The beginning that is already an end: finding the significance of labyrinthine travel


This contribution explores some of the paradoxes involved in travelling through a labyrinth. Labyrinths have sometimes been proffered as a form of travel. For instance, during the Middle Ages, Church officials encouraged persons to walk the path of a labyrinth whose centre was taken to represent the city of Jerusalem. Instead of actually going to the Holy Land, pilgrims undertook a path free of the dangers and distractions of more usual forms of travel. A revival of interest in labyrinths in the last decade has opened up many questions about what the labyrinth still has to offer. Why, we can ask, was a labyrinth earlier considered such an apt substitute for travel; and what can the journey through a labyrinth reveal about the nature of travel?

I will address these questions in two parts. First, I will discuss the labyrinth as a space of interiority still connected to the exterior world. This challenges the idea of travel as sheer escape and distraction from any circumstances that might impinge upon one’s (sense of) self in a current situation. Second, I will demonstrate how the circular and recursive path of the labyrinthine journey emphasises aspects of the learning particular to travel. Too often, the time between departure and arrival can often seem nothing more than a necessary inconvenience. In the labyrinth, path and central goal are each significant. The one who follows its path learns from repetition and from the ability to follow a course already laid out ahead and behind.


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