Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Librarian

Years of research and not even a hint. The closest historical record I could find alludes to the Library of Alexandria, but even that is just a mere shadow. No, the library I am interested in is not limited by any structure built by man.

I do not remember how I had stumbled upon it. If I remember correctly, I was not even looking for it at the time. Perhaps I was dreaming. Or suffering the effects of hallucinogens. Had I crossed a rift in reality? Or attained the state of nirvana while meditating? Whatever the case, my entry into The Library has been clouded by memory and attempts to re-enter had failed.

I am sure though that at one point, I was in The Library. It cannot be classified as a place in the fullest sense of the word for it does not occupy any space, or time, for that matter. The Library exists outside of our world yet is still accessible to some. One of my theories is that it lies in the nexus between temporality and eternity, still a part of reality yet ignoring its conditions.

The Library is vast. It has no center and all around are endless corridors of bookshelves, each twice the size of any man. At first, I thought it was an optical illusion. Maybe something out of Borges's The Library of Babel. But there were no mirrors, just shelves and the books they contained. It took me perhaps an hour (I cannot really say for there is no time in The Library) to verify that. I passed several dozen bookcases only to find that I still had further to go in either direction.

The shelves seemed to be made of wood, dark and thick. There was nothing distinguishing about them, except for the fact that they all looked identical and one could not tell one bookshelf from another. Even the books they stored all looked bland and uniform, each sharing the same size, cover, and paper. I wondered how one files the books.

I tried scratching the shelves to leave a mark, my trail of breadcrumbs in this wooden wilderness. But the shelf resisted and looked no different from the one beside it. I fumbled my pockets for a knife or even a pen but they were empty. Strange, considering I never leave home without a pen.

I was about to grab a book, using the shelf with an empty slot as a reference when I heard a voice. This voice was not something my ears heard but rather something that echoed in my mind, an idea that does not seem to leave your memory. One could mistake it for one's own thoughts but there was something that separated me from "it". I knew that what I was "hearing" wasn't my idea for I was determined in navigating this labyrinth through any means possible.

And then it occurred to me. What if this library that seemed to have no end contained all the books in the world? Not just the books that have been written but are being written and have yet to be written. If that was so, what place could hold such an infinite collection?

I realized that I was beyond space and beyond time. Even more mysterious than the place I was in was the source of these thoughts. Who could be here aside from me? But every library has its librarian, the caretaker of knowledge, the guide of souls.

Was it a him or a her? I do not know. As far as I was concerned, the librarian was a voice in my mind, a presence that defied all logic. Not all logic, but merely my logic. There are scientific journals that explore the possibility of telepathy. And one of the debates of philosophy is the ability of man to communicate directly with the other without requiring a medium.

At this point, the distinction between my thoughts and the librarian's thoughts became blurred. I had questions and I thought of the answers. Who is this mysterious librarian? A librarian, having neither name nor gender but merely is. Who built this place? If I really wanted to know, I should read one of the books. What's stopping me from reading that book? Finding that book. How can I find that book? I will know where it is located if I should choose to read that book. Why should I not choose that book? Because of one condition. What condition is that? That I can only choose and read one book before returning to the world. What other books might I be interested in? Books from various topics are available, from the lost histories of various civilizations to epics yet to be written. Could I read about what really happened on November 22, 1963? Only the accounts of various people, some true and some false, for The Library does not discriminate. Could I read about empirical knowledge such as the formula to turn lead into gold? Yes, but I would not remember it once I left this place. Could I read about the future? Perhaps, but The Library has documents on all the possible futures so any account I read may or may not actually happen. Can I read a book that will teach me how to obtain riches? A book is only as credible as its author. Can I read a book that will be the next Odyssey? Yes but I must first choose a language and a culture. How much time do I have before I must choose? As much as I want for time is not a factor here. Am I immortal? As long as I am in The Library, I am outside of time. What happens if I try to kill myself here? Trying is not necessarily equated with success. What happens if I tear a page from a book? I must first attempt it. Is it possible to succeed? No. Can I steal a book? I can only take with me what I brought with me. Does that include knowledge? Yes. Then what is the point of reading? Understanding, appreciation, pleasure, and all the other values associated with the human experience. Does the librarian read? No, for the librarian is the caretaker of The Library and every treasure has its own safeguards against its caretaker. What is stopping the librarian from reading? The librarian is blind. Then how does the librarian know where all the books are? The librarian simply does. What if someone reads to the librarian? One must first find the librarian in order to do so. Where is the librarian? Inside The Library. Where in The Library is the librarian? In a place one would never find. How long have I been having these thoughts? The question is irrelevant for time has no meaning here. What book should I read? Only I can answer that question.

I've had questions all my life and I was given the opportunity to find the answer to at least one of them. I could not choose though. My questions were either trivial or could not be answered because of The Library's condition. And then a thought occurred to me.

Is there a book about the librarian? No. Why not? Because there is no one to write about the librarian. What if I write about the librarian? Then there will be a paradox for The Library has all the books and all the books except one is a contradiction. What will happen if there is a paradox? There is a book on paradoxes.

I took a deep breath before resuming my train of thought. Does The Library have a book that I have written? Yes. Can I read it? Yes.

Immediately, I knew the exact location of the book I was interested in. I passed a few shelves, turned a few corners, and then passed several more shelves. There was this book that looked plain and no different from the rest but I knew its pages contained my name. I held its leather covering and started turning the pages. I saw the title and I saw my name. It was indeed the book I had written, or rather will write.

In my hand was a book about The Library and its librarian. I had caused a paradox. I wonder what would happen next. I turned the pages. And turned. And turned. Nothing happened. And that is the problem. I am forever trapped reading my book I will never get to write.


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