Not to Be Read without Shuddering

Adam Smyth

  • The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed by Georges Minois, translated by Lys Ann Weiss
    Chicago, 249 pp, £21.00, October 2012, ISBN 978 0 226 53029 1

One of the ways in which literary texts are capacious is their ability to contain, within themselves, imaginary books: books that the more literal-minded real world isn’t yet able to realise. Borges’s short fiction is teeming with them. In ‘The Library of Babel’, Borges imagines a library ‘composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries’. The library is ‘total’: it contains books composed of ‘all possible combinations’ of letters: ‘All that is able to be expressed, in every language. All.’ He gives us a sample:

The detailed history of the future … the faithful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the proof of the falsity of those false catalogues, a proof of the falsity of the true catalogue, the gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary upon that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book into every language, the interpolations of every book into all books.

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