Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Library of Babel


Reading Borges' short story The Library of Babel again reminded me of Nietzsche's fascinating essay On truth and lie in an extra-moral sense. They both question the ways the "unique truth" is manufactured through inventing systems of meanings out of an ambiguous scripture -our chaotic world.
"What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors - in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all..." (—' The Viking Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7, Kaufmann transl.)
Illustration: A Man with A Cube, by Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972).

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