The labyrinth as metaphor of postmodern American poetics
Morrison, Valerie Mandeville
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New media is often referred to as “network,” and hypertexts are celebrated for theircomplexity and the freedom they allow the reader, the interaction they require. This is notmerely a function of digital media, however, and in this study I explore several labyrinthineworks that embrace this aesthetic of complexity and network in print format. Extricating oneselffrom a labyrinth and unraveling the complicated threads of discourse in postmodern poetry aresimilar endeavors. Both involve maneuvering through deliberate obscurity and diversions inorder to elicit a pathway. Both also require entering into a vastly different kind of space andtime, leaving the mundane world behind and searching out confusion and amazement.Postmodern poetry forces the reader to alter one’s perspective, to reorient oneself to a newaesthetic. To enter the labyrinth of antiquity was to court a deliberate encounter with themonstrous, to expose oneself to possible violence and danger, and I argue that to enter apostmodern poem is a similarly dangerous step. Lurking inside the labyrinth is the Minotaur, ahybrid creature, half man and half monster. The threat of encountering this monster ismetaphorically equivalent to the threat of nonmeaning in postmodern poetics. As the readertraverses the poem, there’s always the threat of things falling apart, of a disconnect orbreakdown, of dissolution. Labyrinths represent an encounter with mystery, with obfuscation and disorientation, and postmodern poetics often share these same characteristics. To emergefrom the labyrinth is to find oneself, to return fortified, changed or strengthened by this arduousjourney. Comparing postmodern poetry to the labyrinth metaphor, a return to the surfacerepresents the reader’s somehow conquering or resolving the words on the page. Examiningwhat happens when one returns from the center of the labyrinth will allow us to explore somefundamental tenets of the postmodern aesthetic. I contend that we enjoy labyrinths and poetryfor remarkably similar reasons, and analyzing what exactly happens when one returns from thismythical place might help us understand the value and benefits of poetry for contemporaryreaders.