THE PARADOXICAL DUALITY OF THE ARCHETYPAL LABYRINTH
Idil Atesli 09/310 Design and Interaction Context Tutor: Robert Hanks
The Cretan Labyrinth Myth | 3-4 What is a Labyrinth? | 4-5 Multicursal & Unicursal | 5-7 Interpretations | 8-9 Labyrinth as the Embodiment of Initiation | 9-10 Michael Ayrton and The Translucent Maze Sequence | 10-13 Jorge Luis Borges and The Garden of Forking Paths | 14-17 Conclusion | 17-18 Images | 18-19 Bibliography | 20-21
Modes of Design
THE CRETAN LABYRINTH MYTH The great King Minos of Crete was punished by the god of the seas, Poseidon, by making Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with a beautiful white bull and have an illicit sexual affair with that wondrous creature. As a consequence, the monstrous and miraculous being was born to Minos, from the womb of his wife. ‘Minotaur’ was his name and he was half animal, half human. He was the one and only son of the king and the heir for the kingdom. But still, he was the unloved and shameful bastard that had to disappear…or concealed. Daedalus, the master builder of the time was asked to build ‘the Labyrinth’, an architectural miracle. It was a container, a prison for the Minotaur; a hiding place, and temple at the same time—a far-flung system of convoluted passages that led to the midpoint, the den of the monster. (Jaskolsky, p. 17) The Labyrinth was made in such way that the journey that is made inwards was inescapable, and the way out was impossible to find. Every nine years, king Minos fed the Minotaur with Athenian youths which were sent to Crete to be sacrificed as tribute in atonement for the death of Androgeos, the prince of Crete. At the time of the third tribute, one of the lots fell to Theseus, the young and brave son of the king Aegeus of Athens. Along with his companions, Theseus traveled to Crete to confront his destiny. But Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and determined to save him from the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. On the advice of Daedalus, Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn, which he tied to the entrance of the Labyrinth and unwound as he followed the path through the centre. Using the sword that Ariadne provided for him, Theseus overcame and slew the beast. On his way back, he rewound the ball of yarn and retraced his steps through the exit, safely and unharmed. Having gathered all other young Athenian victims and his lover Ariadne, Theseus sailed back to Athens—his homeland. On their way, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Theseus and his companions landed on the isle of Delos and celebrated the liberation from the Labyrinth and of the dominion of Crete. They performed a ‘labyrinthine dance’, which imitated the windings of the Labyrinth in a particular rhythm. After the ceremony, they resumed their journey homeward. When they were approaching the coast of Attica, they forgot to replace the black sails on the ship for the white ones—as Theseus promised to his father king Aegeus, if he escaped the labyrinth.—The black sails remained aloft and Aegeus who saw
the ships, hurled himself into the sea because of his sorrow. Thus, Theseus became his successor. From that time forth, the Athenians honored him as the founder of their city-state. WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?
“The labyrinth is an ancient symbol whose convoluted form, found naturally in seashells, animals’ intestines, spider webs, the meandering body of the serpent, the eddying of the water, the internal structure of underground caves and the whirling galaxies of space, has always been highly suggestive to the imagination.” (The Book of Symbols, p. 714)
In Jungian terminology, the natural symbol originates from the content of the collective unconscious, which is made up essentially of pre-existent forms that have never been in consciousness, the archetypes. These natural symbols can still be traced back to their archaic roots in the most ancient records and in primitive societies. (Jung, 1968, p. 83) Having a look to our past, we can see that no archetypes, no signs or symbols which are purely consequences of human imagination. There is always a point of reference, an inspiration in the nature. Just like any other symbolic diagram, a labyrinth as a shape, has its roots deep inside in our everyday life and environment. Jung also indicates that the archetypes are patterns of instinctual behavior and that they are unconscious images. Because of their form, labyrinths attracts human’s attention at first glance by its visual appeal. A labyrinth motif on a manuscript or on the ground of a church instantly draws the human eye. It wouldn’t be wrong if we say that it’s hypnotic and acts like a magnet. It is to be supposed, therefore, that, for the Primitive, the maze had a certain fascination comparable with the abyss, the whirlpool and other phenomena. (Cirlot, p. 174) A labyrinth as an architectural form has a round or a rectangular shape, which makes sense only when viewed from above, from birds eye. It can be also a graphic figure, a diagram. The lines are its walls and the negative space between them is the path. The wall’s only function is to mark the path, to define the fixed pattern of the movement. The path begins at the opening, from the entrance on the exterior wall, and leads the walker/tracer to the inner parts of the labyrinth by wending its way in a twisty and meandering manner through the entire structure. Both unicursal classical types and
the multicursal modern designs (mazes) can be explained with this brief definition which outlines their common qualifications. But a labyrinth (unicursal), in its true and original sense, differs from a maze (multicursal) with a crucial characteristic: it’s path is not intersected by other paths and the path eventually terminates in the centre, which is the only dead end.
“The essentially dual, paradoxical nature of the labyrinth is both circular and linear, simple and complex, historical and temporal. Contained within a compact space, a long and difficult path constantly doubles back on itself, leading circuitously to a mysterious and invisible centre. From within, the view is extremely restricted and confusing, while from above one discovers a supreme artistry and order. Thus the labyrinth simultaneously incorporates confusion and clarity, multiplicity and unity, imprisonment and liberation, chaos and order.” (Doob, p.p. 1-8)
The very first paradoxical duality of the labyrinth lies beneath the formal conflict between the multicursal and the unicursal models. The multicursal one is generally assumed by literature whereas the unicursal is affirmed by the visual arts. Mostly, ancient labyrinths are diagrammatic, which means that they are two-dimensional and they show the pattern as viewed from above. The architectural labyrinths provides a lot more different experience. A walker is disabled to use his vision to trace a path ahead since it is fragmented by high walls that curve. Whereas, a viewer who sees the diagram as a whole pattern from above, doesn’t suffer from any confusion since the path (lines and curves) is in front of his eyes without any complex problem to solve. The shape is clear and it is inevitable that the viewer gets thrilled by its artistry. (Doob, p. 1) The chaos within the labyrinth turns into order when viewed from above. From a walker’s perspective, the labyrinth is dynamic since the subject is mobile and the surroundings change as he moves. The path he is walking on is nothing but a linear form that meanders. From a viewer’s perspective, the labyrinth is static and the pattern he observes from above is nothing more than a diagram. MULTICURSAL & UNICURSAL The multicursal designs are mostly described in literature, as an architectural structure. They are derived from literary traditions. That is a very complex structure with numerous winding and false paths and chambers, in which it is easy to get lost, since the term itself suggests that
this kind of labyrinth offers choices between the paths. The success depends on choosing the right path and making correct choices as you go along the labyrinth. The movement characteristic is episodic; each fork in the path makes the wanderer pause and requires a moment for a decision. The direction of the movement changes continuously. That is the reason why a multicursal labyrinth is a symbol of intellectual and moral difficulty, since the maze wanderer may lose its confidence, get confused, retrace his steps, and gets frustrated. Without a guide, the walker cannot tell if the path he has taken is the right way until reaching that path’s end. In fact, he has actually no idea if the labyrinth he’s in has even an end or a centre. It is possible to get imprisoned in the labyrinth if the walker can not find a solution (an exit or a centre). The survival from the labyrinth doesn’t only depend on the intelligence or memory of the wanderer, but also on guidance. That guidance is Ariadne’s thread, which guides and give instructions or advice to the wanderer all along the way of searching the exit/centre. The experience of the multicursal mazes provokes the idea of the power of the individual and its freewill compared to the unicursal labyrinth’s single path. It emphasizes the individual’s responsibility for his own fate. They exemplify the constant need of choice demanded of the individual. Having chosen the misleading paths to dead ends are the consequences of judgmental errors or failures of memory and concentration. So the survival from the labyrinth is at the individual’s hands only. On the other hand, unicursal labyrinths are diagrammatic; which have a single path that meanders its way to the centre and back out. In the centre of the unicursal labyrinthine pattern, the figure of swastika adds to the basic symbolism a suggestion of rotating, generating and unifying motion. (Cirlot, p. 173) The maze walker simply follows the path without running across any intersection point of two or more pathways. The movement inside an unicursal labyrinth is continuous. The wanderer pauses only because if he is exhausted because of the unending path that lies behind and front, not because the need of a decision between the paths to choose from. Another characteristic of the movement is that the path continuously reverses its orientation and leads the wanderer to its centre from the most circuitous way possible. The visitor, repeatedly passes the centre. By moving back and forth in continual switchbacks, the path inevitably leads the individual to the centre, and out again. There is only one path and it is also the only way back to the entrance. The aim of an unicursal design is to fill the labyrinthine space with the path in a longest possible fashion to get to the centre, and
that requires curves that turn 180 degree and fold on themselves. Unicursal labyrinths vary from simple structures to more complicated ones. A simple structure has only one axis around the centre, which the path curves around it continually. A more complicated labyrinth is divided into four or more segments by axes, which requires the wanderer to pass each segment sequentially. The essence of the unicursal labyrinth experience is confusion and frustration, which is similar to the multicursal labyrinth. But, there is a significant and important difference between them. The reason of the confusion in an unicursal design is the subsistent disorientation which is the result of going back and forth, rather than the need of choice as in the multicursal labyrinths. Penelope Reed Doob draws attention to a very vital point that the frustration of the individual inside an unicursal labyrinth is towards the structure and its architect rather than toward the individual’s own incapacities (failure of the memory, lack of intelligence, judgmental errors, etc.). When there is nothing concrete on the path that requires the walker to operate his individual deciding mechanism, and when that individual fails emotionally or physically, the walker seeks for something/someone to blame—other than himself. Because the individual’s responsibility of his own fate isn’t required since he is enforced to be dependent on the maze-maker who has already plotted the labyrinth. There is no way of going astray, but only one path with one direction: to the centre. The danger in these kind of labyrinths is that, along the way, the individual would lose his hope even though there is no danger of getting lost. This nerve tickling experience to walk in a path which seems endless and probably goes along until eternity, drags the walker in an illusion that there might even not be a goal or centre. Or if there is, he might not want to reach it. The despair makes the individual unable to act and leaves him immobile. It would be wrong if we say that the unicursal labyrinth put no choice in front of the individual. Actually, the sole and only decisive moment is when the individual has to choose whether he enters the labyrinth or not. Unlike in multicursal designs, this initial choice, whether to enter in the first place or not, has a strong impact in unicursal labyrinths since this choice is crucial to the walker, whereas it is less important in a multicursal labyrinth where all other choices diminishes the importance of the first choice. (Doob, p. 50)
INTERPRETATIONS The formal duality of the two different labyrinth designs also gives birth to other paradoxes that exist in the interpretation of the metaphorical labyrinths.
“Now the Labyrinth, that most enigmatic of all places, is a prison and a sheltering, protective cave (for the Minotaur) at the same time—an interior space that opens to the external world but also shuts it out.” (Jaskolski, p. 45)
A labyrinth, even in its true sense, cannot escape from being interpreted as both a prison and a shelter at the same time. The paradoxes are embedded even in the original myth of the labyrinth. Some believe that the labyrinths have been conceived with the purpose of imprisoning luring devils into them so that they might never escape. On the other hand, Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion, notes that the essential mission of the maze was to defend the centre—that it was, in fact, an initiation into sanctity, immortality and absolute reality. (Cirlot, p.p. 173-5) Even though there’s only a single structure in question, it incorporates dualities within itself. Its form suggest that it is a static figure but the journey it indicates is dynamic since there is a sense of movement in a space. Again, its complex structure eventually leads the wanderer into a simple and tranquil state of mind, in which the subject reaches a point of enlightenment. During the process, the confusion which was affected by constant disorientation yields to clarity and awareness in the centre or when reached out of the labyrinth. A perception of self-imprisonment in that torturing situation is necessary in order to being able to liberate yourself from it. It is simply an imitation of life itself in so many dimensions. It can imitate a journey of life of an adolescent into his maturity, in which he encounters several rise and falls on his way; equally it can be a symbolic substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by a fellow Christian. Places of pilgrimage are points of concentration and self-contemplation for a Christian’s soul. It is well accepted as a symbol of the perplexities and intricacies which beset the Christian’s path. (Matthews, p.p. 66-7) In this interpretation, the labyrinth becomes the symbolic representation of the world, and that Jesus Christ is situated in the middle of it; in its centre, and this suggests the rough and the relentless life journey of the individual whose goal is to reach God and Christ. (Jaskolski, p. 68) So it makes perfect
sense when we compare these interpretations and draw a conclusion that the individual inside the labyrinth is on a spiritual journey, a journey that will take him to a better condition no matter how difficult and challenging it is. A labyrinth or a maze, as a structure or a pattern, is also highly related to heavens and the celestial. They both allude to the same idea of ‘the loss of spirit in the process of creation and the consequent need to seek out the way back to the spirit’. (Cirlot, p. 174) The whirling path of the labyrinth indicates the symbolic passageway from the visible realm of the human into the invisible dimension of the divine. The unicursal labyrinth imitates that idea by making the being losing his spirit on the way into its centre in the creation process. Once the being is in the centre and on the way back to the entrance/exit, it’s now time to find the spirit and gain it back. This is also very similar to the idea that labyrinths are meaningful symbols of birth, not of the physical process, but of psychic birth. (Jaskolski, p. 46) The labyrinth is embodied as if it is a spiritual entrance into the world. By completing it successfully, the subject becomes self-realized and emancipated; liberated from his dependencies. LABYRINTH AS THE EMBODIMENT OF INITIATION
“The paradoxical duality of the labyrinth reflects the psycho therapeutic purpose of groping one’s way through suffering, darkness and confusion, with the aim of building a capacity for greater insight and perspective, thus enlarging the personality. On the journey through the labyrinth, once the centre/goal has been reached, the way back will always be utterly new.” (The Book of Symbols, p. 714)
A labyrinth as an architectonic structure,—an interior space—has an external wall that surrounds it—and isolates it from its surroundings— has only one entrance. The interior space from outside appears to be very complicated and difficult to proceed at a first glance. In fact, just to undertake to step into a labyrinth requires a high level of maturity and understanding for the walker. Once the walker enters the labyrinth, the torture of the path all along to its centre begins. The interior of the labyrinth is full of twists and turns, which is a great loss of time and physical energy for the wanderer. The experience during the wandering is quite frustrating: Repeatedly, there is this feeling of
approaching to the centre/goal, but in each attempt, another turn leads the wanderer away from it. The purpose of the labyrinth’s frequent inclusion in initiatory rites is to temporarily disturb consciousness to the point that the individual becomes confused and symbolically loses his way, or his rational and linear frame of orientation. The psychological stress of the journey is the part of the experience. But, those who still can stay sane will reach the goal, inevitably. When the subject is in the centre, all alone and totally isolated from the outer space, he encounters a divine principle. (Kern, p. 30) This is where the subject has the opportunity to discover something... Something that makes the walker turn 180 degree and change its direction in order to return all the way back. This signifies distancing oneself from one’s past, but not giving up on one’s previous existence. It is a new beginning. The person is not the same anymore, but has been born again into a new phase of existence. The centre of the labyrinth is where death and rebirth occur, which symbolizes the transition into a higher level of existence, and of initiation. Death, as a symbol in rituals, means the end of one’s life up to that point. A new form of existence has generated by death. MICHAEL AYRTON AND THE TRANSLUCENT MAZE SEQUENCE Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) was a British sculptor, painter, author, filmmaker, and maze designer who got his inspiration from the myth of the archetypal craftsman Daedalus, who is also the father of Icarus and maker of the labyrinth that imprisoned the Minotaur. Ayrton had produced over 800 works which highlighted the interaction between myth and artistic creativity. Through the years of dedicated research on this particular myth, Ayrton revealed a complex story of imprisonment and liberation, ingenuity and creativity, success and failure. He also bore this story as if it was his own journey through his life, and he identified himself both with Daedalus, the skillful craftsman, and the Minotaur, the inhabitant beast of the labyrinth which is hidden within himself. Inevitably, he mined the classical myth of Daedalus and Icarus, and he enriched it by his own words and images. He contributed to the interpretation of this myth by extending the metaphors that the myth bears. Particularly in his sculptures, he used a variety of materials from bronze to copper; mirrors to Perspex. Perspex is a slightly tinted plastic and its characteristic is that it can be translucent and opaque simultaneously, similar
to part-reflecting and part-transmitting mirrors. So that the sculptures made by using it creates reflections and permits to see through at the same time. Ayrton produced a series of sculptures named The Translucent Maze Sequence that extended the metaphor of the maze by means of this material’s qualities. Ayrton indicated that these sculpture-images are deliberately ambiguous in that they depend upon solid forms related to one another by illusion. (Nyenhuis, 2003 p. 158) Each and every piece of the series reveal numerous human faces or figures either completed or duplicated by the means of their own reflection. Each sculpture is made to make the viewer explore the labyrinth of his own mind. These sculptures are not necessarily the true representations of a maze or a labyrinth since they do not chart a journey in front of the viewer’s eyes. Instead, by letting the viewer see the conjunction of both the concrete and the abstract, they reveal the state of mind of already being in a labyrinth by holding up a mirror to the viewer’s life. In a public lecture, Journey Through a Labyrinth, delivered in Detroit in October 1972, Ayrton summarized his views on the metaphor of the labyrinth and its significance for his art. These excerpts cast further illumination on his work: “…Consider that the maze (the labyrinth) as a thing (an object), a diagram. One of its ancient functions was . . . to imprison or hide away a secret. . . . It was also contrived to protect. . . . At one level it is a toy, or a convention, or even a game. . . But the maze is more than that—more profound and even older in its importance as a metaphor. It is an image, a contrivance whereby mankind can identify himself, and come to terms with his environment.” (Nyenhuis, 2003, p. 163) His persistence in using reflecting materials such as mirrors, is expounded in those sentences. The experience of walking or tracing a labyrinth is similar to holding a mirror to ourselves. The mirror has the power of reflecting a separate spirit from the viewer’s own, since the reflection in the lookingglass is not as it really is, but in reverse. This phenomenon may suggest a journey by reflecting the image, but it doesn’t give any instruction of the destination of that journey. It is up to the viewer to interpret what he sees in that mirror and to choose his fate. The first work in the Translucent Maze Sequence is entitled Reflex I. Viewed
from the front, along the perspex, the sculpture appears simple; there is one half of a split head facing the viewer, a profile of another head on the background, and a figure reaching out of the image. But when the viewpoint changes, or the sculpture is turned around its axis, the perspex acts its part and lets the light interplay with the translucent/opaque surface. It both reflects from the surface and reveal what is behind the inter-face. Consequently, the profile face duplicates itself and reminds us Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and transitions, who looks to the future and to the past at the same time. If turned farther, the head plays the role of the mask which evokes the Mask of Agamemnon. Lastly, the viewer also sees his own reflection in the mirror—with a twist. He discovers that his features are obscure and ambiguous in the reflection. This vision of self represents the imprecision of the human existence, along with the doubtfulness when confronted with an entanglement. With a further turn, the half head completes itself in the mirror symmetrically. An illusion of wholeness appears for the viewer; half concrete, half discrete. To fully understand these three-dimensional visuals of Michael Ayrton, it is a must that the subject turns around the sculptures or rotate the sculpture around its axis. Either way, the crucial point is the movement; the constant change of the point of view by meandering around the central object. The experience of exploring different aspects of a single union of forms occurs in sequential change of position. Richard Gregory, professor of neuropsychology, affirms that by using this reflective/translucent material, Ayrton’s sculptures allow two worlds of reality and illusion to combine to give a synthesis unique to each observer’s position in space. (Ayrton, 1973 p. 38) What appears complete from one specific spot is not from another. So, the viewer may not see a head or a complete figure in the hollow interior of a bisected head, until he changes his position in relation to the sculpture. These sequential experiences exist in a loop. The pattern can be repeated, but still, it doesn’t mean that the viewer would always perceive and experience the same thing. Instead, by altering the lighting or changing the line of vision, the sculpture may let the viewer discover different meanings and evoke different emotional responses each time. The use of bronze half heads and the interplay with the reflective surface is repeated in other sculptures of this type. There is a functional purpose of the images of physically bisected human bodies and heads. They represent the spiritual and intellectual dissection. They hide yet another form or an object inside their physical interior, or behind their uninhabited space.
“The modern labyrinth is a realm of the mind where an irremediable divorce has separated two worlds—the visible and the invisible. This broken bond has condemned us to a definitive exile.” (Conty, p. 10)
All his reflector sculptures are, in a sense, labyrinths. They attract and absorb their viewers; play with them, deceive or guide by exposing both reality and illusory images. These reflected images replicated by the mirror reminds us the dual nature of the humankind: mortality on the one side, and divinity on the other. Some other sculptures of Ayrton, in which there is a representation of the Minotaur, the duality involves humanity and bestiality. This also makes sense since we all accept that there is a monstrous being inhabiting within ourselves and that we occasionally confront it.
“Modern man can identify himself with Daedalus: He admires a cunning craftsman who advocates artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, but who seems little concerned with assuming responsibility for his inventions. He can identify himself with the Minotaur, ... but much less so with Theseus ...” (Conty, p. 9)
In one of Ayrton’s work, which is called Personal Janus, he paired his own portrait with the Minotaur’s. He had identified himself as Daedalus, as the maker of the labyrinth, whereas, he also considered himself as the prisoner of his own making at the same time. He combined these two powerful images to conceive a representation of the paradoxical nature of the human existence. Both two faces constitutes a whole and they are part of one another. The following citation is from the tractate On the Dignity of Men, which is written by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. He puts forth a self-view of the autonomous subject in the words God says to Adam: “We created you neither as a heavenly nor an earthly being, neither as a mortal nor an immortal, so that you, as the perfectly free honorary sculptor and poet of yourself, may determine your own form in which you wish to live. You are free to degenerate into the world of beasts. You are equally free to elevate yourself into the higher world of the divine through the resolve of your own mind.” (Jaskolsky, p. 87)
JORGE LUIS BORGES AND THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet, critic and translator born in Buenos Aires. Until abut 1930 his main medium was poetry in which he evoked the atmosphere of old Buenos Aires or addressed to the themes of death, love and the self. (Borges, p. xiv) He then abandoned poetry and turned to the short narrative genre. His finest creations are Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949), which are compilations of his short stories. Throughout the books, the common themes are labyrinths, time, infinity, dreams, libraries, mirrors, religion and ‘God’. His fictions are always concerned with the process of striving which lead to discovery and insight. (Borges, p. xvi). Like being in a soul-torturing labyrinth, these processes are always disconcerting and devastating.
“Borges once claimed that the basic devices of all fantastic literature
are only four in number: the work within the work, the contamination of reality by dream, the voyage in time, and ‘the double’.” (Borges, p. xvi)
These paradoxical and ambiguous nature of the world, of life, of knowledge, of time and of the self constitute his essential themes. Along with being a theme, they are also his essential techniques of constructing the narrative. That’s why the reader often finds himself losing track of the distinction between the form and the content of his stories. Unconsciously the fictional environment is inserted cunningly into the reader’s. In his stories, there are so many unexpected turns that the reader cannot predict what comes next. James E. Irby indicates that Borges uses mystery and the surprise effect in literature to achieve the sacred astonishment at the universe which is the origin of all true religion and metaphysics. He mixed the real and the fantastic in his stories: fact is united with fiction. With this union of contrasts, the reader of Borges’ stories is relocated into another dimension where the real and the unreal are the complementary aspects of the same whole thing. The book becomes the world and it is filled with labyrinthine enigmas designed to be understood and participated in by the reader. (Borges, p. xvii) Here is the brief summary of Borges’ one of the short stories, The Garden of Forking Paths:
Dr. Yu Tsun in a former professor of English at a German university in China, who also is a spy for the German Empire during the war. His mission is to convey the name of the town where the British are hiding an artillery unit. Yu Tsun manages to find a random man with the same name as the town where the artillery park is located. His plan is to murder that man so that the name Dr. Stephen Albert would appear in the newspaper headlines which his German chief avidly reads. Unfortunately but ironically, Yu Tsun’s victim turns out to be a connoisseur of Chinese culture and literature. Furthermore, Albert had reconstructed a text called ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, which is written by Yu Tsun’s ancestor, Ts’ui Pen. Yu Tsun finds out these curious coincidences just minutes before he murders Dr. Stephen Albert. At the end of the story, Tsun gets arrested and waits for his execution while he is dictating the account of his experiences. Early in the story, when Tsun has managed to access the information and trying to figure out what he should do to convey it to the German, he thinks: “…everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries and centuries and only in the present do things happen.” (Borges, p. 20) He remarks that every action he takes occurs in the present and that is the only aspect of time he can use to manipulate either the past or the future. After he finds Albert, who is the only man who could help him out to accomplish his mission, he thinks of: “…a maze of mazes, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.” (Borges, p. 23) Here, Tsun perceives time as all expanding and infinite. Compared to a maze, he describes how there are multiple paths that a single person can take, and how that certain path the person chooses leads in turn to another set of decision. The phrase ‘maze of mazes’ symbolizes how the time expands to every direction in space, not just to past and to future on a flat plane. He convinces himself that there are multiple realities that play themselves out simultaneously, even he doesn’t choose to follow them. Whatever Tsun chooses to do in this particular maze, there are always other ‘Tsuns’ and ‘Alberts’ out there in other mazes that make different decisions. During the conversation between Tsun and Albert, Tsun’s symbolic image of the labyrinth extends further. By coincidence, Albert possesses the lost novel written by Tsun’s grandfather Ts’ui Pen, which also has the same title as the story. This novel is also filled with this idea of different decisions made in the infinite time spectrum in which all of human beings live and have their own mazes. The novel was written in such a distinctive way
that the reader can jump around from chapter to chapter and still can be carried away with the remaining flow of the story even though the structure of the story as a whole is extremely disordered and incoherent. “…The confusion of the novel suggested that it was the maze.” (Borges, p. 25) From Pen’s perspective, this structure-content relationship is the symbolization of how every single person’s decisions lead to even more decisions, and how each choice leads one person to a specific path. Being different from a basic fictional work in which the man chooses one path among all other alternatives and eliminates the other, Ts’ui Pen’s inextricable novel allows the man to choose all of the possible routes simultaneously without eliminating any probability. Pen’s novel, as a symbolic representation of that infinite and multi-pathed maze, is constituted of as many paths as possible to be pursued so that the reader is engulfed in diverse futures and times which eventually multiply and fork in itself. Albert continues to the conversation with these phrases: “…for example, you arrive at this house, but in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another, my friend.” (Borges, p. 26) The novel The Garden of Forking Paths gives the idea of how fictional realms with infinite possibilities are interpenetrated those men’s lives. The reader begins to figure out that individual decisions are pointless since there is already an image of a cosmos, a universe in which all decisions have already been envisioned and been set forth. “The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts’ui Pen conceived it.” (Borges, p. 28) So, when Tsun chooses the path to kill Albert in which they are enemies, he chooses only one sub-maze to pursue where Albert no longer lives. In the last paragraph of the story, after being captured and sentenced to death, Tsun says: “The rest is unreal, insignificant.” (Borges, p. 29) At that point, it doesn’t seem to matter if there is an infinite amount of alternative realties in one of which Albert and Tsun are still both alive and be friends. When Tsun dies eventually, he then will be dead only in that particular reality, in that dimension of time. Tsun sees that the ‘time’ expands all over the space in every possible direction and that a single man’s acts and choices seem insignificant in an expansively broad labyrinth—of time. The Garden of Forking Paths is one of Borges’ most fascinating works which presents the idea of ‘forking paths’ through complex and entangled
networks of time. These numerous networks remind us of labyrinths/mazes, if they are perceived visually. He uses the maze as an enigma to outline the notion of time. These ‘labyrinths’ have equal chances to be selected, but obviously, they do not possess the same essence, since they all lead us to different situations or separate endings. Borges uses the image of a labyrinth very cleverly in this particular story. Recurrently, the metaphorical labyrinth folds back upon itself, so the reader gains a chance to distinguish all the other possible choices that he can make. By doing so, the story itself charts a detailed map, pulls up the reader to a higher point and converts it into a viewer—a viewer who can see from the birds eye and is enlightened by what he comprehends. Just like viewing a labyrinth from above and get fascinated by how this chaotic prison converts into a complex—but ordered piece of artistry, CONCLUSION As a visual artist, it is not surprising that Michael Ayrton was interested particularly in the classical diagrammatic form of the labyrinths: the unicursal labyrinth. He was withdrawn by the myth of Minotaur and Daedalus, and expressed himself by addressing to ‘double personality’ which completes each other, the paradox of reality and illusion, transparency and reflection, the tangible and the abstract. In his series The Translucent Maze Sequence, Ayrton managed to exploit the essence of a labyrinth by not even using an image of an actual one, but interpreting it by gathering translucent and reflective surfaces with concrete forms. The artist used the concept of labyrinth as an image whereby mankind can identify himself, by making the viewer look at his own reflection and recognize the illusion, the reflection and the invisible which constitute the other half of our being. This is the example of the integrative characteristic of a labyrinth. The journey terminates with a reward of self-discovery and self-realization. Whereas, Jorge Luis Borges applies a different method to reveal another aspect of a labyrinth in his short story The Garden of Forking Paths. By using the metaphor of the forking paths of the multicursal maze, he puts forth the importance of the realization of the insignificance of the choices the individual makes compared to the broad labyrinth of time where different realities lie and that those alternative realities have the same possibility to be ‘the present’. The ‘perspective-dependent’ paradox of order and chaos also applies in Borges’ work since this type of narrative possesses the power of charting the paths and laying out all the possibilities and that
both in the story and in real life, the person is forced to think twice about the ‘significance’ of the choices he makes: Do they really matter? The chaos, which is derived from the stress of the ambiguity and indetermination between the choices, leaves its place to order and determinacy. This should feel like zooming out from the so-called visual representation of every possible realities that could have and can come true and view that chart from above. It is inevitable that the reader would overlook and master this ‘cosmos of times’ by simply perceiving it as a ‘diagram’, not as an inextricable and incarcerating ‘enigma’. Both The Translucent Maze Sequence and The Garden of Forking Paths are deliberately designed to interpret chaos by their ‘makers’. Ayrton and Borges, they are both ‘the architect’ of ‘the Labyrinth’ of their own interpretation and ‘the Beast’ that is imprisoned in it. IMAGES
A Unicursal Labyrinth (Cretan Type)
Figure of Swastika
Multicursal Labyrinth (Maze)
Unicursal Labyrinth (Chartres Cathedral)
Arkville Maze, NY
Arkville Maze, NY (corridor view)
Roman God Janus
The Mask of Agamemnon
Ayrton’s Personal Janus
Ayrton’s Reflex I (from the front)
Ayrton’s Reflex I (sideways)
Jorge Luis Borges
Borges’ Labyrinths Book Cover
BIBLIOGRAPHY Eliade, Mircea (1961) Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism. London: Harvill Press Jung, C. G. (1968) Approaching the Unconscious. In C. G. Jung (Ed.), Man and His Symbols. New York: Bantam Matthews, William H. (1970) Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development. New York: Dover Publications Cirlot, J. E. (1971) A Dictionary of Symbols. (Second edition) London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ayrton, Michael (1973) Michael Ayrton: Maze and Minotaur. Portsmouth: City Art Gallery Wosien, Maria-Gabriele (1974) Sacred Dance: Encounter with the Gods. London: Thames and Hudson Eliade, Mircea (1983) Patterns in Comparative Religion. London: Sheed and Ward Adcock, Carol Pracna (1984) Geometric Maze Designs. U.S: Stemmer House Doob, Penelope Reed (1990) The Idea of the Labyrinth from Classical Antiquity Through the Middle Ages. London: Cornell. Liungman, Carl G. (1991) Dictionary of Symbols. New York: W. W. Norton Fisher, Adrian and Gerster, Georg (1992) The Art of the Maze. Weidenfeld & Nicolson Artress, Lauren (1996) Walking a Sacred Path. U.S.: Riverhead Books Jaskolski, Helmut (1997) The Labyrinth: Symbol of Fear, Rebirth and Liberation. Shambala Publications Jean, Georges (1998) Signs, Symbols and Ciphers: Decoding the Message. London: Thames and Hudson â€“ New Horizons Stevens, Anthony (1998) Ariadneâ€™s Clue: A guide to the Symbols of Humankind. The Penguin Press Kern, Hermann (2000) Through the Labyrinth. Prestel
Wright, Craig (2001) The Maze and the Warrior: Symbols in Architecture, Theology and Music. London: Harvard. Nyenhuis, Jacob E. (2003) Myth and the Creative Process: Michael Ayrton and the Myth of Daedalus, the Maze Maker. Detroit: Wayne State University Press Conty, Patrick (2003) The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth: Architecture, Hidden Language, Myths and Rituals. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions Saward, Jeff (2003) Labyrinths and Mazes of the World: A Definitive Guide to Ancient and Modern Traditions. London: Gaia. McCullough, David W. (2004) The Unending Mystery: A Journey Through Labyrinths and Mazes. New York: Anchor Francisco, Janice (2006) A Creative Walker’s Guide to the Labyrinth: An Approach for Beginners. Ottawa: BridgePoint Effect. Borges, Jorge Luis (2007) Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings; edited by Donald A. Yates & James E. Irby; with an invitation by William Gibson. New York: New Directions Wilkinson, Kathryn (project editor) (2008) Signs & Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. London: Dorling Kindersley Ronnberg, Ami & Martin, Kathleen (2010) The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. London: Taschen.
MODES OF DESIGN The A3 archival box compensates the book form instead of acting as just a container. When the box is opened, four different volumes of A5 booklets greet the reader. The first one on the top left, is where the ‘reading journey’ starts. That booklet includes the main title, the table of contents and first five sections of my essay. It is followed by the second booklet on the top right side, which includes only one section: ‘Michael Ayrton and The Translucent Maze Sequence’. That one is especially designed to imitate the experience of viewing one of Ayrton’s sculptures from the series. The booklet is three-dimensional, it incorporates reflective and transparent papers that mimic the quality of the materials that the artist uses and it is ring-bound. Different from an ordinary page layout, the text on one side of the page, doesn’t flow to the bottom row, but instead it continues to the verso. I tried to emphasize here, the discomfort and frustration caused by constantly turning over the same paper to read one page. A meandering fashion of reading is achieved, which is also imitates being in a unicursal labyrinth and pursuing its curling path. The doubled back papers signifies the number two; the duality and the paradoxes that it suggests. From one single sheet, two pages were generated; they are parts of a whole, but they face different directions. The third volume to follow is about ‘Jorge Luis Borges and The Garden of Forking Paths’. Since the short story that I examined is concerned of the nature of reality and the notion of time as a structure of infinite possibilities, my design solution for this volume was to create a game-like experience of reading which depends highly on the interaction with the reader. Along with my actual piece of writing, I included 3 other short stories of Jorge Luis Borges in the volume. Each paragraph of each narrative takes part on different pages and that makes 42 of them. The pages are not bound and they resemble playing cards. There seems to be no aligning between the pages since all the parts of four narratives are dissected into multiple pages. That means there are ‘mazes in mazes’ to be solved. First, the reader should comprehend the different mazes within one big maze that environs them. This can be achieved by following the hints that are shown on the charts which are situated on the bottom of each page. These charts indicate the exact position of each page on a fictional plane and the groupings of each narrative in relation to the others. When they are all placed, the reader steps out of the intricacy and the confusion. Placing all 42 pages on a
surface demands a broad space and that transforms the reader into a viewer. Perceiving a universe of narratives that exist in simultaneity, the choice of which narrative to be pursued is left to the reader. Since the problem of ‘which paragraphs belong to the same narrative’ is solved, it is time to find out ‘the alignment of the paragraphs’ that generates one specific narrative. The charts act as Ariadne’s thread, which helps the reader to find its way through an inextricable labyrinth of paragraphs. But the intellectual strength also plays a major role on finding the right paragraph that follows the previous one. Lastly, the fourth volume on the bottom right corner of the box is allocated for the last four chapters that constitutes the essay. There is ‘conclusion’, ‘images’, ‘bibliography’ and finally the ‘modes of design’. I kept the typography simple since I was very experimental on the form of the big book and the booklets that it contains. Throughout the whole text the only typeface I used is Amasis MT Light for the body and Medium for the titles. I kept both the size of the paper and the type the same since they suggest a noticeable flow between the different volumes. I have to add that, during the writing process, I also paid attention to the construction of the essay so that it also can imitate the repetitive fashion of progression of a labyrinth. I believe that a piece of writing should also carry some elements of design in it. I hardly see any difference between a beautifully designed visual and a story/narrative that is constructed in relation to its content/context. So, I emphasized some vital concepts by repeating them, but in different contexts or chapters. That brought an interesting flow (back and forth) to the experience of reading which mirrors the experience of walking in a maze, trying to search for an exit.
Published on May 3, 2012
An assay on the duality of the nature of the labyrinth accompanied with case studies of Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Garden of the Fo...