We are accustomed to thinking of the greatest challenge that a labyrinth can present us with in terms of “cracking” it, solving its mysteries or figuring a way out. For me, the writing of this essay posed the opposite difficulty: how to mis-lead the reader into entering? What promises can I give? Will it suffice to state my “aims” and “interests” right at the outset, hoping that they will overlap with yours, reader? Here is an attempt:
Thinking with labyrinths invites us to conceptualise surfaces as sites of narrative production. Delving into the rich fictitious texture of labyrinths and following the paths of various protagonists that seek to traverse and solve them renders the clear-cut opposition between surface and depth untenable. Moreover, on the terrain of the labyrinth the surface is not necessarily posited as “flat” or as two-dimensional (Krämer 2022); what turns out to be more pertinent to understanding labyrinths’ narrative productivity is accounting for surfaces’ material heterogeneity and spatial as well as temporal operations. We could describe labyrinths as assemblages of surfaces: their peculiar topological properties mean that what counts as “interior” and what is positioned as “exterior” to the labyrinth is constantly negotiated and reconfigured. Compellingly, it is the tension between these poles that becomes a material for storytelling and experimentation on their terrain. In a labyrinth, whose surface, as we shall see, is both continuous and porous, a protagonist’s quest to access its depths, to reach what is hidden away or stolen, can only be successfully solved if diverse practices of orientation and modes of thought are cunningly brought together, at the surface. Arguably, labyrinthine surfaces are built not only with stones, mortar or hedge, but are also permeated by magic, monsters and spirits; it is this composite, ambivalent and errant character of labyrinths that I attempt to respond to and assemble anew in this essay.
The text draws mainly from literary and film works that centre on labyrinths to use them not as illustrations, but rather as building blocks for formulating the essay’s three main propositions. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of the workings of labyrinths: their fictional productivity, the way they operate temporally, and how they bring together diverse modes of thought.
Finally, the present contribution is meant as an experiment in reading as navigation. It offers a series of shortcuts in the form of hyperlinks, which the reader can follow if they choose to. In adopting this form for the text, my wish is to foment some of the affective-intellectual resources – like patience, curiosity and the experience of disorientation – that one would expect to engage in a labyrinth also.