Even if you opt to read Four Times Through the Labyrinth cover to cover, you won’t be reading straight through. The sequence is a puzzle; your mind will maze. The book, from German art publisher Spector Books, is based on a series of lectures. Four lectures, delivered by four people, in four consecutive months, in Leipzig, in late 2010—all on the topic of labyrinths.
The lecture format is made evident by the book’s design. Each page contains a single square-edged image, numbered with accompanying text. It’s a slideshow put to paper. (Beautiful paper. Artisanal vanilla ice cream color, with the odd speck. Soft like the skin inside your elbow, thin enough for the other side to show through.)
Through the Labyrinth performs entanglement. One slide will connect to another two lectures later. Sometimes images are repeated. Pantomiming its subject, the book’s contents diverge and loop.
Through the four lectures, labyrinths are discussed in their relation to urban space, network technology, games, gardens, and camps. Theseus is presented as an ancient rural tribesman encountering a city for the first time; as a Bell Labs mechanical mouse, one of the first machines capable of learning for itself; and as a colonizer, slayer of the new, the Other. The book reveals how there are many ways of looking at the same thing, how vantage informs and meaning twists. A labyrinth is a vastly different beast from a God’s eye view than in its midst.
Four Times Through the Labyrinth stuns when its materials echo your own station, like when news of the Ferguson shooting broke exactly as I was reading about the violence of the myth of the Minotaur. I flipped between the book and my newsfeeds. Slide 4.21: “...as though control can only ever be restored through the exercise of violence.” Slide 4.24: “A moment of trauma: the terror of the new.” Slide 4.28: “Can such deep-seated fears be overcome?” The connection may be a stretch, but that’s, I think, what this book does best: stretches your imagination, opening the mind to many views.
Four Times Through the Labyrinth was edited by Olaf Nicolai and Jan Wenzel based on a series of lectures by Alexander Hempel, Johannes Kirsten, Anne König, and Francis Hunger. The first English edition was published in 2012 by Spector Books.