This Friday, March 1 at 3:30pm in Logan 801 (please notice the change in date, location and time!!), we welcome Professor Martin Zenck, who will be presenting his work in the hopes of starting a discussion with members of the University before he takes up his post as visiting professor in the music department during Spring Quarter.
Professor Zenck’s areas of expertise are impressively diverse, but the reading circulated this week (available here) deals with myth and labyrinths: an abstract is posted below.
I. The subject of „Labyrinths“is related to the story of the „Minotaurus of Minos“. That is, my talk has to do with mythology and with the myth in general. Its open content will be told in every time and epoch in a new and other way. The reason for this is the fragmented tradition of this myth, the elliptical signature of this narration itself. There are within the myth itself inexplicable events and every later time is interested in finding reasons for the unexplainable in the narration (the “´récit”). We know from the famous book Work on myth (Arbeit am Mythos) by Hans Blumenberg that every time and era tries to find itself in those archaic narrations in order to find for itself a basis for the political self-foundation of a community via these ancient stories. So, the myth of the Labyrinth goes back to the minotaur of Minos in Crete and this récit has, as we will see later on, its preconditions before the official narration starts and its events within and without the place of the labyrinth; that is, with Ariadne handling her ball of wool outside of the labyrinth and Theseus with the thread inside the labyrinth. In a first approach we can emphasise the fact that the development of the myth lies in the unfolding of the narration of what happened outside and inside of the labyrinth.
And, what very important has been ever since this point of departure and for the history of
this myth is the fact that the labyrinth as a maze is determined as space, that is: it is walkable; we can move from the place of significance to a place of interpretation. It is always very important for the process of civilisation to show the transition between the Bedeutungsort (place of significance) and the Ort der Deutung (a place of interpretation), that is, that every knowledge is reducible to a first place of significance. We can think of Gustav Mahler’s “Klagendes Lied” with the singing bone in the fairytale of Ludwig Bechstein and the brothers Grimm, because this picture goes back to the myth of Orpheus: He was persecuted and torn to pieces by the Furies (Erinyes) and they had dispersed his bones in a famous river and these bones were singing about the fate of Orpheus.
II. Inside the labyrinth, in the space of knowledge, there is the conflict between chaos
and order and it is significant that due to the Age of Enlightenment, in a time of extreme
rationalisation, the labyrinth is in greatest demand, especially in the ‘Encyclopédy” by
Diderot and d’Alembert. In the introduction to this handbook of the contemporary knowledge we will find an article including the irony that the alphabetical knowledge of terms as a whole is a single labyrinth; that is, the more we know, the more we will move in a labyrinth. But at last the chaos of the maze still provokes the principle of order at that time, but with the result of stabilising the logical stratification of the Enlightenment.
III. When we follow the history of the maze from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century we can stress the fact of a displacement, from the labyrinth as a real place like in the gardens of mazes and in labyrinthine music, from the outside of this place to an inner place into the labyrinth and into our self. Nevertheless, with Nietzsche we can emphasize the fact that we always have to go into our head, like Dionysos descends into Ariadne. In the image, as Nietzsche shows, Dionysos descending into Ariadne, we can recognize the labyrinth as a real place which is passable and transformed into the head and into the interior of Ariadne. So in consequence we can say that on the one hand the figurative significance of a labyrinth goes back to a real maze; on the other hand, according to Nietzsche, the labyrinth is projected onto two visions: that of Ariadne and that of Dionysos.
IV. In the period elapsing from Nietzsche to Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, between
the fin de siècle and the end of the 20th century, there starts a new development. In opposition to the 18th century the chaos of the labyrinth no longer had the function to stabilize the logic strategies of rationalism, but rather to emancipate the free fantasy in order to de-stabilize any kind of predetermined order. In his famous chapter “Le Labyrinthe” in the book “The Preparation of the Novel” Roland Barthes introduces the term “prohairesis” (gr. choice, decision from Aristotle’s Ethics) to define his procedure of writing in an open way with many bifurcations, like in an open form (cf. Umberto Eco), in which the author gets lost and very seldom returns to the apparent sanctuary of his self. With Pierre Boulez we can say that the labyrinth is a prototypical model for our age of Modernity/of Avantgarde, because in this place there is no going back: you can only go forward to the future in many directions.
Conclusion: Before introducing other and new aspects of the “Labyrinth”, regarding Karel
Kerenyi, Jorge Luis Borges and Luciano Berio, I will give a summary of my complete study
about the labyrinth.- The labyrinth as a metaphor for a space of knowledge has been analyzed from a philosophical retrospective. Therein the modern idea of a space of knowledge is referred to as initiated by Foucault. Foucault particularly treats the process of becoming conscious, which is latent in the Ariadne myth, in that the unconscious is transformed into consciousness and produces rationality, which does not rule out the option of seeing Ariadne’s thread as one frequently knotted, torn and intertwined. The unconscious can never be entirely comprehended; much less can its genealogy be understood in any narrative contingency. Therefore, the intrinsic enigma of the labyrinth does not consist in the taming of the bull’s (of the minotaur’s) fundamental powers but in the expectation that – in oppositions with scenographic intentions – life is fragmented. The effect of this insight and thus all metaphorology is obvious in the metamorphosis of actions, respectively in path-breaking decisions; however, and this is very crucial, in aestheticization, the entire human aspect of choosing a certain journey through life does not apply. – Invariably, aetheticization can only be an example of an ethic. This affects all attempts at creating a narrative frame of reference, for which, for instance, Roland Barthes’s problematization of the novel has been criticized.
The correspondence between hearing/perceiving and between seeing and invisibility becomes apparent in the myth of the Cretan Labyrinth: the acoustic labyrinth is different from the visual one. At his point, Ariadne’s thread is no longer helpful; but, according to Nietzsche’s insight, only the Dionysian free choice of interpretation will help. Different from the Minoan magic of seduction and reduction, the significance of the labyrinthian garden and of music lies in the age of baroque. The encyclopaedic thought of a universal order in nature necessarily leads to the thought of legitimizing this order, that is, the way in which the chaos of the world is organized ; not as chaos, but instead as nature. Here, the labyrinth turns into a metaphor of penetrating and fertilizing artistic and natural order, but also into a modern piece of advice on the question of which kind of dilemma a society of knowledge loses itself – a society of knowledge, which has forgotten about striding from a place of significance to a space of interpretation. Furthermore, the labyrinth offers advice to the question of which effect a world disintegrates into – a world which substitutes economized pictographically staged reflexes for supplies of deduction and interpretation and which withholds any further problematization of a mythical narration.