[POETRY]
 
Derek Stirling Boone
K.R Copeland
R.M Englehardt
Andrea Grant
 
 
[FICTION]
 
 Kane X. Faucher
 
 
 
 
CODEX INFINITUM - BY KANE X. FAUCHER

 

Kane X. Faucher is a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Ontario's Centre for the Study of Theory & Criticism in London, Canada. He has published in several academic and literary journals both online and in print. He also has published two novels, Urdoxa (2004) and Codex Obscura (2005).


DesCanto I: The Invisible Book

"…if the reader cannot understand, then the reader is nothing but a hog stuffed mollycoddled faggot."--Antonin Artaud.

"Reason can only bring us so far, to the realms of the measurable, to the sensory, all of which is temptation toward sin. Only faith brings us from this abyss, to walk in linked arms with our guide Beatrice into that glorious and blinding kingdom."--Anonymous

Librarians have always appeared strange to me, but rarely interesting. Had I been born with the gift of laughter, rather than to have learned it through the regular trials of experience, I might have erupted in a kind of incandescent mirth whenever a librarian came into view. Their habits can be aptly described as "bookish", in accordance with their occupational subject matter, with the screwed-in bulbous eyes of the meticulous cataloguer, that inveterate ability to shelve texts with startling alacrity. I always found the process of organizing texts by their synoptic contents--reduced to a string of incomprehensible numbers and letters--to be on point with the obscene. To seize a stack of books with their diverse contents, channel them through the Dewey decimal system, apportioning them to particular prefab shelves according to their BISAC details--floor, shelf, row, etc.,--is akin to constructing divisions in a forest…That is, to impose a taxonomy on a continuum for a silent majority of rectilinear specimens that can only resist by crumbling over the moving wedge of time. Their tolerance for constructing order is admirable. But then, librarians are also gifted in all manner of textual surgery, to mend a few loose pages, to rip off a spine and rebind the book with one of their hard stock mono-coloured covers with the white letters denoting author, title, and call number. Reshelve, and forget about it. Librarians are the torturers of books, their real keepers, for all books return to the master after the borrowing limit is at an end (presumably) lest fines be charged for extended services rendered. Librarians are cruel in the way that they keep the books caged in this false categorical unity, in the way that the books are never allowed to die but must submit to age-preserving modifications. But I am being sentimental over inanimate things, and I do believe order is useful even if it is absolute fiction. Although all order is fiction, not all fiction is ordered--a cover that embraces the content of the pen's production is no surer sign of unity and order than to throw a blanket over the sea.
My feelings about librarians in general have not changed, but there come notable exceptions in each field, even the most mundane--especially within the sheaf of the mundane. One can tell a gardener by the flora he chooses to tease from the soil, by his selective method of cultivation. It is no different with librarians who are more often than not demanded to tend the entirety of a library's diverse and hodge-podge contents without specialty, rescinding any claim to specialization. The librarian I want to speak of was not such a vessel of ambiguous textual landlordism, but a true specialist. My travels with him have left their indelible mark, one of suspicion and foreboding. I can no longer stroll through the libraries as I once did as a student or a curious traveler in search of an intrigue, for there are far too many intrigues in the library that even the librarians have no knowledge of. What happens in the library always occurs between the books, just as a meaningful silence emphasizes the notes we hear in a concerto. But these negative spaces, these silences, are as real and positive--nay, more so--than the crude spine faces we peer over. This is one of the lasting lessons one particularly enigmatic librarian imparted to me.
His name was simply Castellemare, and he was a self-proclaimed librarian. His physique was narrow and bony, as if he was composed entirely of haphazard pipes and knotted joins. He always wore the most conspiratorial grin upon that Jack O' Lantern countenance, even in his most private moments. That perma-grin was his trademark aspect, for it was as the dam that held back the most lubricious and wondrous contents while letting seep out only the most tantalizing trickle. The true rhetor knows how to dam his words better than to merely spill them. 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 being I have ever encountered that lacked the residual trauma we all bear in having once been born. His specialty was, indeed, books, but books of a different type.
There are two faculties in my daily affairs, both united by a bibliophilia: either I am trafficking in enigmatic texts or I am cracking the codes of the most mysteriously penned codices. The one furnishes the other, since I make a modest enough income to fuel my travels to various manuscript libraries in Europe to continue my painstaking research. I have published a few articles on untranslatable incunabula, a few reviews of what is current in glyptology and cryptology, and I usually set my time toward 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 mere hoaxes by demonstrating how the code actually works. I have cracked a few codices in my time, most notably two: De heteromachina rerum (author unknown) and Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus. There is hardly a text that comes into my domain that I am not capable of deciphering, but it is time-consuming work to an extreme, and I am rarely rewarded for efforts by either monetary compensation or reputation; the members of this global fraternity who occupy their time obsessively devoted to deciphering could not even fill a room in a party. As such, the "community" is small, vicious, and steeped in professional envy. 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 think tanks with large budgets, and now computers have outmoded our antique methods, being able to cycle through a decade's worth of permutations in a matter of hours. 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. Why forestall the inevitable when it is already here, when it has already been here for so long?
I once held a post at a university in Milan, lecturing on manuscriptology…But this I abandoned in due time when it seemed that my students, and even my colleagues, ceased to share even one iota of 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 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 even making the attempt.
Of all places to meet the librarian, it was in Old Roma. The day began with oppressive heat that later reconciled itself with an uncharacteristic drop in the humidity. Cool winds arced into the piazzas and stirred up dust. The sun was partially obscured by menacing cloud that clotted the sky with the threat or promise of a shower to follow. The Vatican library was a frequent haunt of mine, and since I had been going there for so many years, even the rotation of the Swiss guards at the entrance who checked my documentation came to know me, each in their turn, a face plucked from the indistinct sea of greying scholarly types all eager to plunder some obscure text, to worship at the spine's edge of the Codex Borgia. 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 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 better than I knew the details of my own childhood.
I do not fancy myself a great gourmand or a gastronomic connoisseur, but I could usually determine good victuals from what was merely slapped together for the non-nuanced 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. I was determined to get a hot meal, return to my hotel, and then depart the next morning for Madrid, then The Sofia, and finally make my connector flight back to Toronto.
Be it the meal or my sense of liberality with my purse (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, but not in the way it is in North America. They were rough without being ignorant and abrasive; working people, bakers and butchers and other such trades that still have a sense of familial honour in the face of a rising tide of fast-food appetites. The place was small, a bit dingy, but very homelike. There were decorative votive candles with lushly opulent depictions of the Virgin and child, seemingly painted in an effusive hybrid Renaissance style, softened by mass production, a holdover from that Cult of Mary now nearing 800 years stale. Tucked away in one corner, seated by himself over a spilling 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 consumed in thought. He wore a grin that spoke of some dizzying enigma he would only be too happy to let out in small installments, forever denying one the solution. His long, knotted fingers were ridiculously ringed like a wizard's, and the hands seemed quite old and worthy of being chiseled in marble. I observed his hands for quite some time without staring too obviously--for his hands were the real scene of action. He ate like a happy rural Afghani: forming a point with his fingers and ferrying the food in dollops to his mouth. Even his operation of the spoon betrayed his famishment. 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 of his soup bowl. 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…forkful of pasta, puff, 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 gripping the salad fork between thumb and middle finger while the other fingers splayed up and out like dainty antennae, a very Baroque mannerism, hovering over the salad like one trying to sneak up on a fly, dabbing at the salad 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, 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 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 the Slavic tongue.
I felt a bit flush and embarrassed, but curious all the same. His choreography ceased, and he merely raised an eye and eyebrow 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 maitre that I would be changing seats, and the waiter just grunted assent. He motioned to a waiter to shift the table's contents to where the strange man was sitting. Upon closer inspection, the man seemed and sounded quite baroque--or at least some bastard derivation thereof.
The man gestured with an inviting sweep to the empty chair across from him, brusquely still tearing away at his meal with voracity.
"Thank you," I said.
"Yes, and so you are here to do research at the library, I take it?"
"Which?"
"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 Council of Latran in 1215…The invention of penance made it so. Full of guilt? Murderer? Rapist? Forgiveness conditional on serving in his Holiness' Crusade."
"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. Come now…no one who lives here actually reads. Unless one is a part 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 your appraisal of an appreciation for books."
He sat back, flashing me that 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. He lit another cigarette.
"Listen," he said, "I am not an enemy of books and their lovers; 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! Perhaps even a bit glib."
"You're right. I should remember well to qualify my statements. Cigarette?"
He pointed the open pack at me; I deferred.
"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."
"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 are astute, 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 of what a library actually was! Oh, I would relish that day! But men are arrogant and full of words, and they think that making noises 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 to 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 potentially know all that is recorded."
"Don't be so daft," he scoffed. "Not all the libraries in this world can even 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?"
"Yes, I have occasioned their works in the past."
"Well, your sense of hope still seems intact. Either you show great fortitude or your reading was loose and meaningless."
"I cannot say that I delved that deeply into either philosopher."
"Pity. You know, I reject Leibniz. In my line of work--"
"Which is?"
"Oh, I am a librarian. We will get to that later. Anyhow, Leibniz holds to the view that everything is composed of 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 preestablished harmony. 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 which allows each book to stand in its own nature, never affecting its neighbouring books--or perhaps the model of Western democratic states. 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."
"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 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…"
"One has to make a living."
"Oh, of course. This may be imprudent 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 mercantilism."
"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! 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 reshelve 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 inveterate 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 will 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 increasing 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 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."
"Wage?"
"Ah! The real question! Money! I am a modestly wealthy man, and I can afford to pay you, as my assistant, one hundred thousand euro per annum, if that is a decent sum."
I nearly choked on my wine. I never grossed that sum in five years' worth of hard bookselling labour and luck.
"And," he continued, "you may continue to do your research in my library, for I think you will find more than enough material to furnish your endeavours. What say you? Do you have any other questions?"
"When do I start?"
"You already have. Your first lesson begins now. Between two books is what?"
"Space?"
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 assistant. 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. 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."
Castellemare slipped his hand into his black coat and fetched two volumes which he placed by my elbow. I replaced my fork 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? He only wrote short fiction, as is my understanding."
"Precisely: as is your understanding."
The book felt sacred to the touch, 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 second volume was more perplexing. It smelled old. The binding was leather with ribbed spine, placing its publication most likely in the 18th century. 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."
"How?"
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 two 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 creation 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. The second volume was also bound the same way, with 410 pages, written in pure gibberish. I knew it not to be a code, and so was amazed that such an old text would actually sport this glyptolalia.
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 tomorrow. Here is my calling card."
He gave me an elegant maroon card with his name in gold leaf:

T. VON CASTELLEMARE, Esq.
Chief Bibliomarch of the Library of Enigmae
Consultant of the Obscure
2-9065-3966
190 Rue Velasquez

He departed, leaving a bundle of bills on the table, perhaps five times more than sufficient to pay for his meal. I merely sat there, dumbfounded and in dire need to regain my bearings after such a bizarre entretien. 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.

DesCanto 2. Encirclingpaedia

Vergil, look there and see by my author's pen whom I have consigned in this world to their fates below, and how. Those who have exiled me from Florence shall pay their due by the currency of their blood…their conceits, simony, and treachery need contend with eternal hopelessness in damnation--Dante Alighieri, "Dedicatory Note to Dead Vergil", in Commedia rerum (anecdotal fragments).

All grammar is indistinguishable from glamour, and the trivium without faith is a pagan pursuit, and hence I forbid its teaching at the behest of Christ Jesus the Redeemer--William of Champeaux, On the Directions of True Belief

We arranged to meet at his flat above the Bidaccio Building, and I came armed with an arsenal of questions and the two editions he lent me. He was on the second floor of a very cramped room. It was crammed with antiques and curiousities. To the right of an old oak desk, within reach of the one who would sit there, was a sagging bookcase built into the wall, lined with old volumes. The carpet was faded, but seemingly of the finest quality. There was a print framed at the top left of the room depicting a translucent eye looking into its own sphere. When I arrived, I noticed that someone else was already with him, a smaller man in a comically oversized greatcoat bearing sergeant stripes that were curling off the upper sleeve. The man appeared somewhat scurrilous and rodentine, and his character--as I would later realize--seem to be a perfect fit for his appearance. Some people were as they appeared, fingers in a perfect glove.
"This is Angelo," Castellemare introduced us. "Angelo, this is Gimaldi. The two of you will be working together."
"How many assistants do you have under your employ?" I asked, inwardly hurt that somehow I was less special. I tried not to acknowledge Angelo, as if I could talk over him. But some people cannot be ignored, like a hideous lamp in the midst of a cultured décor.
"Just the two of you. Angelo has been with me for a year now, haven't you?"--Angelo nodded, bearing those small rat's teeth. "Angelo has a good nose for books, and he is my public front, in a way, and also an agent I deploy. He has a remarkable memory and a preternatural instinct when it comes to books. He can walk into any old, dusty crèche stuffed with books, and walk out being able to tell you the entire contents. He has a synaesthetic memory."
I nodded, pretending that I was impressed. Surely, such an ability is impressive, but there was something I did not like about Angelo, a kind of distrustful aura that only emanates among those who make their living acquiring rare books at any cost. There were the unmistakable marks of ambition and treachery in his features. He sat by Castellemare like a smug witch's familiar.
"So, what is it that you do for Castellemare?" I asked.
Angelo shifted in his seat and gave me a spiking smirk, "I catch slips."
Castellemare explained: "You see, Gimaldi, some of my books slip from my library and end up in other libraries. This is potentially very dangerous. Angelo here retrieves them for me and places them where they belong."
"You must have a sizable library to lose track of books in the hands of others. Could you not just ask for them back after you lend them?"
"Oh, I don't lend them. As you will soon learn, books travel. Remember that I told you that there is only one library, and the divisions you see between them is as illusory as the differences between books themselves. Other peoples' libraries are just modifications of the One Library. It is Spinozism: Librara librarata--libraries library themselves…But all the same, there are certain texts that must not appear in any other modified library but the One. They must remain in the virtual lest chaos ensues. You see, there are rifts in every library that lead directly to the One Library; sometimes books slip out…"
"Oh, yeah," Angelo suddenly remembered, "I located the Voynich; that joker left it at a bus stop…after all that trouble you went to in letting him have it."
"Excellent. I will replace it in the library later on. Gimaldi, you are familiar with the Voynich?"
"Vaguely," I lied; in fact, I had spent the better part of a decade trying to decode it. It has been my one continuing failure, which is not a failure for as long as there is the chance that I could crack it. The facsimiles were now buried under a multitude of more achievable projects.
"Well, then, you might not have heard the whole story. As you may not know, the Voynich manuscript has changed hands many times, as many times as a well-worn coin. I allowed a particularly gifted and intriguing individual to have it, even though he believes that it was by his agency that he acquired it into his custody. He had a master forger produce a counterfeit and switched the original with the copy at Yale. He then traversed with it, failing to crack its code. He had problems with various secretive groups, and now it seems that he has decided to part ways with it--even after I offered him my most generous blessings that he be its custodian until I found a more suitable party. The Voynich is yet to be translated, and is reputed to be written by the clever medieval mathematician, Roger Bacon. What no one seems to realize is that Bacon was one of the few to know about the existence of the One Library, and so he exploited what powers he had to write a text that would straddle both the virtual and actual milieus of the world. What I mean to say is this: Bacon had access to the One Library, and he drew his resources from it. He wrote a manuscript where only the surface text shows, but one has to conceive of it in three dimensions…The orthographical mark one sees is an entire sentence seen on its side, like looking at the pages from their edges. Attempts to translate it will always fail on the grounds that one would have to be able to dip into the One Library and read it from its non-oblique side."
I was sideswiped by the possibility. If what he said was true, all my efforts were to no avail--as they certainly already were. I happened to let my eyes wander to the bookshelves over his shoulder, stuffed with thick, ancient volumes like dark, intimidating leather-bound pillars of the unknown. He caught me gazing in wonder.
"Ah, so you have noticed one of my many manifestations of the One Library. I keep a few volumes here as a portal, you understand, and so these books here are both a representative and non-representative of my collection."
"May I see your entire collection?"
"That is both possible and impossible. This modest collection is as good as a million collections under one roof. As a portal, I can access any book. If there is at least one book on a shelf, I can access any book. You name it, I will produce it.
I was game: "Okay, let me see your copy of the first tome of C. A. Lobeck's Aglaophamus. And perhaps, as well, the text on palingenesis, Villoison, De Triplici Theologia Mysterlisque Commentatis--the Paris 1784 edition."
I could tell that Angelo was physically impressed and in admiration of the titles I selected--just obscure enough to challenge any bibliophile's collection. Castellemare turned his back, stuck in a hand to ruffle the volumes a bit, and then produced two books for my inspection. Alarmingly, they were exactly what I specified.
"I was going to ask if you wanted this edition of the Aglaophamus rather than the reprint with the missing inscribed flyleaf, but I suppose any copy will do," Castellemare stated, not missing a beat with that permanent grin.
"This is incredible! Who would have known that you would have these exact texts here? I mean, coincidence alone--"
"Gimaldi, in the library there are no coincidences; there is only order, and one has only to learn how it works to find what one is looking for."
"Do the trick," Angelo asked Castellemare.
"Well, it might be a bit early, but so be it. Gimaldi, demand of me any book, but I urge you to be as ridiculous as possible. That is, I want you to make up fictional author names and their works. You will see that I have anything you could possible contrive, any book that could ever possibly exist."
I replaced the two books on the desk and thought for a few moments before issuing a number of fictitious names: "Padre Pistolas' Caligula's Computers, Esther Loyola's Why I hate Celine, Emmanuel Goldstein's Orgasthmatics and Excommunicon…"
"Excellent choices!" beamed Castellemare who quite adeptly pulled those exact volumes from the shelves for my inspection. It was unbelievable.
"How about some books written by you?" he asked. "How does a four volume collected works sound? Or, let's make it eight. With the letters in the title gold-stamped, with a dedication page to Genghis Khan and his writings on aeronautics and polite dinner discourse at 30 000 feet as the chief source of your inspiration? Name it, and it shall be. How about books written about your conquest of the Andes? Or perhaps on your grandson who became the King of Botswana? How about your epistolary confessions on being a transsexual or a Renaissance communist? Or perhaps a treatise you wrote on the merits of being a nautiloid? Or perhaps your deep-sea adventures with Napoleonic online banking? Or maybe a copy of Measure for Measure written by you in the year 1291? Or your signing of the Magna Carta whilst riding an elephant to the castle of Hitler, emperor of Atlantis?"
Anything I could possibly conceive of, no matter how ridiculous, he was able to furnish. His small library was an aleph, a tesseract of pure possibility. This was but one small manifestation and modification of an infinite substance, a One-All library he had hired me to work in. Noting the infinite possibilities of this library, I would have worked for free.
If the metaphysics of this held, then the library was proof that we were living in a world of textual idealism. No doubt, the library had a book precisely on this, and a million proofs alongside their refutations. I would also learn that the library had several books on the theory of the library itself, and books on those books, books on those books on those books, and so on. It was maddening, for if the truth that supported the existence of this library were in the constituent books along with proof against it, how could it be proven either way? How could a truth of a unity be dependent upon its parts, those parts granted truth by its unity? It was paradoxical, an Uroburos.
I was going to ask if there were any books about him in the library before realizing that this would have been a ridiculous question; of course there were…potentially an infinite number of them, just as there were an infinite number of books about, or written by, us all.
"So, you see, Gimaldi, it is of the utmost importance that the ingress and egress of pure possibility remain…controlled. One cannot shut the door to pure possibility without stopping the flow of time and becoming. Nothing would change if there were not small portholes into the dynamical sublime, you see. The delicate balance always entails controlling the access points, to only let a certain amount flow into the mundane to make it marginally more interesting. The rates and flow of this are in constant flux, depending on the needs of the world at any given time--whatever time is."
"There must be no time and all time in this library, distinctions of past and future being meaningless," I said, musing aloud. "Does this make you…God?"
Castellemare almost fell over in laughter. Angelo followed suit by aping him.
"Oh, Gimaldi, you will make my ribs crack with the strain of your hilarious inquiries! I never suspected that you were a comedian! In answer to your question, supposing that you want a serious reply, I can always provide you with a book saying that I am God, and another saying that I am not!"
This was followed by another round of sharp laughter. The short of it was this: any possible truth could be maintained or contradicted, but only in reference to a library whose truths were infinite, and could infinitely exhaust any potential subject infinitely. Making any inquiries into the library would prove effectively useless, and render all questioning impossible. It would be enough to drive more sensitive philosophers to despair and suicide. I was beginning to understand why Castellemare always seemed to speak ambiguously about almost everything.
"Oh, you mandarin of joy!" Castellemare applauded. "I could keep you around for the mirth alone…But I suppose that wouldn't make you necessary either, for I could just read all your jokes as they are written down in a book somewhere…haha! But then again, you could be a necessary being…If you would like to wait here, I can get you a book that proves just that, that Gimaldi is a necessary being in all possible worlds! And then you can read the subsequent and prior volumes that say you are not! O ho ho! This reminds me of a book I once read about the effect knowledge of the library has on those who hitherto had no knowledge of it! Ha! In fact, I think this exact scene is transcribed there, right down to the dialogue…But if you ask me, the Proust version is laborious, while the Bukowski edition is very pithy while also being fairly descriptive. The Proust version on cocaine is a gas to read, but the Proust version where he is doing heroin is a tedious bore! Chaucer's recounting of our meeting is filled with amusing trilinguistic puns, and so I would highly recommend it. Anyhow, you get the general gist."
"Yes, that our lives are determined insofar as everything is in a book somewhere in this infinite library."
"Not determined, just that all possibility is contained therein, which is why the library is potentially infinite."
"Potentially? Don't you know?"
"I have books that argue both sides, and others that offer alternate theories. The truth of the library is in the books, and the truth of the books is in the library. Hence, we cannot make any absolute declarations without making utter asses of ourselves."
"But we know that the library exists," I protested.
"Do we?"
I felt a migraine clawing at me, creeping up my neck and lodging at the base of my skull, slowly wrapping its tendrils around my temples. I asked to be excused, that I had some affairs to attend to in the city, and that I would be in contact soon.
As a parting note, Castellemare said, "hopefully your Internet searches of me bore something fruitful…Oh, don't be alarmed that I know. I assure you that I have no need to spy on anyone. It was just that this one book sort of popped into my hands, opening to a page where it was written that you were in your hotel room and curious about who I was, if I was some kind of charlatan or madman. What you will find on the web are my actions in this actual time, but nothing there will state what I do in my virtual time. In one version of time, I killed you, and in another, you killed me. In another version, we never met, and in another you were me and I was you. Farewell, and until next we chance upon each other. Oh, and before you leave, do you have those two texts I lent you?"
I nodded.
"Yes, regrettably, I need them back. You will have occasion to look at them again if you are not distracted by some other equally fascinating text in my library."
I replaced the books on his desk, bid adieu to Angelo, and took my leave. The sky was dead.

 

 

 

 

 

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