into the labyrinth, a novel by donavan hall
"the textual map"


The labyrinth is an appropriate and satisfying metaphor for a writer of hypertexts. The web is a huge labyrinthine text. The vision of Jorge Luis Borges, where all authors are really one author all working on the same text, has come true. I write a text and post it to my website. Someone else reads it. Maybe they write something in response to what I've written and put it on their site. Extended conversations of textual commentary thread through the Internet in complex patterns.

I stole the title for this document collection from Alain Robbe-Grillet's novel, Dans le labyrinthe. The literary model was that of James Joyce. I see now that I was really following after Borges, but I hadn't read any Borges when I began this collection. Of course, Borges was aware of (certainly influenced by) Joyce's metaphor.

Joyce's name for himself in his fiction is Stephen Dedalus, an obvious reference to the designer and builder of the Cretan Labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. Joyce himself is the engineer (author) of a literary labyrinth; I think of his life's work as the elaborate construction of a single text, much like Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temp perdu.


The image of the labyrinth is on the verge of being overused; however, it is worth making a few points explicit. First, a labyrinth is not a maze. A labyrinth is a delineation of space to facilitate wandering around some object placed at the center. Second, there is more than one way to get into and out of a labyrinth. One can enter and leave by several doors or openings.

Anthony Burgess describes James Joyce's Ulysses with the labyrinthian metaphor.

Ulysses, then, is a labyrinth which we can enter at any point, once we have satisfied ourselves as to its general plan and purpose. [ReJoyce, p. 178]

If a novel or a hypertext is described as a labyrinth, this does not mean that the reader will wander the text in the state of being lost or in the dark. In a labyrinth the central object is (often) visible and contemplated during the act of wandering. The wandering should be meditative and slow.

Just prior to asserting that Ulysses is a labyrinth, Burgess characterizes a

... new wave in the novel, which is quite capable of asking us to treat a work of fiction as if it were a dictionary or an encyclopedia -- something to be stepped into at any point we please, begun at the end and finished at the beginning, partly read or wholly read, a plot of space for free wandering rather than a temporal escalator. [ibid, p. 178]

Notice that Burgess describes the structure, not the content, of this new kind of novel. The fashion in late twentieth century novel is to cram loads of information between its covers. These novels of information make for interesting reading if you are interested in the information. Burgess's point is that the novel can be browsed; it need not be read from beginning to end. The previso to this browsing is that the reader must first understand the "general plan and purpose" of the novel. This would suggest that any novelist writing a labyrinthian text should provide a map at the entrance as a courtsey to the reader so that they do not become lost and frustrated. The map should be generally correct, though it need not show every detail.

The Foreword to Lolita provides just this sort of plan and purpose. The Foreword is sufficient to get the reader started; however, the reader will begin to realize that John Ray (the purported author of the Foreword) didn't understand the nature of H.H.'s confession.

A hypertext needs some kind of foreword to prepare the reader for what they will find when they enter the text. If the reader has a general plan and purpose of the text in mind, then they will feel more free to browse and follow threads without attempting an exhaustive reading.

Burgess's comparison of Ulysses to a space to be moved around in is the same as Alfred Appel's description of Lolita. This kind of novel is like a gameboard or a chessboard. The reader (and writer during the act of creation) must maintain "a spatial view of the book." [The Annotated Lolita p. lxv] The landscape as a gameboard may be derived from or inspired by Lewis Carroll (an appropriate connection for Lolita given Carroll's well-known interest in young girls).

In my own novel Into the Labyrinth as you fly to New York City, from the window you can see farmland; it looks to you like a patchwork or a gameboard. This vision of the landscape as gameboard prefigures the game you will find your caught up in when you get to Manhattan.

Friday, 24 October 2014. For the last ten years I’ve been tinkering with what I originally called “a continuous, open-structure novel.” The project took the shape of a “forking-paths” or “choose your own adventure” book. There’s even a version of the novel that I prepared for a story app for portable electronic devices. More recently, I started revising that text for this web site. The title for the novel is Into the Labyrinth. Which is a fairly obvious metaphor for the structure I had in mind. I wanted to create a body of text(s) that the reader could wander in maze-fashion.

In Walter Benjamin’s “A Berlin Chronicle” (found in the volume Reflections published by Schocken) he writes about a moment when he was in Paris and had vision of his past life which took the form of a diagram. The original diagram was like a branching tree. That piece of paper with the tree-diagram of his past life disappeared. A couple of years later, Benjamin tried to reconstruct in his mind this diagram and it seemed to him (in this reconstruction) to resemble a labyrinth with many entrances.

Benjamin’s description of his labyrinth, the interior structure of his life with many entry points, might be the inspiration for the structure that has emerged organically for this body of public writing which I’ve been posting to my web site over the past ten years. From the main page of The Complete Angler, a reader will find many entry points. Select any one of those and the journey begins. Once the reader is in the labyrinth, the neat borders suggested by those entry points are lost.