The Secret Libraries of Erik Desmazières

“Five hundred years ago, the chief of an upper hexagon came upon a book as confusing as the others, but which had nearly two pages of homogeneous lines. He showed his find to a wandering decoder who told him the lines were written in Portuguese; others said they were Yiddish. Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections. The content was also deciphered: some notions of combinative analysis, illustrated with examples of variations with unlimited repetition. These examples made it possible for a librarian of genius to discover the fundamental law of the Library. This thinker observed that all the books, no matter how diverse they might be, are made up of the same elements: the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. He also alleged a fact which travelers have confirmed: In the vast Library there are no two identical books. From these two incontrovertible premises he deduced that the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite) that is, everything it is given to express: in all languages. Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books, the treatise that Bede could have written (and did not) about the mythology of the Saxons, the lost works of Tacitus.”

— Borges, “The Library of Babel

“There are printmakers and printmakers, and then there is Erik Desmazières, a Moroccan-born Frenchman who stands in a class by himself. A powerful, old-style draftsman whose work runs from fantasy to superrealism, he manipulates the techniques of etching and aquatint to produce masterly effects of space, light and shadow.

One of his greatest projects was a series of illustrations done in 1997 for Jorge Luis Borges’s ”Library of Babel,” an architectural rumination whose brilliance in conceiving and rendering offbeat spaces matches the prose of Borges. Several prints from the series are shown here.

A more conventional example of his skill with architectural space is a recent (2001) depiction of the main reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, La Salle Labrouste. More than three feet wide and done from a high perspective, the print captures the vast dimensions of the room with its arched walls and multidomed ceiling vis-à-vis the tiny figures of knowledge-seekers deployed at acres of tables.”

The New York Times

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