Saturday, 28 March 2009

"The Labyrinth."

There is a Labyrinth. The corridors are long, dark, and confusing. They grow and shrink randomly. The walls move, shift, and change. The Labyrinth’s darkness is absolute. Thick blackness consumes your outstretched hand, too impenetrable even for the usual metaphor of ‘inky’ darkness to sufficiently convey the cloying visual suffocation. Every step is a leap of faith into the unknown; every movement accompanied by doubt as to whether the floor beneath you will remain solid or fall away leaving you to fall, fall, fall for evermore. There is No Exit. There is no entrance. You were born in the Labyrinth and all your life has been a slow trek through the dark maze.

There are voices. Other people, other souls lost to the labyrinth of the world. You can hear them now and then. Sometimes you feel them brush past. Sometimes you cling to whomever you may find, desperate for the merest contact with something – something other than the darkness, the walls, and the confusion.

The Labyrinth affects everyone differently. Some immediately stop moving. They decide that the Labyrinth is too deep, too convoluted to ever understand, let alone chart. They stop. They cling to passers-by. They live out their lives, alone or in groups. Some recognise the Absurdity of the Labyrinth and do their best to live out their lives in some helpful way. A rare minority choose to wander the winding paths forever, exploring every crevice and every dead-end. These few are the Cartographers. These individuals try to map the vast puzzle, hoping that the cartographic endeavour will yield some monumental insight, perhaps reveal why they are in there. Some of these brave explorers will even hope that the quest will reveal the ultimate purpose of the Labyrinth. Most know that there is no way out and that inevitably they will die within the shadowy corridors but that does not rob their mission of purpose. The Cartographers recognise the achievements of Orpheus, Icarus, and Promotheus though their attempts were ultimately futile. They admire above all the dedication of Sisyphus. Complete understanding of the maze may be impossible but that does not mean that partial understanding is without value.

And so these courageous few wander the maze and take notes on its twists and turns. But each one started from somewhere different. Each was thrown into the Labyrinth at a different point. They communicate with one another when they can but the Labyrinth is the size of a universe and different portions are charted in different ways. When the Cartographers do come across one another, groping through the black, their interpretations, even of the same sectors of the maze, are conflicted. They get frustrated with one another and groups go their separate ways. One group desires to describe the Labyrinth; to express how it makes them feel, what the walls are like, and write poetry forever trying to convey the sheer majesty of the immense structure that they have been confined in since birth. The other group wants to explain the maze; to grasp the metaphysical underpinnings of its existence and to lay down an accurate Ariadne’s thread so that other travellers might come through the labyrinth quicker and therefore come to a level of understanding quicker. The two groups call themselves the Dionysians and the Apollonians: the Humanities and the Sciences.

The Labyrinth contains a Minotaur. This beast is no entity condemned by the Gods, no Grecian monstrosity. Rather it is a Frankenstein’s Monster: a creature made by and made up of humanity. It is the surging crowd of Irrationality: a conglomeration of people lost in the Labyrinth who desire only that others should remain as lost as they are. A mob who oppose the patient methodology of the Cartographers. A group who believe that they see light in the darkness, who believe that the Labyrinth is not all that there is. The Cartographers battle the Minotaur at every crossroads.

The Labyrinth is vast. And everyone is trapped, wandering through the dark. The only way to chart it and the only possible way to reach some proximate understanding of its vastnesses is for the two groups of Cartographers to come together and share their knowledge. The only way to slay the Minotaur is for the Humanities and the Sciences to share their findings and battle the Irrationality together. The only way to explain the immense riddle is to put differences aside and communicate, one with another. Otherwise we are doomed to stay lost within our ever-shifting prison, the Labyrinth of Life.

Escape is impossible but that does not mean that we should remain lost.

Metaphor courtesy of E. O. Wilson. The extension of it and the random capitalisation are all mine.

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