- Reviewed by
Donald Gutierrez's The Maze in the Mind and the World is not a study of imagery, as its preface immediately makes clear. "Only a few of the works discussed in this collection are treated directly as harboring mazes or labyrinths." Instead, the works of literature discussed in the essays harbor figurative labyrinths: "complex or chaotic social conditions, biological or social necessity, physical or social confinement or uncertainty." In addition, the figure of the maze or labyrinth furnishes the book's "master metaphor" or organizing principle. Mr. Gutierrez's twelve essays on twentieth-century British and American literature are subdivided under headings representing "entrances," "mazes" (including mazes of eros and mazes of society), and, finally, "exits."
The long opening essay deals with the labyrinth figure in dreams (Ernest Jones), in myth (Robert Graves, Michael Ayrton), and literature (James, Kafka, Forster, Joyce's Portrait, and Borges's "Garden of Forking Paths"); it concludes that the maze or labyrinth symbolizes "all the disturbing and compelling entrapments that try our deepest capacities for self-destruction and self-development." It is followed by a brief essay on Lawrence's "Fish," treating the poem as a "lament for the unattainability of a unified or whole self."
In the next section we are led into the maze proper. Mazes of eros are represented by essays on Yeats and the noh theatre, sodomy in Lady Chatterley's Lover, sexual comedy in Tropic of Cancer, and the love poetry of Kenneth Rexroth. Social mazes are suggested by essays on Synge's Playboy of the Western World as a puberty rite of passage and an especially rich essay on B. Traven's 1926 novel Death Ship as a study of the relationship between the phenomena of statelessness and the police state, the latter essay amplified by Hannah Arendt's The Origins [End Page 690] of Totalitarianism. The final section, "Exits," evokes twentieth-century mankind's experiences of the numinous. A study of Lawrence's travel writing focuses on the Italian books; it is followed by a brief, persuasive look at "round" poems by Stevens and Williams. "Stevens's jar and Williams's dance embody magical circles always there for anyone who feels that immortality has to do with activities as aesthetically and humanly fundamental as organizing and enjoying space." Finally, after a look at natural supernaturalism in Kenneth Rexroth's poetry, which "aspires to the paradox of meaning, not being, while implying a significant if non-discursive reality," the book ends with an examination of light imagery in Richard Eberhart. "This 'light from above' irradiates enough of Eberhart's verse to suggest a viable secular mysticism for an age perhaps too convinced of its own invalidity or even its own non-existence."
It is perfectly possible to read The Maze as a collection of literary essays, each valuable in its own right, whose unity is provided only by the presence throughout of the same lively, perceptive, and informed author. One's impression is that of wandering in a garden rather than a labyrinth. Mr. Gutierrez is never polemical, save now and then on behalf of a neglected author or insufficiently appreciated work, and one never has the sense of being pressured toward some conclusion or overwhelming question. Yet the book's overall organization, with its Dantean progress through incoherence and despair into the suggestion of spiritual enlightenment, does suggest a kind of narrative argument for literature as a way of learning what to believe and how to live.
Carl Ficken's hardworking paperback God's Story and Modern Literature, subtitled "Reading Fiction in Community," is about "stories and the church and the imagination," about the relationship between literature and theology and between "contemporary stories and the way Christians talk about their faith." It is not an attempt to "argue all the issues that...