between.”
“What would my duties be?”
“That is negotiable. For the now, I can take you under my wing and school you in the way in which this library is to be tended. Later on, once your skills have significantly improved, you will assist me in acquiring very rare and obscure texts that your current sleuthing ability would never locate, all to the purpose of restoring the girth of my collection. Of course, I have the biggest collection in the world, as you shall soon see. I will not ask you to put the entirety of my vast library in order, for it is its own order, in and from time. This all sounds very vague to you, I can tell, but should you opt for this, soon you will glean exactly what I mean.”
“Ah! The real question! Money! I am a modestly wealthy man, and I can afford to pay you as an assistant, but it would most likely be a limited contract basis. Usually ranging in the thousands of euros to about a hundred thousand per assignment, pending complexity and difficulty in acquisition.”
I nearly choked on my wine. I never grossed that sum in five years’ worth of hard book-selling labour or luck.
“And,” he continued, “you may continue to do your research on the side, for I think you will find more than enough material to furnish your endeavours by indirect pursuit. Perhaps I may be so kind to allow you a little peek at a few of my own books... Well, at least under my supervision and with extremely limited access, of course. Some books are not to be opened for any reason. Do you have any other questions?”
“Why me? I mean, I haven’t give you a CV and I may not have the qualifications you are looking for. You’ll have to forgive me but this all feels rather sudden and unnatural. I am not accustomed to being approached by strangers with job offers.”
“I see good things in you, and so I follow my intuition. You seem the sort to take the mission of the Library seriously. I do not need to sift through self-serving entries on a CV to confirm a choice I have already made. Besides, this is no ordinary job and so why should the recruitment be ordinary?”
“When do I start?” I asked, incredulous at my own credulity. This was likely the deranged fantasy of a lunatic, and I would be right.
“You already have. Your first lesson begins now. Between two books is what?”
Castellemare emitted a sharp and tinny laugh. “You do have much to learn! Listen, between any two books is... a book.”
“An invisible book?”
“Infinitesimal calculus and Zeno both bear this out, my new assistant to the Craft. As does Leibniz in his own way, and Plotinus. Between two books is always another book — the trick is to know how to remove it from the continuum... for all libraries issue from the same source, the One Library, and all books on those shelves are in an infinite continuum. I am simply using these terms in a way that can be expressed in imprecise, conventional language. Most people have an infantile understanding of the infinite, and have no clear idea what a continuum is.”
A clatter erupted from the kitchen with a cook’s fiery expletives in pursuit of the event.
“Anyway,” Castellemare resumed, “what you see in a conventional humdrum library is merely what is on the surface of perceptibility. But what of all those minute and infinitely imperceptible books? You must train your eyes as one should train the ears to hear both the whole of the tide and each of its droplets. First, let me give you something to read — two things in fact.”
My initial enthusiasm had crested and was now beginning to wane. His affectations and seemingly mystical statements were causing me to doubt if his offer was genuine or just a product of the delusions of mental illness. As if to dispel any doubt as to his credibility, Castellemare slipped a hand into his black coat draped on his chair and fetched two volumes that he placed by my elbow. I replaced my fork on the table and scanned their titles.
“Since,” he continued, “you mentioned Borges, perhaps you will fancy this work. It is the entirety of his story, ‘The Library of Babel’, but written as one extended novel; this is volume number 8,230 of you-don’t-want-to-know-how-many, and the other is volume 45,781.”
“But, he never wrote a novel by this name. Where did you find this? Is it really his? This must be fan fiction, or a bad emulation passing itself as being written by Borges. He only wrote short fiction and essays, as is my understanding,” I said, not concealing my instinctual, hardened doubt.
“Precisely: as is your understanding.”
The book felt like a precious object, and I could not help thinking two things: that the text was a forgery by someone inspired by and purporting to be Borges, and that if it were genuine it would fetch an obscenely high price among Borges scholars. The problem was, apart from this text not existing in any known catalogue or bibliography of works Borges bequeathed to history, the binding, paper, and type dated the book to be printed in the 1780s. The second volume was more perplexing. It smelled old. The binding was leather with ribbed spine, placing its publication most likely in the 17th century, which further embroidered on the implausibility since Borges was a 20th century author. The spine was blank. I opened it delicately and there was no title and no author. I turned another page and the text immediately began: it was nothing more than MCV repeated for 410 pages. I knew exactly what this book was, for it was mentioned in Borges’ short story, of which I was now in possession of the entire novel thereof. I recall Borges’ line: “All this, I repeat, is true, but four hundred and ten pages of inalterable MCV’s cannot correspond to any language, no matter how dialectal or rudimentary it may be.”
Castellemare just gave me a wink. But the enigma was staggering: my reason tried to pave over the contradictions with justifications. How could a text, described by Borges, antedate his invention of it some three hundred years? Unless Borges actually discovered this text and incorporated it into his fiction... but it seemed absurd that anyone would have sank money into the publishing of a text of this nature that has no author, title, or intelligible sense. Was it anecdotal? No, it was indeed published...A splendid Elzevir edition, or an impeccable copy of their trademark style. I knew it not to be a code, and so was amazed that such an old text would actually sport this glyptolalia. It all seemed too fantastical to me. I thought to myself that some enterprising individual had been able — at considerable cost — to acquire the skills of a very good book binder with all the genuinely dated materials to perpetrate a very convincing hoax. I had read about this in the popular book by Perez-Reverte, The Dumas Club. The one good wrinkle of realism to the tale was the explanation of how difficult it is to counterfeit books.
Castellemare leaned over and whispered, “I have the entire contents of Borges’ library of Babel, and much more. Take these with you tonight, and I will expect you soon. Here is my calling card. Do not lose these books.”
He gave me an elegant maroon card with his name in gold leaf:
Tho. VON Castellemare, Esq.
Chief Bibliomarch of the Library of Enigmae
Consultant of the Obscure
190 Rue Velasquez
He departed, tossing a heap of bills in his place. I merely sat there, dumbfounded and in dire need to regain my bearings after such a bizarre chance meeting. I resolved to call him the next day, but to first consider if this was just an elaborate hoax by a master charlatan. Once I returned to my hotel, I asked the concierge to send up the necessary connections for my laptop so that I could do an exhaustive search on Castellemare and any mention of these two impossible editions he saddled me with.
The results of my careful examination of the two texts Castellemare had entrusted me with did indeed verify the age of the material, the ink, and the like. I have made it habit when mulling over the purchase of a rare antiquarian text to bring with me a very portable lab composed of a few select chemicals to determine the authenticity of a text in question. The results were positive, but I could not rule out that these two books were not somehow expertly created, and if so it would have cost a fortune to do so convincingly enough to fool an expert in my field. However, given the examples of financial largesse Castellemare demonstrated by promise and deed, I could not rule out that these books were forgeries commissioned by him for the purposes of some joke. Unlike others in my field, I pay divided attention to both the use of paper and of ink. I believe that these should be studied separately, and to resist conflating the two into a single flattened product, or privileging one at the risk of dismissing the other.
The insoluble riddle in the existence of these two books taunted me, almost as much as Castellemare had. Why did he choose me? Why was I even considering so favourably to take up his offer?
Copyright © 2011 by Kane X. Faucher