Materialien
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JALAL TOUFIC
Labyrinth

Dienstag, 9. Mai 2017

Both the man in the painting’s foreground and the diegetic painter in its background have their backs to the spectator. With some strain, the painter is turned toward the foreground figure, observing him in order to add the final touch to a canvas on which we see a representational rendition of his model also from the back! Although a straight line can be traced from the painter in the background to the figure in the foreground to the spectator, the two 180° over-turns[i] undergone by the foreground figure, one away from the spectator he was facing and one away from the painter doing his portrait in the background, do not add up to 360° or cancel out, do not return him to his starting position: a labyrinthine circle.

                The real labyrinth in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) is not the physical maze in the grounds of the hotel, but the book Jack Torrance is writing, made of the same phrase occurring on and on, a writing in circles, a recurrent return to the same point (would the book’s title be the same phrase?). It is because Torrance is already lost “in” the labyrinth of the book that he is unable to find the exit of the physical maze. Fleeing his murderous father in the latter, Danny retraces his steps backward, at one point jumping to the side and hiding behind one of the hedges, so that his father, following his steps, sees them cease—beyond is virgin snow. Danny, who is telepathic and clairvoyant, is not dealing with a labyrinth, since he deals with a linear, although reversible, time: he sees the linear future and the linear past; and since at no point while retracing his steps backward does he either see or have the apprehension that he would witness them end abruptly.

                The closed door of room 237, and the locked larder door of the kitchen, where Jack Torrance is imprisoned by his wife, are found open, although none of the living occupants of the hotel performed the act of opening either. This does not necessitate resorting to the hypothesis that someone dead opened the door, but can be accounted for by the circumstance that we are dealing with a labyrinthine structure, where the inside is outside—and vice-versa: it is easy to overlook the circumstance that the overlooking shots of the credits sequence that begins The Shining, showing Jack Torrance’s drive up to the Overlook Hotel, are part of the hotel.

                One of Milton Erickson’s induction methods, the confusion technique, which he uses when faced with the conscious interference or resistance of the subject, entails confusing the subject so much (“To get there now … I take a combination of three right turns and three left turns … but I don’t know which is the right series of rights and lefts … all right, pay attention very closely, because we’ve got to make it right or we’ll be left behind … I’ll take a right here [I think that’s right], and then a left and now I’m left with two lefts and two rights. So all right, I’ll take another left, which means I am now left with a left and a right and a right …”)[ii] that he ends up complying with any leading statement (“Drop into trance”) that would extricate him or her from the confusion. In Stoker’s Dracula (1897), the coach driving Harker to the castle keeps for a while going back and forth over the same spot, only then proceeding to the castle. Nosferatu says to Harker, “Enter of your own free will,” only after the latter has been disoriented spatially by the back-and-forth episode and temporally by the lapse of consciousness if not of being he had just undergone at the approach of the castle (“I must have been asleep, for certainly if I had been fully awake I must have noticed the approach of such a remarkable place”[iii]), and no longer knows where and when he is.

                Omens and warnings almost always refer to the apparent threshold. There is a false threshold to the labyrinth: prior to it one is outside the labyrinth, past it one has always been “in” the labyrinth and can thenceforth be outside it only through it. The threshold between a nonlinear, labyrinthine time, for example that of the undeath realm, and the mostly homogeneous one of conscious life functions as a delimiting boundary only in homogeneous segmented time, thus is a one-way threshold.

                Near the beginning of Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), the professor puts the skïs on in the wrong direction: a crossing of the imaginary line. In Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her (1992), the undead Madeline Ashton momentarily wanders with a 180°-dislocated neck: an over-turn. In Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), to the question of Athos’ son about his father’s three closest friends, “Dead?” Draifa answers, “Dead—no, they’re alive,” and continues about the main enemy of his legendary father with the cunning phrase: “He doesn’t live … he rules.” The reader of Dostoevsky’s The Double (1846) may notice the even slyer usage of the metaphorical to hide the literal: “more dead than alive,”[iv] and “He had no more life in him.”[v] Warning that concerns the reader or spectator and not only the character: be cautious about the fact that you are noticing these warnings and omens of the labyrinth in the guise of jokes, parapraxes, and metaphors, since, unfortunately, such foreshadowings continue to occur even after you are already “in” the labyrinth, seducing you into both thinking that you are not yet in it and into continuing to interpret them rather than revert to an eclipse of meaning. With respect to a labyrinth, the only time when you don’t need the warnings is when you don’t notice them, since one notices these warnings only “in” the labyrinth. When lost, not only in space and time, but also in one’s mind, one should stop following signs and landmarks, above all disregard the subliminal, what one glimpsed fleetingly at the edge of one’s vision, or had a presentiment of, or vaguely sensed. An eclipse of meaning should occur.

                If memory is supported by a spatial mapping (Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory), then “in” the labyrinth one has an erroneous and defective memory, or else no memory at all.

                The labyrinth disorients the one “in” it, so that either he or she becomes explicitly lost to the lost others there, or else, as with the vampire, who while at a certain location does not appear in the mirror there, even when he or she is apparently in a certain zone of the labyrinth, he or she is not in it. To be in a place without being in it (as is made manifest by one’s absence in the mirror there), and vice versa: while not being in a place, to be in it—is this not a good definition of haunting? One is never fully in the labyrinth, but haunts it.

                The pursuers of the undead soon separate from each other, usually by first dividing at some crossroads into two groups ostensibly to maximize their chances of finding him. If it happens that there is a pregnant woman among them, she will not encounter the undead until either she aborts her fetus from fear or some other shock, or else gives birth, whether prematurely or not, to her baby only to get separated from him. Why is it one encounters the ghost or the vampire alone? Why is it that when one is with others he or she does not appear? Is it necessarily because he or she is a subjective hallucination of the witness? Rather, it is because the ghost or the vampire belongs to the labyrinthine realm of undeath, a realm where people are lost, including to each other.[vi] Therefore, the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who is seen by Hamlet in the company of Horatio and two guards, does not really belong to the undeath realm. It is a different matter with the ghost in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Lucius responds thus to Brutus’ offer that he sleep: “I have slept, my lord, already.” Brutus: “… And thou shalt sleep again; / I will not hold thee long …” (4.3). Lucius plays music for a short time and falls asleep; it is then that the threatening ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus. We can be lost together in a homogenous space; not so in a labyrinth, where we cannot be together and consequently cannot be lost together. Now that he was lost to the others, the vampire appeared to him. He began running but failed to evade his undead pursuer although the latter was walking nonchalantly. This failure confirmed the space to be a labyrinth.[vii] The circularity of time may still spare the pursued from the result of the circularity of space: he is still fleeing the vampire who has already caught him; the pursued asked himself then: “Was my fatal encounter with the vampire a dream or a hallucination?” If a community can vanquish the vampire, it is not because each of its members can deploy his or her expertise and knack in their communal fight against the undead, since “in” the labyrinth, they are lost to each other and so “confront” the vampire alone; but because their different fragments of narrative (letters, ship logs, diaries, etc.), each of which does not and cannot form a unified narrative, allow the intercutting of a smooth story and consequently the establishment of a map. The letters, ship logs, and diaries reaching someone from the various people who have each encountered the vampire alone “in” the labyrinth are a form of telepathy[viii] (the tele-mode truly comes into its own only when the separation between messenger and recipient is a labyrinth, the message then reaching the recipient notwithstanding that the messenger was lost and will remain lost “in” the labyrinth). It is thus fitting that it is the telepathic Mina who assembles them. It is only once the edited chronological narrative and the map that goes with it have been established that a communal encounter with the vampire can happen.

                In The Spider’s Stratagem, the farewell Athos receives from the only other passenger to leave the train on which he arrived at Tara in the beginning shot of the film marks the temporal threshold beyond which there is no return: Athos should have at that point left henceforth labyrinthine Tara.

                It is impossible to leave the labyrinthine realm of undeath. This impossibility can take several forms. I may not be able to physically leave: in Kubrick’s The Shining, Torrance is fatally frozen in the snow in the physical maze that is part of the labyrinthine hotel. I may lose consciousness at the border, whether in the manner of Harker in Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), who falls unconscious as he lets go of his too short rope dangling from the very high window of the otherwise closed castle; or, more frequently, by becoming entranced, so that not having any recollection of having crossed the border, I cannot be sure that while outside the labyrinth, I, or a version or component of me, am not still inside the labyrinth. Or else, while it may initially seem to others that I left the labyrinth, shortly enough discountenancing indications signal that it is another who left it: thus in Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979), while it seems that Harker succeeds in leaving Nosferatu’s castle, it shortly becomes manifest, through his failure to recognize his fiancée, his dreadful repulsion by consecrated wafer, his two fang-like teeth and his remarkable pallor, that the one who left the castle is actually the vampire.

                Death is not an issue out of the labyrinth.