Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"An Abstract Model of Conjecturality": Prolegomenon to an Understanding of Labyrinths and Mazes as Metaphors

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

"An Abstract Model of Conjecturality": Prolegomenon to an Understanding of Labyrinths and Mazes as Metaphors

Article excerpt


This article addresses some of the problems of meaning that arise when authors use labyrinths--and mazes, too, although to a lesser extent--as metaphors. To this end, it explores the considerable corpus of information prerequisite for a fuller understanding of the metaphorical potential of labyrinths and mazes. An absence of a terminology to distinguish labyrinths from mazes contributes further to the problem as does the manner in which labyrinths and mazes are defined in dictionaries and other reference works, leading to the erroneous assumption that the words "labyrinth" and "maze" are synonyms. The way in which authors are inclined to assume that there is only one essential form of labyrinth, when, in fact, there are several, aggravates the problem just as much as the assumption that the words "labyrinth" and "maze" are synonyms. Unravelling these issues is important because they affect the meaning and understanding readers derive from the authors' use of such metaphors.


Hierdie artikel spreek sommige van die probleme aan wat ontstaan wanneer outeurs die woord "labirint"--asook "doolhof', alhoewel laasgenoemde tot 'n mindere mate as metafoor gebruik. Met hierdie doel ondersoek die artikel die aansienlike korpus van inligting wat 'n voorvereiste is vir 'n wyer begrip van die labirint en die doolhof se metaforiese potensiaal. Die afwesigheid van terminologie--wat noodsaaklik is om tussen die labirint en die doolhof te onderskei--dra verder by tot die probleem sowel as tot die wyse waarop "labirint" en "doolhor' in woordeboeke en ander naslaanwerke omskryf word. Hierdie omskrywings lei tot 'n wanbegrip dat die onderskeie woorde sinsverwante begrippe is. Die wyse waarop outeurs geneig is om die aanname te maak dat daar slegs een essensiele labirintvorm is, terwyl daar verskeie vorme bestaan, vererger die probleem in dieselfde opsig as die aanname dat die woorde "labirint" en "doolhof" sinsverwant is. Dit is dus belangrik dat hierdie kwessies uitge-klaar word omdat dit die betekenis en begrip wat lesers van die outeur se gebruik van sodanige metafore aflei, beinvloed.


"The female heart," Carlos Ruiz Zafon writes, "is a labyrinth of subtleties" (2005: 135).The present exploration of labyrinths and mazes as metaphors aligns the article with the theme of this conference, "Worlds in Dialogue", for the ancient symbol of the labyrinth and the mediaeval symbol of the maze are engaged in an exploratory dialogue, first, with the imprecision of meaning manifest in the way they have been defined and (mis)understood, and, secondly, with their potential as metaphors for the modern world.

While it is tempting to discuss the ramifications and consequences of Zaf6n's delicious assertion, it is not my purpose here. Instead, I present this metaphor as an epitome of the problem this article seeks to explore. In broad terms, we want to know precisely what and how the metaphor means. So we begin with some preliminary questions: Which particular sort of labyrinth did the author have in mind when creating that metaphor? In what ways is Zaf6n's model of a labyrinth congruent with the readers' own knowledge or experience of labyrinths? What information about mazes and labyrinths should readers possess in order to understand some of the possible meanings of the metaphor? In other words, what information do readers require in order to ascertain whether they share sufficient commonality of experience (or lack of it) with the author to allow him to create a comprehensible (or incomprehensible) metaphor for his readers? (Clearly, readers with no experience or knowledge of labyrinths will be unable to make sense of the metaphor.) These questions are equally pertinent to all metaphors employing labyrinths and mazes. However, seeking answers to these questions takes us directly into a maze of etymology, synonymity, and definition.

S(E)Y(T)N(Y)O(M)N(O)Y(L)M(O)I(G)T(Y)Y: Into the Maze of Etymology and Synonymity

The myriad writings about, and references to, labyrinths and mazes belie the uncertainties of meanings lying just below even their denotative surfaces. …

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