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
the reader cannot understand, then the reader
is nothing but a hog stuffed mollycoddled
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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--"
"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
"Plenty. There are as many of them
as there are monads, both potential and
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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."
"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
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?"
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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
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:
VON CASTELLEMARE, Esq.
Chief Bibliomarch of the Library of Enigmae
Consultant of the Obscure
190 Rue Velasquez
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
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
simony, and treachery need contend with
eternal hopelessness in damnation--Dante
Alighieri, "Dedicatory Note to Dead
Vergil", in Commedia rerum (anecdotal
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
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?"
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
But then again, you could be a necessary
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 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
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?"
"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