Friday, 24 October 2014. Labyrinths. For the last ten years I've been tinkering with what I originally called "a continuous, open-structure novel." The project took the shape of a "forking-paths" or "choose your own adventure" book. There's even a version of the novel that I prepared for a story app for portable electronic devices. More recently, I started revising that text for this web site. The title for the novel is Into the Labyrinth. Which is a fairly obvious metaphor for the structure I had in mind. I wanted to create a body of text(s) that the reader could wander in maze-fashion.
In Walter Benjamin's "A Berlin Chronicle" (found in the volume Reflections published by Schocken) he writes about a moment when he was in Paris and had vision of his past life which took the form of a diagram. The original diagram was like a branching tree. That piece of paper with the tree-diagram of his past life disappeared. A couple of years later, Benjamin tried to reconstruct in his mind this diagram and it seemed to him (in this reconstruction) to resemble a labyrinth with many entrances.
Benjamin's description of his labyrinth, the interior structure of his life with many entry points, might be the inspiration for the structure that has emerged organically for this body of public writing which I've been posting to my web site over the past ten years. From the main page, a reader will find four entry points. Select any one of those and the journey begins. Once the reader is in the labyrinth, the neat borders suggested by those entry points are lost.
Themes and variations. My thinking (writing) and reading over the past years has been in reaction to the world we live in, and my attempt to find out why things are as they are. For example, why do so many of us spend so much of our time doing things we don't want to do? We labor for a wage, but the labor is not what we would chose for ourselves if we didn't have the economic pressure of covering the rent / mortgage and paying for food and other necessities.
When I finished grad school and started working a "real job" and I was thrust into society proper, out of the protected and artificial academic world that had been an like an extension of home life, I had to assume responsibility for the money I earned. My wife and I had bills to pay, but for the first time in our lives, we had some money left over to do with as we pleased. In addition to this "spending money" we had "free time" which was not claimed by our employers. Where did this "free time" come from? Was the time I spent at work "non-free time"? Was I a slave in the workplace? And when I tried to find things to do in my "free time", I found that most people went shopping to entertain themselves. Why was shopping the most popular free-time activity? Were there other things to do that didn't involve spending money?
At the same time I was thinking about these things, I was remembering my youth, growing up on a farm in Oklahoma and how we grew the food we ate and how our labor was directly related to providing food and shelter. When my wife and I bought our first house, we bought a property outside of town on a large enough lot for having a garden. While we never grew enough food to obviate the weekly trips to the grocery store, we were able to feel like we could if we wanted begin the process of minimizing our reliance on the industrial food production system which feeds most people in this country.
Tending to a garden was only one of the do-it-yourself activities that represented some form of resistance to global corporate culture and its homogenizing forces. I started to brew my own beer. As I became more active in the homebrewing movement, I learned more about craft beer and the relative small breweries all over the world that provided beer that was very different from the industrially produced yellow fizzy stuff.
What I was confronting was the economic system that shapes our lives and our available choices. The economic system in which I lived placed constraints on how I lived. Any time I decided to resist the dominant commercial culture, I found that I had to work harder to enjoy the benefits offered by small producers. The economic system resists attempts to bypass it.