Le labyrinthe dans la fiction contemporaine d’expression française
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The labyrinth and the maze are universally shared images of the human imagination. One of the reasons that the labyrinth particularly intrigues the human mind is its inherent ambiguity. Hermann Kern starts his book by insisting on the difference, in English, between labyrinth (unicursal) and maze (multicursal) (Kern 23). The maze, implying the experience of confusion and wandering, is commonly used today. However, the notion of maze seems to have developed much later than that of labyrinth. Derived from the literary tradition in antiquity and the Middle Ages, the earliest depiction of a maze dates only from about 1420 (Kern 23). Further confusing the issue, the French language only has one word for both figures: labyrinthe, meaning either labyrinth or maze according to the context. Thus we can only say that labyrinthe in French refers to a sinuous path, without further specifying whether a particular labyrinthe is unicursal or multicursal, or whether it has a center to be reached. My dissertation focuses on the labyrinthe in five contemporary French and Francophone fictions, emphasizing the ambiguity that this concept brings to these literary works: Thésée (André Gide, 1946), L’Emploi du temps (Michel Butor, 1956), Rue des Boutiques Obscures (Patrick Modiano, 1978), L’Enfant de sable (Tahar Ben Jelloun, 1985), and Le Labyrinthe des jours ordinaires (Pierre Rosenstiehl, 2013). From Morocco (Ben Jelloun) and France (the four others), these authors are important literary figures in contemporary French and Francophone literature. The texts selected for this study, though diverse in their themes and styles, all make use of the labyrinthe, while referring more or less directly, and always with adaptation and reinvention, to the Greek myth of Theseus, Daedalus, the Minotaur, and Ariadne. Most interestingly, the labyrinthe, sometimes unicursal and sometimes multicursal, demonstrates its ambivalence and paradoxes in all these literary works. The first two chapters stress the ambivalence of the labyrinthe, as manifested in its potential to be both unicursal and multicursal. Although the five texts of this study all mention some kind of labyrinthe, physical and/or metaphorical, they do not specify whether these labyrinthes are unicursal or multicursal. As a result, the works demonstrate at the same time characteristics and themes of both labyrinth (initiatory experience) and maze (the experience of wandering and being lost), to a degree that the ambivalence of the labyrinthe also becomes the main characteristic of the fiction. In the first chapter, drawing mainly from Mircea Eliade’s books on initiation rites, I argue that the unicursal labyrinth is a perfect embodiment of initiation rites, and that the adventures of the protagonists in their respective labyrinths can also be considered experiences of initiation. In chapter 2, I examine literary mazes as representations of modern cities, drawing on critical theories of the detective genre, which is important in these texts. Chapter 3 examines a central element in the Cretan legend – Ariadne’s thread – which casts more ambiguity on the figure of the labyrinthe. Her thread leads and shows the way, but it can also mislead the protagonists and the reader and become itself labyrinthine. After the question “where am I?” examined from different perspectives in previous chapters, chapter 4 focuses on the identity crises of the protagonists, or the question “who am I?”. Drawing mainly from C. G. Jung’s theory on individuation, I argue that protagonists who succeed in the process of individuation must “master and assimilate”, rather than eliminate, the real or metaphorical Minotaur they encounter, in the same way that the ego “must master and assimilate the shadow” before it can triumph (Jung 120-21). The figure of labyrinthe is rich not only for its diverse connotations, but also for its structuring power for literary texts. The five authors of this study, like many of their contemporaries, play the role of Daedalus and construct labyrinthes with their texts. Therefore, chapter 5 examines the structure of the five fictions, focusing on the labyrinthine processes of both writing and reading.