Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Way-finding in the Labyrinth

More images and thoughts from my labyrinth project. Architecture as personal eschatology?

When I worked as an intern in a large architecture firm, the term way-finding was quite casually used to describe the placement of signs, markings, and other devices (including automated speakers and other electronic devices) that in an emergency (a fire or earthquake, for instance) allow people find their way to an exit or a so-called place of refuge (where they could safely wait out the disaster, and await rescue by the authorities).

Does my miniaturized-labyrinth need way-finding?

That depends on one's definition of a labyrinth. Now, the actual Labyrinth of the Night (not my minature copy) is supposedly a "natural" labyrinth, a network of channels, sinkholes, and canyons largely composed of a set of raised fault-blocks (horsts) and normal depressed faults (grabens). Apparently these are created through tectonic processes, and there are multiple examples of such features on several worlds. Of course, there is something a bit odd and distinctive about our particular Labyrinth...perhaps only the Cthonic name, that suggests that one way or another there is something beyond the shearing and subsidence of great rocky plates at work here...something uncanny.

(As an aside, let me note that Death Valley in North America is a similar natural feature. Although impressive and also ominously-named, the Valley is missing something ineffable and disturbing that is present in the Labyrinth, at least in my opinion. Although either natural labyrinth is likely to kill a visitor who wanders in on foot--unprepared or supposedly-prepared--at the wrong time of year or with inadequate supplies, one has the sense that there is a compelling reason to visit the Labyrinth, aside from the typical scenic desert-and-mountain views. There are apparently people who are drawn to risk the Labyrinth of the Night, knowing full well that something drastic probably will happen to them there. As suggested in a previous post, my project at least for the moment is--I think--to equip and signify the entrance to the Labyrinth.)

In general English outside of the field of geography, however, the word labyrinth is casually used as a synonym for maze, the typical tour puzzle with which we are all familiar. But a moment's research anywhere creates a slightly contradictory distinction.

A proper, "classical" labyrinth seemingly is not a puzzle at all, but rather a winding but unambiguous path to a certain center point. There are no dead ends or false routes in a "classical" labyrinth, as there are in a maze. If one remembers the story of Theseus though, it is clear that the Minotaur did not reside (by this definition) in a labyrinth, because in a "classical" labyrinth the hero would have needed no assistance to find center where dwells the monster, or to find his way out again once the deed was done. But he did need Ariadne's red ball of twine.

Nevertheless, the story resolutely refers to the Minotaur's Daedalus-designed lair as the labyrinth, not the maze. I can only imagine that this is because, on a metaphysical level, prior to the Theseus Event there was really only a single route possible in the Cretan maze, which was thus a labyrinth: the path--all paths--led to the maw of the monster.

Even though it it clear that as a "natural" labyrinth (unlike a "classical" one) in terms of possible routes it has more in common with the idea of a maze, I suspect something similar to that metaphysical truth is true of the real Labyrinth of the Night: Although there are many faults and chasms that seem (from the aerial photographs) to lead off for dozens if not hundreds of miles to nowhere and blind canyons, there is in fact one inevitable destination if you are on foot in the mists of the Labyrinth.

There are in fact an infinite number of possible paths for getting to that destination. It should be honestly labeled a destiny, not a destination.

So, if for some reason I have decided to create a miniaturized, or even symbolic version of the Labyrinth of the Night (and even miniaturized as it is, it contains mile after mile of paths), do I want it to be a labyrinth in a "classical" sense, or do I want it to be a maze? If the point is to get the pilgrims (I increasing think that is the best term for the people who will use this project) ready in some fashion for the true Labyrinth, then I should add some kind of way-finding mechanism to ensure that I do not entrap them, perhaps fatally, in a lesser maze.

Which prompts a related question: Is it part of my purpose to warn the the Pilgrims of the gravity and inevitable consequences of entering the true Labyrinth?