Postmodern Alice 7 – In The Labirinth

What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” : the question that opens horizontallyAlice’s adventures, intersects with the topic that covers them vertically. Which way, which way, asks Alice facing the hall doors at the end of the underground tunnel into which she has fallen. As well as when she wonders in the woods where she meets the Cheshire Cat, and in many others moments, constantly prey to this disorientation that is perhaps the most emblematic element of the current world. (This is exactly the title of the famous collective volume edited by Celati in 1977 – Alice disambientata – Alice dislocated-).

Why is that? The answer is simple: in the Wonderland labyrinths, as well as in the contemporary world, there is no default route. You must build your own route, the one that passes through the definition of your multiple identities. Wonderland is so strongly perceived as a labyrinth (which Carroll was fascinated from an early age so much so that he produced numerous ones) that mirrors the contemporary world. For example the filmmakers of the movie Labyrinth – Where anything is possible ( directed by Jim Henson starring David Bowie, 1986) admitted having multiple influences, including, in addition to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of OZ, and the works of Maurice Sendak and M.C. Escher.

“The quest theme is often used in the Fantasy genre, both literary and cinematic, with mixed results. In fact, it is not simple to develop an interesting and profound journey, often aimed at finding a particular object from the special powers, which coincides with the initiatory journey of the protagonist. One of the models  to the discovery of the  inner Self is that which combines the “real” world ( meant as daily world) to the “fantastic” one (meant not as “unreal” , since reality can be subjective, but rather as an alternative world to it). Undoubtedly, in literature, the best knowned examples of these kinds are The Wizard of Oz, by L. Baum and Alice in Wonderland by L. Carroll.

In both works, the protagonist through a series of rites of passage discovers herself and some truths of existence, through the fantasy world in which she is located temporarily. Thus it is evident the similarities between these classics of Fantasy literature and the Labyrinth plot, which was clearly based on these two books, which develop and add similar themes.Sarah’s purpose, a girl on the verge of adolescence, is to cross the Labyrinth in order to find her little brother kidnapped by Jareth, King of the Goblin; a serious challenge, given that the Labyrinth is an ever-changing kingdom, full of surprises, and the brave girl must endure many trials. Reaching the center of the Labyrinth will also mean to achieve a new awareness of herself.” [i]

More explicitly, we recall that since 1992 is available an area at Paris Disneyland called Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, built around the characters and scenes of the movie, it particularly reproduces the same labyrinth in which moves the Queen of Hearts in the movie version. More recently it has been produced a 3D game that leads to all levels of Alice’s journey to reach the exit and wake her from Wonderland. This game is available only in English at App Store, Alice in Labyrinth, 8,5MB and will download for €1,59.  Still, it is worth mentioning the touring theme exhibition, Nel Labirinto di Alice (In Alice’s labyrinth), created by Librarians of the ZEROVENTI Promotion Group, on behalf of Brescia Cultural Association Liber.arti [ii]

At this point, I believe it is worth to remember that not all labyrinths are the same. The labyrinth is an ancient structure: it is a universal object, widespread. This is demonstrated by the careful study of mythology by Kereny’s (In the labyrinth, 1941), which traces the geographical coordinates with detailed connections purporting to demonstrate its essential archetype. In fact, as a symbolic object, the labyrinth lends itself to representing the world with such an ideographic force to be applicable to multiple levels of human existence. For example, Giovanni Sartori remembers the extraordinary virtuosity of Norberto Bobbio when he “points out his own way of understanding the world, by summarizing in three metaphors the three possible ways to interpret history: the fly in the bottle, the fish in the net, and the labyrinth.

“In the first metaphor the task of philosophy is to teach to the fly how to get out of the bottle: thus implying that there is a way out and that there is a spectator, the philosopher that is, who knows where the exit is. This contrasts with the interpretation of the metaphor of the fish in the net, struggling to find its way out, but there is none and the fish does not know that. Bobbio wonders if men are like the fly in a bottle or the fish in the net. Neither one nor the other, he replies: the human condition can be better represented with a third image, which he prefers, that of the labyrinth: we believe we know that there is a way out, but we do not know where it is. No one else can show it to us; we must seek it out ourselves. What the labyrinth teaches is not where the exit is, but what the pathways that lead nowhere are”. [iii]

Still, it is not difficult to identify the famous, essentially labyrinthine, Library of Babel by Borges, with corridors and intersections, laid out in a multilevel and infinite shape. We go back to the global metaphor of the world as a book, and as a labyrinth of which modern culture is saturated (and which are often the focus of intellectuals analysis, such as Umberto Eco, who has largely used this theme in his book Il nome della Rosa ).

It can be also extended to the universe of social organizations, and the company in particular. In this sense (I bring back some observations developed in L’impresa shakespeariana-The Shakespearian Company,ETAS,2002) labyrinths, texts and companies can be schematically summarized as follows:

TYPE 1: uni-cursal/ mono-directional: it is the classic labyrinth of only one spiralling corridor and it does not have bifurcations, where it is hard to get lost.  We can envision it as a rope wrapped around itself. The explorer will get in it and out without fail. On a narrative standpoint, a story or a novel are mono-directional: they start from the beginning to the end without any possible deviation. From this point of view the “paper” version of Alice books is no exception. In the management history, this mono-directional and deterministic trend corresponds to the Taylorist setting, to the Ford factory, to the assembly line.

TYPE2: tree shaped. It is the Mannerist labyrinth, with multiple corridors starting from intersections. Even here, there is only one way to get to the centre, but various branches cross it, and the navigator, upon ending the branch exploration, will have to go back where he started, take next bifurcation, and potentially explore the subsequent branch and so forth. This is the kind of labyrinth Disneyland dedicated to Alice. Eco compares this kind of labyrinth to game books, in which the reader identifies with the protagonist and goes from a point to another of the book depending on the choices the books require him to perform. In the companies, this duplicity starts setting a trend with the matrix organizations, where according to the case the person has to choose between directives coming from the hierarchy or the functional contact, rarely consistent one with the other. A typical example is a multinational corporation composed of multiple divisions that respond to a corporate. Each division is independent for what concerns it current management, but must receive the approval of the Corporate for its key strategic decisions. In this context, each corporate function manager has authority over the divisions’ homogeneous functions, which, however, respond hierarchically to their Division manager. Anyone who has experienced the reality of this model (in theory, absolutely clear)    knows very well the multiple issues that may arise.

TYPE 3: rhizome type, it is the modern labyrinth, where potentially all corridors are linked to a network of relationships that allow multiple routes. Compared to type 2, it has transversal routes from a branch to the other. You can get lost in this labyrinth, and the explorer is likely to be trapped in it. As happens in  video games, which to a great extent are nothing more than interactive labyrinths: for exampleAlice: Madness returns [iv] a game for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, published in June 2011. As we learn from Wikipedia “it is the sequel of the game American McGee’s Alice, released in 2000 for Windows and Mac. The game is loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s works, The adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking Glass.”

According to Eco, the encyclopaedia has a rhizome structure. It reflects also those organizations that have proceeded to an aggressive organizational levelling. Here other forms of integration such as the task forces and project teams have gradually replaced the hierarchy, at least partially.

We are again in front of a close universe, where the boundaries between what is inside and what is outside of a business the company are still outlined. For example in such companies communication is identified with the creation and exchange of messages, targeted to achieving specific scopes, amongst organizational units characterized by hierarchical or functional relationships ( internal communication) or between the latter and the environment ( external communication) .

TYPE 4: To this latter type, the contemporary world allows to add a fourth type, different from the others in quality, where “labyrinth is said in different ways” and “it doesn’t exclude the other types, but considers them as temporary phases and partial moments of its mobile reality [v]. If we consider only one traveller in the labyrinth (the legendary Theseus) and only one path, then the type 4 labyrinth is characterized as “ polyvocal” for the characteristic of multiple possible visions within itself.

Evidently, this fourth model better represents the narrative post-modern tool for excellence: the Hypertext, characterized by the lack of a specific guideline, and by the disappearance of hierarchical direction. Thus in the organizational models, as well as in the social, political and pedagogical ones, we are gradually transferring from hierarchical labyrinths to the widespread ones; from typical rigid structures to decentralized ones: “ Almost any moment in contemporary life ( work, leisure, information, use of urban reality) is marked by a strong presence of disorganized, non-sequential, scattered communicative events.

We could say almost paradoxically that every day life takes place within a macro-hypertext, composed of television, radio, newspaper and magazines, advertising, where it is  fundamental to navigate and chose the correct route to get the measure of one’s position in the world” [vi]

This transition is evident in the corporate world. Compared to the organizational premises that are common to the first three models described, today new others have emerged, such as:

  • It is getting more and more difficult to determine who is inside and who is outside of the organization;
  • Sharing of the production process of meanings is required;
  • It is more relevant the know-how horizontal socialization than the vertical division of work;
  • Such as in the hypertexts everything is fluid, temporary and changeable, in current business structures, roles, tasks are never clearly defined, but are always in progress.

Due to these motives, organizations strongly centralized are in crisis. In companies, the issue becomes the organization of knowledge when usual methods fail. It is a difficult problem of strategic order (it requires a comprehensive rethinking of both the guidelines, through which innovation is developed, and of the whole corporate culture, starting from the organizational models and from the management methods), which also requires a strong innovation in terms of technical means. The extremely fast development of web 2.0 makes it increasingly urgent to address these issues. A typical example of how companies do not know how to handle this aspect, is the creation of pages or groups on Facebook to subsequently deny the access though firewalls to their employees. I believe that banning ( and spending quite a lot of money in the process) the access of “becoming a fan” , to those who work for you, is truly a explosive message and a blatant symptom of mental confusion of the scientific management “Burocrats-saurus”, who are unfortunately still anchored in the main command positions ( and to the control levels), both in companies and in the other vital ganglia of our society ( starting from politicians totally bipartisan in this respect).

Thus, here Alice’s thought can be helpful. John Fischer, speaking of the very early passion for labyrinths Carroll displayed, recalls a very meaningful episode: “Carroll often drew intricate paths for his little friends. That was the way Giorgina Watson, affectionately called Ina, would collect  the instructions for the letters forming her sisters names, Hartie and Mary, before she could reach the destination designated by her own name” [vii].  In other words : to know yourself you have to use your explorative wit, and to accept, as Bobbio taught, the risks that come with the research of ever new itineraries in order to access constantly different and evolving ways of knowledge, which, above all,  go through the layout and the update of your social relation network (social networks).

In the same way on a collective standpoint, High risk and shared access are the lintels of anexplorative organization in the current world.  This through the actions of its actors who populate it,does not hold a predefined order, but set itself  - and even dangerously -  to regenerate each time , an order emerging from below, from the  initiatives of many groups and many individuals, but mostly an order that is defined and validated by the subjects themselves. 

7. To be Continued.

Translation from Marco Minghetti’s Alice Annotata 7

by Sabrina Fiorella Larson








[vii] Cit. pag. 26.


Go to Postmodern Alice


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