10 Jun 2017
The Book of Sand
“The Book of Sand” is a short story written by the Spanish writer Jorge Luis Borges, who succeeded in giving his readers an idea of infinity through the story. Borges’ stories are usually full of symbolism, and so is “The Book of Sand”. The book symbolizes the infinity of the universe, life and knowledge.
Being said, infinity sure is the most mentioned thing appears in the story, from the very beginning when the author listed all the elements that build up a book, or more notionally, the universe. The story starts with an old man being offered with a mystery book that has no beginning nor an end. He tries to flip the cover pages with his thumb and forefinger almost touching, but all the efforts are useless, there are always a few pages sneak between the two fingers. It is like, no matter how long he flips the book, he will never find an end. That is exactly how the universe is. If compare the cover pages of the book with the border of the universe, people know they are there but can never be reached because beyond the observed universe that people talk about, there is only the real universe that perhaps even humans hundred years in the future cannot be informed. The page numbers of the book are really unorganized, it might be a small number on the even page, but would be a much larger one on the odd. They are too messed up that the man cannot keep track anymore. But numbers that are raised to the ninth power or even more are nothing compared to the vast space that people can observe. Moreover, Heraclitus once stated a famous quote: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. The universe contains the two-dimensioned space and time, set aside the unboundedly large space, time is the one that makes things never the same as they were. Just like the materials in the book that never appear twice, time is not different, people are not who they were a second ago, neither their surroundings.
In another aspect, they book also symbolizes life. Being known that humans’ lives are just a piece of space that passes through an interval of time, so if life is limited, how is it compared to the infinite book? As said before, in the same way as the pages never being found again, life events cannot be erased or rewritten. The man in the story is told to study the book carefully because he will never see the same page again, so is life. People have to be careful making any decisions in their life because once the time passes, all they have is the memory that cannot be changed. So if life events are the contents of the book, then people must be the pages. Just like the book is clearly compared to sand, so are humans. From the time the first homo sapiens appeared on Earth, there is a countless amount of people have lived on this planet, which makes one individual so small that makes them cannot help but think, will their life even have any meanings or what are the purpose of their existence? Come to think of it, will a page missing make the book of sand any less worthy than it now is, or will the man even notice? If the answer is no, then why human beings are so precious? Surely no one can give a justified answer, so it is safe to say that other than the physical matters, even the spirituality inside souls remains mysterious. Just like how the man wants to study the book, humans are also working on the unknown that maybe eventually clears.
The old man in the story is desperate. He is up late studies the book, stops visiting his friends, rarely goes out and lives in the constant fear of the book being stolen. Being a collector of Bible literature and originally a librarian, it is given that he is really into books. His curiosity and the urge to learn that can be seen in human beings for centuries are the factors that help the world be how it is today. But that is not it, humans do not stop there. Like the infinity of information contained in the book, there are many things that have not been discovered, just yet. In the story, the man ends up realizing the book is monstrous and decides to hide it. But that might not be a wise decision. He cannot overcome the power of the book in isolating him to the rest of the world, so instead of keeping on studying the book, he puts it away though it can be a great source of information that can benefit many people. He is scared of the book. This is also not rare in human history, by the flow of the society, things were once discovered again remained confusing for a long time after. Pythagoras proposed the Earth was round sometime around 500 B.C, but not until 350 B.C Aristotle declared that the Earth was a sphere. As well as homosexuality being seen as a disease for decades before it normalizes just recently. They are not things that no one knew about before they were accepted as facts, people for their ignorance and believe just cannot seem to take it. Or it can be said, they are scared of changes, of the unknown and mystery, so they deny how things really are.
“The book of sand” is a great story that is full of symbolism. It can be seen as different things depends on one’s point of view, but that might be the beauty of it. The theme infinity itself is interesting, not only in Borges’ time period but even now, it still is. The universe is limitless, life is memory of the past and surprise of the future, and knowledge is something to be scared of. As long as there are unknown remained, the story is still valid and stays in readers’ minds.