In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Irreducibility of Space:Labyrinths, Cities, Cyberspace
  • Kristin Veel

At a lecture on the history of the book in May 2003 at the University of Cambridge, Jerome McGann, a vehement spokesman for the cultural significance of information technology, was asked why it is at all worthwhile for literary scholars to occupy themselves with digital technologies. Why this marveling at the possibilities of the new media? His answer emphasized the opinion that literary scholars have an obligation to use their abilities of aesthetic analysis on new phenomena such as the interface, and to learn to take advantage of the possibilities that the new media offer their profession. Only by doing so is it possible to take part in the ongoing definition of what purposes these technologies serve. In contrast to this optimistic and affirmative attitude, we find polemical positions that are less eager to embrace the new media. In his most recent novella, Im Krebsgang, the Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass points to the dangers of the apparently ethically neutral spatial freedom of the internet. Grass claims that this neutrality blurs the sense of history and continuity compared to the more ethically coherent realm of literature in the traditional sense. Information technology and the ever greater impact it has on our everyday lives, right down to the metaphors we use, are thus greeted with an equal amount of optimism and pessimism, if at all taken seriously as an object of study outside small dedicated circles. As such, the reception of digital media today resembles the way in which photography and film were initially addressed with an equal amount of hope and fear, but above all conceptualized as less-profound expressions of popular culture well into the twentieth century. Much of the distrust of information technology and digital narratives as an object of study for the humanities originates in the emergence of these new media coinciding with the prevalence of poststructuralist theory, which saw in the technology a practical proof of the assumption of a play of signifiers, fragmentation, multilinearity, and the death of the author. This meant that the future possibilities for the technology, rather than the actual realities, were highlighted; and once the first wave of euphoria had subsided, a humanistic approach to cyberspace and information technology was to a certain extent stigmatized as being immaterial and lofty speculation. McGann's answer to the skeptic member of the audience in 2003 emphasizes the necessity of a profound attempt to make use of the actual possibilities that the digital technologies provide. One should not overemphasize the revolutionary potential of the new media, nor shut one's mind to new possibilities. If successful, this balancing act renders it possible to create a coherent continuity in the study of information technology that aims at mapping out the ways in which media are part of shaping our lives, our values, and the way we relate to the world. To provide a starting point for this approach, I shall examine the way in which we relate to and navigate the space that computer media conjure up through an investigation of the metaphors by which we conceptualize it, and thus aim at an anthropology of media that is able to define the qualities of what we call cyberspace. [End Page 151]

The word "cyber" derives from the Greek word kybernan, which means "coxswain" and which is present in the English "cybernetics," meaning "control of information." The word itself thus harbors a notion of a mass of information that needs steering and which is situated in a certain space that arises from the interaction between a user and a computer. I shall attempt to identify here the characteristics and qualities of this notion of space by tracing the historical roots of navigation and orientation from the labyrinth metaphor through to the modern industrial city and into cyberspace. This somewhat circuitous method is necessary because it makes it possible to read this more or less abstract type of space as linked to a bodily orientation that calls for experience just as much as for rational analysis. Furthermore, it provides a way of avoiding the poststructuralist discourse, which—with a starting point in Derrida's remark "Il...