Three Babels: A Story, A Book, A Building
Ana María León Crespo
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
The work of French intellectual Roger Caillois oscillated between two librarians: George Bataille and Jorge Luis Borges. Forced to stay in Argentina during World War Two, Caillois exchanged the Collège de Sociologie, which he co-founded with Bataille, for the intellectual circle of Sur, which included Argentinian writer Borges. If Bataille's dictionary was intended as anonymous and a-hierarchical-much as his decapitated secret society, Acéphale-, Borges' stories spoke of a library both unlimited and periodical, an unreachable tower ultimately meant to represent one Order. The following research uses three works produced in this context to reflect on the translation of these ideas from literature, sociology, and architecture into the politics of postwar Argentina. The first is The Library of Babel (1941), a short story by Borges describing the architectural space of an infinite library. The second is Sociology of the Novel (1942), a book Caillois wrote in Argentina and later published in France as Babel: Pride, Confusion, and Ruin of Literature (1948). The third one is the National Library of the Republic of Argentina (1961-1992), designed by Clorindo Testa, Francisco Bullrich, and Alicia Cazzaniga, with Borges as director of the institution. While Bataille saw architecture as representing the authority of the state, Caillois still believed it could represent common goals and a sense of the collective. However, the library in Buenos Aires was intended as a symbol of the literal demolition of the state and its collective goals. Built to replace the demolished Unzué Palace, president Juan Perón's former residence, the library was politically motivated before its conception. I argue that the displacement from political head to literary head highlights the Argentinian government's attitude towards power as the control of knowledge. The erection of Borges as mythical figure in replacement of Perón becomes the ultimate mythification of a unitary Order.