The Labyrinth as a Metaphor

The image of the labyrinth is on the verge of being overused; however, even though I will probably not make explicit use of the term labyrinth to describe my hypertext or my novels, 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. [p. 178 of Burgess's ReJoyce]

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 can be 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. [p. 178 of Burgess's Rejoyce]

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. I don't dislike these novels of information, some 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.'' [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 story Dark Matters as Jeff Porter flies to New York City, the airplane flies over farmland and it looks to him like a patchwork or a gameboard. This vision of the landscape as gameboard prefigures the game he will find himself caught up in when he gets to Manhattan. This same image occurs in Enzo Roussel's Looking for Carmen, a drama that is a combination of recollection and conversation between two people on a airplane. At one point, the narrator remarks about the alternating squares of green and gold below them. All of the United States is a gameboard.

Saturday, July 31, 2004: The map need not be purely spatial. A temporal map is equivalent to a spatial map. Modern (twentieth century) fiction would hold time and space on an equivalent level. Jumping around in a narrative, either spatial or temporal jumping, does not confuse the reader because the landscape or timescape can be seen from above.

On my left is a pile of signatures and loose issues of The Angler's Review and The Assayer. The shelf of the bookcase to the left of my desk contains my handwritten notebooks and printout of the writing I've done with my computer. I've got a lot of material. The major problem is that most of the text I have is rough and disorganized. The problem of disorganization leads to incompleteness. The work of organizing and rewriting is just as important as writing the rough draft. Without the rough draft the novel will not be finished. In the archetectural metaphor, the rough draft is the building material. It is as if I am obsessed with bringing more and more building material to the building site. The timeline or the spatial view of the novel is the foundation. I have a summary. This is a kind of foundation. However the summary suffers from being specific where it should be general. The foundation is a schematic of the summary.

For Into the Labyrinth the schematic view is a spatial map with a timeline of Reader's movements on Friday, March X, 2002. Once I have this map and timeline in place, it should be a simple matter to arrange the material I've written to fall into that plan at some point. Perhaps I should declare a moratorium on new writing until that structure is in place. On the other hand, I do have the schematic firmly in my mind at this moment. As I go back through the texts in the pile on my left, I make choices about where to put them. The advantage of the hypertext model is that I don't have to make a firm decision about where to locate a particular episode. Much of the material in the rough draft could be classified under the heading of Things People Say in Coffee Shops and read in no particular order.

I should get back to writing the third draft of Into the Labyrinth.

Getting lost on Highway 404 could be a reference to the 404 error thrown by a web browser that can't find a requested file. ``File Not Found'' or FNF. Going 404: to be missing, unlocatable.

Sunday, August 1, 2004: James Joyce calls himself Stephen Daedalus. Joyce probably saw himself as the builder of a labyrinth. I wonder what minotaur is at the center of Joyce's labyrinth.

While looking up information on Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth I found a reference in the online catalogue to a physical condition called Labyrinthine Hydrops or Ménière's disease, ``characterized by a group of signs or symptoms [such as spinning vertigo, tinnitus, headaches, palpitations, etc.], and is thought to be associated with endolymphatic hydrops, an abnormal enlargement of the innermost of the two fluid-filled spaces of the inner ear.'' [p. 8 of Meniere's Disease] The eponimous discoverer of this condition was Prosper Ménière, the director of the Imperial Institute for Deaf Mutes. He announced his discovery in 1861 in a paper entitled ``On a Particular Kind of Severe Hearing Loss Resulting from a Lesion of the Inner Ear''.

The symptoms of Ménière's disease are similar to the ones that Travis experience in Goodbye Green Day. I like the idea that a character wandering a labyrinth should be suffering from Labyrinthine Hydrops.

This book on Ménière's disease mentions two papers (1979 and 1990) on the speculative thesis that Van Gogh suffered from this condition. The speculations were prompted, no doubt, in part by Van Gogh's famous operation where he removed his own ear. Apparently, Jonathan Swift also suffered from the disease. His symptoms first appeared when he was in his twenties.

Reader's recent history is that his suffering from vertigo has become progressively worse. He's been seeing a psychiatrist for panic disorder. Because of Reader's complaints about vertigo he / she is sent to get an MRI. That's when the brain tumor is discovered. Reader has an appointment with an ear specialist when he returns to New York / Belleville after his / her trip to Orlando.

I checked out Edna O'Brien's biography of Joyce yesterday. She quotes Joyce early in the book as saying something along the lines of: ``If Dublin were destroyed, it could be rebuilt from my books.'' This sounds a lot like Yeshua's claim that if his temple were destroyed, he could rebuild it in three days. I saw an article in the Village Voice about Virtual New York City, a computerized copy of New York City down to every last detail of its construction that could be used as a blue print to rebuild the city in the event of a catastrophic destruction--the detonation of an atomic bomb in Manhattan. It's this virtual copy of New York City that Reader enters when in Orlando. The virtual city is part of the Virtual World theme park. Virtual World is an electronic labyrinth that Reader gets lost in. Impossible Worlds?

The second Calvino-esque plot thread that I am weaving into this third draft of my novel is very much in the spirit of what I have in mind for Into the Labyrinth -- a group of people working their way through a text together, collectively engaging in textual analysis. I've put myself forward as the author of the labyrinthian text that this group of readers wanders through, following whatever interests them. However, I'm tempted to make the labyrinthian text the product of twenty years work by Enzo Roussel that was supposedly destroyed at the writer's request, but which instead was locked in a safe after his disappearence (death?). The novel's working title was "Eden." The group of readers literally have to navigate a labyrinth of subterranean libraries to assemble all the parts of Eaton's sprawling text. Alternatively, I could continue as I am with this third draft or third layer, and when it comes time for the fourth layer, start working in the search for the text by Roussel.

I like this idea of layering my text. I got the idea from the four layers of the passage from Joyce's Finnegans Wake that Burgess lays out for comparison. The first layer or version is a fairly straightforward paragraph. Each layer is modified so that the text becomes multiply referential and more linguistically sophisticated. The fourth layer is the most complex. Had Joyce lived for another decade there may have been yet another layer.

Monday, August 2, 2004: The labyrinth metaphor shows up at the beginning of John Barth's Coming Soon!!!:

... it is in the do-it-yourself labyrinths of ``e-fiction,'' where the traditional job-descriptions of ``author'' and ``reader'' (or, on might say, of Daedalus and Theseus) are up for grabs; where narrative order deliquesces into virtual anarchy; where Beginnings, Middles, and Endings lose their longstanding sense and sequence, and such old standbys as plot-foreshadowings and reprises, climax and cathartic resolution, give way to ad-libitum jiggery-pokery: to ``freedom from the tyranny of the line''--which, to some of us, is tantamount to freeing Theseus from Ariadne's indispensible yarn. [p. 13 of Barth's Coming Soon!!!]

Of the Postmodernist prediliction for cramming texts with devices that constantly remind the reader that they are reading a constucted text-- ``smoke-and-mirror tricks''--, the Emeritus voice in John Barth's Coming Soon!!! finds such things ``off-putting in principle but still engaging when they're artfully done and relevant to the story's point.'' [p. 11 of Barth's Coming Soon!!!]

What is the point of a story? The problem I have with the mention of something like ``the story's point'' is that it could range from something as banal as ``entertaining the reader for a few hours'' to ``exposing the world's problems and proposing a solution.'' I'm not even certain that the writer needs to worry about a story's point. Isn't it sufficient that he write the story and write it well?

Thus far in my reading of Coming Soon!!! I have come across two (possibly three) different voices, each expressing their own opinions of hyperfiction or ``e-fiction'' (given the current naming conventions iFiction would probably be the vogue term). I presume that Barth's critique of hyperfiction is intended to be ironic. For example, Emeritus criticizes Aspirant for deflecting criticism by anticipating the criticism in the text yet leaving the criticisable portion of the text. ``Yes I know this is a problem, but I don't want to change what I've written so I'll add something to the text that lets the reader know that I know its a problem so that we all think its one big joke'' -- hence Barth's invention of the term ``ad-libitum jiggery-pokery.''