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Humanist Archives: Jan. 25, 2022, 8:54 a.m. Humanist 35.486 - Calvino, mazes and labyrinths

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 486.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2022-01-25 01:25:20+00:00
        From: <>
        Subject: labyrinths and mazes >> Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence


Thank you for pointing to Italo Calvino’s lecture on ghosts and cybernetics.

I have been able to locate an English version in which Calvino “towards the end
of [his] little talk references the work of "German poet and critic Hans Magnus
Enzensberger, "Topological Structures in Modern Literature, " which [he] read in
the Buenos Aires magazine Sur (May-June 1966)"
I am curious as to how many languages this Enzensberger essay traversed before
landing in Calvino anglicized. I ask because one can technically distinguish
between a maze and a labyrinth in some usages of English.


A labyrinth has a single through-route with twists and turns but without
branches. A maze is a confusing pathway that has many branches, choices of path
and dead-ends. A labyrinth is not designed to be difficult to navigate. It may
be long but there is only one path (unicursal). A maze is a tour puzzle and can
be designed with various levels of difficulty and complexity.

<> [/cit]


Back translations of “maze” yield: das Labyrinth and der Irrgarten.
Whatever the sources of the Calvino quotation, he is read in English as saying:


But these games of orientation are in turn games of disorientation. Therein lies
their fascination and their risk. The labyrinth is made so that whoever enters
it will stray and get lost.

[cit] Calvino, Italo. (1986). The Uses of Literature. San Diego, New York,
London. Harcourt Brace & Company (trans. Patrick Creagh) [/cit]


Granted one can “get lost” in a labyrinth i.e. disoriented as to its length. But
I suggest that what is here in scope is a “maze” where wrong turns are easy to

Happy for any philological or bibliographic pointers to illumine what is for me
a mystery.

Thank you,


François Lachance, Ph.d.

living in the beginning of the long 22nd century; sequencing the  "future

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