Structuralist Reading of Borges’ “The Library of Babel”


In “The Library of Babel,” on page 118, Borges asks the reader: “You who read me – are you certain you understand my language?” This sentence refers to the structuralist notion, introduced in “Introduction: The Implied Order: Structuralism,” by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, page 53, that “language should be studied as if it were frozen in time.” Though the English of the Borges story can be read and understood, it is only understand as it relates to our present world. Any given word in the short piece of fiction could mean something completely separate from what it is believed to mean now.

Another structuralist concept is brought to light in “The Library of Babel” when the narrator speaks of a book, which “consisted of the letters M C V perversely repeated from the first line to the last.” The narrator believes that such a book could make no sense, that a language made up of three letters cannot exist; some believe that “each letter influences the next.” This suggests that each line cannot have meaning without the meaning of the previous line still intact. This relates directly to Saussure’s quote, page 66, “Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others.”

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