Will he be a bull or a man? Will he perhaps be a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

Jorge Luis Borges, “The House of Asterion”

At the center of every labyrinth, there is meant to be a minotaur. This is the moral of the Cretan myth. The minotaur is you. The minotaur is a man and a beast. The minotaur is what you become. Slay the minotaur. Become the minotaur. You need the minotaur to slaughter the youth or take possession of them. You need the minotaur to become civilized. You need the minotaur to die. The minotaur is other, the minotaur is self. The minotaur is unbridled personhood. The minotaur is unbridled beasthood.

To slay the minotaur you will need: strength or a sword, thread (red and woolen), and a woman.

Letting the minotaur live is an atrocity. Killing the minotaur is an atrocity (he is someone’s son). This is the tragic paradox.

What is a labyrinth? The word comes from the Greek λαβὐρινθος, λαβὐρινθου ‘ο. It comes from the Lydian word for “axe,” or maybe “royal symbol,” or possibly the Phoenician word for “lane” or “passage.” A double edged passage for royalty. A treacherous path for the worthy. It was used, yes, to refer to Daedalus’ maze, but also to describe intestines–the inner guts, pulled out. The human maze, unearthed in a disemboweling. A single passage made to confuse and purify.

And who is the Minotaur? Asterion, according to some sources. A bull-man. A man-bull. Minos’ bull; a mother’s son, a father’s gentle love. A Father’s gentlest penalty. A curse or a blessing, rendered in the stars.

Jorge Luis Borges is fascinated with labyrinths. He is less fascinated with minotaurs, though they show up once or twice. For Borges, the labyrinth is all consuming; books are labyrinths, time is a labyrinth, libraries are labyrinths. Everything turns in upon itself in a never-ending maze which leads everywhere and nowhere at once. Borges plies his trade in paradoxes. However, the greatest paradox of Borges, to my mind, is the duplicity of his-‘self.’ Deceptively present, Borges’ ‘self’ runs rampant throughout his oeuvre, reflecting back at the reader in a maze of mirrors. In an attempt to disavow this individual personality, this identity, Borges undertakes the work of myth-writing. By this I mean that Borges attempts to distance himself from the world of the real or the individual by couching his writing in mythological structures, references, and characters – most frequently the labyrinth itself.

Indeed, it is this heavy layering of symbolism throughout Borges’ work which results in a complex representation of Borges The Man –  his fears, his anxieties, his desires. Borges is reimagining mythologies and using them to ironically reconstruct him-self.  Of course, he secretes this identity away, layering it under abstract language and hyper-metatextual references, always at the center of the labyrinth. However, within Borges’ own writings, the conceptual uses and definitions of ‘labyrinth’ includes personality, narrative, and literature. What, then, of the minotaur? Given the genuine presence of a minotaur in “House of Asterion” and the strong mythological shadow in Borges’ work, I believe that the correlating inclusions or exclusions of a minotaur can be used to explore the anxieties present within the narratives.  And subsequently, since narratives (i.e. the labyrinths) are the extent of Borges’ own concept of personality, the minotaur can be used as a proxy through which we can explore Borges’ own represented identity.

For Borges, there is essentially no concept of a personality, of a whole and individuated person who exists in continuity with himself. In his short essay, “The Nothingness of Personality,” Borges explicitly rejects the notion of personality, writing that “there is no whole self. He who defines personal identity as the private possession of some depository of memories is mistaken” (Borges, 3). He spends the next thousand words of this essay agonizing over the “Atlases” of literature who are susceptible to this fallacy, who are too attached to a notion of the ‘ego’ or to a notion of personality (Borges, “The Nothingness of Personality,” 3). This early essay effectively prophesies Borges’ subsequent pursuit of a universal identity, undistinguished from any alternate or alterior specific identity. Nearly all of his writings feature characters that fall into a mythological structure, which is to say that these characters are not individuated or ‘rounded’ as E.M. Forster would inevitably describe. Instead, they appear to be uninvolved representations fully embedded in an imaginal space: constructed or abstracted symbolisms of ideologies and curiosities.

While Borges denies the existence or worthiness of an overt personality (ego), one might simultaneously argue that he does in fact retain a sense of respect for identity, and further that his conception of identity is linked to literature. In “A Profession of Literary Faith,” Borges slightly contradicts himself, postulating “that all literature, in the end, is autobiographical” (Borges, 23). However, we can also interpret from numerous essays and short stories (“Coleridge’s Dream,” “Pascal’s Sphere,” “The Library of Babel,” “Kafka and His Precursors,” to name a few) that in Borges’ paradigm, all literature is a single body of work, produced by a single author, inconceivably and irrefutably linked to another aspect of that same, arch-author.  Literature in Borges’ mind is a unified multiplicity, a mediation between the individual and the collective. Indeed, narrative features in Borges’ works are described as biographies written by a single author, a single nous; ironically (for someone who has disavowed Freud), this can be understood as a collective unconscious of sorts, working to contribute to one single autobiographical narrative.

Take, for example “Coleridge’s Dream.” Here, Borges outlines the reiteration of identical dreams in time. He ponders the meaning of this magical repetition, wondering if

Perhaps an archetype not yet revealed to men, an eternal object (to use Whitehead’s term), is gradually entering the world; its first manifestation was the palace; its second was the poem. Whoever compared them would have seen that they were essentially the same. (Borges, 369)

 The implication here is that a single consciousness, spanning corporeal containment and temporal restriction, underlies individual creative endeavors based on identical concepts, manifested differently depending on (as much as Borges would object to the use of this term) personality.

Thus, for Borges there is no personality, yet there is identity conceived by means of literature. All literature is a single body of work, yet all literature is autobiographical. The postmodern complexity of these concepts is at once exhausting and enlightening. It is precisely this complexity that enables us to understand the pervasiveness of labyrinths in the Borgesian ouvre. Hendia Baker writes that the labyrinth “has experienced a revival in postmodern literature, where the labyrinth is viewed as text, and the text as labyrinth” (Baker, 297-8). For Borges, all literature is similarly labyrinthine, for “to move through a labyrinth is to explore an unknown space. In this sense, reading any narrative text could be thought of as the exploration of a labyrinth” (Weed, 162). Libraries, the resting place of books and (since narratives are autobiographies) identities, are similarly described as labyrinths in Borges, containing the universe, and all other labyrinths. The postmodern literary labyrinth is a temporal-spatial one, occupying space, time, and symbolism, leading the reader through confusing and changeable paths through time.

Borges’ labyrinths are similarly unstable, representing at once identity, life, death and literature as a whole.  In “The Garden of Forking Paths,” we read that Dr. Yu Tsun, a German spy on a mission, is the great-grandson of writer Ts’ui Pen, who “renounced all temporal power in order to write a novel containing more characters than the Hung Lu Meng and to construct a labyrinth in which all men would lose their way” (Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” 122). Tsun confronts his victim, Dr. Albert, a Sinologist who believes he has come to understand Ts’ui Pen’s lost labyrinth. Tsun despises his grandfather’s novel, exclaiming that it is “a contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts” because “in the third chapter the hero dies, yet in the fourth he is alive again” (Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” 124). Of course, we can anticipate that this is the very point of Pen’s novel; to lead us through time, to a center. Tsun, however, disowns the labyrinth of his grandfather, believing that it is the failure of a great intellect who has lost a sense of reality, or individual orthodoxy.  He is rebuffed by Dr. Albert:  

Here is the Labyrinth ,” Albert said, gesturing towards a tall lacquered writing cabinet. “An ivory labyrinth! ” I [Tsun] exclaimed. “A very small sort of labyrinth .. . ” “A labyrinth of symbols,” he corrected me. “An invisible labyrinth of time” (Borges, 124).

The labyrinth is not, as Tsun believed, purely physical, but rather an allegorical labyrinth of idiolect: the novel itself. All fictions, for Borges (and perhaps for us all), are labyrinths of symbols. Indeed, he explicitly conflates the two, eliding the distinction between the individual and the universal, writing that “book and labyrinth were one and the same” (Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” 124). Borges continually “defines the labyrinth as a ‘magical symbol’ and underpins the double binding of its meaning,” referring to this symbol constantly and mercurially while simultaneously deferring to it power (Yalçiner, 125).

In summary: for Borges, there is no personality, yet there is identity. Furthermore, all narrative and all literature is understood to be a manifestation of a labyrinth. That is to say: personhood can be found within narrative and literature, and narrative, literature, and libraries are all described as labyrinths. Labyrinths, thus, have some meaningful relevance to identity for Borge. The multiplicity of labyrinths therefore implies a multiplicity of identities;

“The Garden of Forking Paths” by Ts ‘ui Pen is a labyrinth. “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Borges is a labyrinth. Language is a labyrinth of symbols. Therefore, we have a labyrinth within a labyrinth within a labyrinth. “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Ts’ui Pen is a labyrinth inside the labyrinth of “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Borges and both are inside the labyrinth of symbols that is language. (Goff, 14)

Language–as a labyrinth–is used to mediate as well as to form and reform identities, all of which is represented through narratives (labyrinths), and kept in libraries (further labyrinths). The recursion continues ad infinitum, but Borges’ use of mythological time and space to bury the ‘self’ in a labyrinth is revealed.

These referential or intangible labyrinths bear little resemblance to the labyrinths of mythology, save in one way; those ancient mazes were also intended to repress something horrific at its center, something unwanted and alienated.  Indeed, many critics interpret the center of Borges’ labyrinths as an allegory for human existence or the encompassing nature of the universe (Murillo, 1959; Dauster, 1962; Frisch, 2004).[i] Furthermore, “virtually all of Borges’ characters strive to experience a moment of enlightenment at this center. In many cases, this enlightenment is a justification of life that inevitably ends in death” (Tilney, 52).  In other words, for Borges, this center – both essential and horrific – is the self. For Minos, it was the Minotaur.

It is page seven, and I have not yet started to discuss the minotaur. I was holding off, partially for dramatic effect, and partially because I wanted to be sure that I had thoroughly explained my understanding of the labyrinth as a labyrinth and as a postmodern representation of literature, the self, and life. I am still unsatisfied. A final attempt.

Labyrinth: From the Greek, λαβύρινθος (labyrinthos).

1. A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way; a constructed maze (Webster’s).

2. A postmodern literary convention implying a rejection of time, space, and language for the sake of a complex relation of deeper meanings through a system of communicable signs and signified.

3. A structure constructed to pen a beast; a cage built to hold something dangerous and terrifying and keep the world safe from it.

            There are literally hundreds of labyrinths or references to labyrinths in Borges’ body of work. However, there is only one named minotaur and two oblique references to minotaurs in general. What, then, lies at the center of Borges’ (literal and metaphorical) labyrinths? And, given the interconnectedness of Borges’ labyrinths with literature and thus identity, what pathos lie at the heart of Borges’ labyrinths? What anxieties lie at the heart of Borges’ recursive labyrinths? What form is the personality which Borges claims is made of nothing?

            First, I’d like to return to the original labyrinth of Greek mythology. Apollodorus’ Library (another reference to a library, another labyrinth within a labyrinth) offers the fullest account of the tale. Apollodorus recounts the story of the labyrinth built by Daedalus, constructed to house the Minotaur, a half-bull-half-man. Asterius, the minotaur, is the result of a union between his mother Pasiphaë and a bull, brought about by the sea-god Poseidon. Sources differ on whether this birth was divine punishment or whim. Minos, the king of Crete and the stepfather of sorts to the Minotaur, orders the King of Athens to sacrifice fourteen youths to the Minotaur as revenge for the death of his true-born son. Theseus, the prince of Athens chooses to seek the Minotaur in order to slay it and free his people from its savagery.

What, then, is this labyrinth? Explicitly, it is a cage, meant to contain the Minotaur. However, the Minotaur of the myth “is often interpreted as guarding a border. Instead of a physical border, however, Asterius guards a metaphysical and liminal border within the labyrinth” (Lacy, 22). The minotaur in the ancient text represents monstrosity; a terrifying being sent by divinity as punishment and shame; by nature and by description, it is something to be placated and hidden. Yet its ‘liminality,’ its existence behind the walls of the labyrinth, imply a secondary allegory. The minotaur—that half beast, half man—can be understood to represent the Freudian id: the instinctive animalistic impulse within us all which does not pay credence to civilized law or politeness. The id lacks the complex reasoning required to navigate constructed society (i.e. the labyrinth), as well as the ability to restrain impulsivity. It is the core human animal.  It is that within us all which we seek or hope to hide or repress; the inciter of shameful or violent actions. It also represents the conquerable monster, the beatable fear which can be slain, and whose origins and pathos are secondary to the human victory over fear, shame, and beastiality.

Borges inverts this paradigm. He gives the minotaur a name, an identity, agency and artistry. In the short story “House of Asterion,” Borges introduces the main character as someone’s son, named Asterion, who narrates his tale using the first person, “I.” Indeed, “referring to Asterion by name hides “the pejorative meaning of Minotaur” and, furthermore, masks Asterion’s monstrosity from the uninformed reader.” The monstrosity of Asterion’s nature is withheld; the “pejorative meaning of Minotaur” is obscured by the name ‘Asterion’ until the last line, an epilogue seemingly included by an editor (Davis, 141). The labyrinth is not a cage; it is the minotaur’s home, which he may leave whenever he chooses.  Indeed, Asterion remarks that it is a “ridiculous falsehood” that he is a prisoner, explaining that “there are no locked doors;” if he wished to, he could “step into the street” (Borges, “House of Asterion,” 221). A fully individuated person, he is undefeated by the labyrinth, assuming ownership of it.

Yet, for all his pride, Asterion is painfully self-aware. He knows that “they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps of misanthropy, and perhaps of madness” (Borges, “House of Asterion,” 220). He is lonely, also, seeking to play with “the other Asterion.” He perceives his killing rituals as a necessary release from evil, and longs for a “redeemer” to offer the same fate to him. Indeed, we learn from Theseus that Asterion did not resist death. I imagine he welcomed it. In this way, suspended between monstrousness, loneliness, and redemption, the Borgesian Minotaur Asterion inhabits a permanent Lacanian mirror stage – the crucial stage of development in which an infant develops a sense of self. Asterion at once recognizes himself for what he is, referring to himself as ‘I,’ but cannot fully integrate it; this failure to fully integrate reality (monstrosity) with imagination (nobility). The minotaur becomes a Lacanian infant, embodying the fears of an adult, unable to develop further (Lacan, 1949). Borges redraws the minotaur doubly. Asterion is sympathetic, a lonely and immature being, isolated and imaginative. Yet, he is repulsive, an object of failed humanity from which a fully developed being ought to emerge.

Thus is the minotaur. And yet, what does this matter? I would like to now refocus on Asterion, the monster who wonders if “perhaps I have created the stars and the sun and this enormous house, but I no longer remember” (Borges, “House of Asterion,” 221) This moment of unknowing-demiurgy strikes a chord in the reader. A reader with knowledge of mythology knows the impossibility of Asterion’s sentiment, yet the wistfulness of this false-pride rings true. I posit that this is the moment in which we see Borges merging most completely with his stories. Asterion dreams of having created the labyrinth – his home and trap, the universe and its inhabitants – and wants at once to live within it and to be freed from it. So too does Borges, with his continual alliance of words with labyrinths and life, consistently attempt to become the ‘creator,’ the unpresent demiurge who joins or manifested literature. The painful sympathy for Asterion, who strikes the reader as Borges’ only fully ‘rounded’ character, suggests a certain closeness between the two. As Stephen Davies writes, “that Borges even allows us to guess what a monster such as the Minotaur might be thinking demonstrates how far he attempts to humanize the normally unvoiced Other that is the monster” (Davis 141).  It is this story which reveals the hopes and fears of the writer; to create a labyrinth of his own, which encompasses the universe, and to be free of it.

            But this is only one example of minotaur among the thousands of Borges’ labyrinths, and the only one who is given a name. This manifestation is relieved of its monstrousness, given humanity and conviction; the other two mentions remain thoroughly monstrous. Indeed, throughout time (as in Borges) the minotaur has been written as monstrous; this is not quite sufficient for our understanding of the Borgesian minotaur. The minotaur can (should) be abstracted, re-defined as fear and personhood simultaneously. Its symbolism is completely entwined with the imaginative uncanniness of a labyrinth, and both minotaur and labyrinth come to represent “a particular being [which] not only acts as an element of a shapeless and structureless whole…but also as a peripheral element orbiting around a nucleus where being hardens” (Bataille, 175). Where, then, are the other minotaurs? What fears do they represent? A labyrinth without a minotaur is only an artifice, a puzzle, a game for children grown from corn. Borges himself acknowledges the absurdity, stating that

If there’s no minotaur, then the whole thing’s incredible. You have a monstrous building built round a monster, and that in a sense is logical. But if there is no monster, then the whole things is senseless, and that would be the case for the universe, for all we know. (Borges, Conversations, 87).

Thus, in order for the labyrinth to make sense, it must contain a minotaur. Furthermore, recall that Borges perceives of the universe as a labyrinth. He further perceives of identity as being grounded in labyrinths, of narrative and literature being labyrinthine, of “universal history [as] the history of a few metaphors,” re-inflected and repeated ad infinitum into a compounding labyrinth (Borges, “Pascal’s Sphere,” 351). Given the sheer number of labyrinths, the importance of their symbolism, and Borges’ own acknowledgement of the necessity of minotaurs (symbolic or otherwise), where are the other minotaurs? What are the minotaurs? What lies at the center of Borges’ monstrous labyrinths?

The first of two other literal minotaurs in Borges is within the short story “Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari, Murdered in His Labyrinth.” It is a brief reference to the original Grecian myth, nested within the story.  Ibn-Hakam has died, his house is a labyrinth, and the two main characters, Unwin and Dunraven, attempt to understand his death. In discussing the circumstances of Ibn-Hakam’s death and murderer, the labyrinthine quality of the house, and the necessity of a minotaur to occupy it, Unwin remarks that

The Minotaur more than justifies the existence of the labyrinth—but no one can say the same for a threat dreamed in a dream. Once one seizes upon the image of the Minotaur (an image that’s unavoidable when there’s a labyrinth in the case) the problem is all but solved. (Borges, “Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari, Murdered in His Labyrinth,” 260).

The two men ultimately conclude that

The essential thing was that Ibn-Hakam died. He pretended to be Ibn-Hakam, killed Ibn-Hakam, and at last was Ibn-Hakam.” “Yes,” agreed Dunraven. “He was a wanderer who, before becoming no one in death, would recall once having been a king, or having pretended to be a king.” (Borges, “Ibn-Hakam,” 262).

The overwhelming sense is that Ibn-Hakam was himself the Minotaur and, much like Asterion himself, in a constant state of being and becoming.

The minotaurian form alluded to here echoes “The House of Asterion,” reinforcing the sense of an incomplete multiplicity encaged within a single being – a multiplicity which is at once beautiful and horrifying. Like Asterion, Ibn-Hakan was a man who was not, who wished to be, and who became; a being longing to become an individual. The question posed by Asterion, concerning his redeemer/murderer, is relevant here (a hint of metatextuality is frequent in Borges’ works). Asterion wonders “will he be a bull or a man? Will he perhaps be a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?” (Borges, 222). The potent anxiety at the core of “House of Asterion” is again clear: the dichotomous and profound fears of becoming fully individuated, knowing oneself, and not knowing oneself at all.

The final direct reference to minotaurs is in the short story “There Are Other Things.” The main character dreams of a miniature labyrinth, and seeking the Minotaur, uses “magnifying glass to try to find the [it]. At last I saw it. It was the monster of a monster; it looked less like a bull than like a buffalo, and its human body was lying on the ground. It seemed to be asleep, and dreaming—but dreaming of what, or of whom?” (Borges, “There Are Other Things,” 440). As in “House of Asterion,” the style of this story is monologic, a form which in the former enables the reader to connect directly to Asterion’s consciousness and experience the world through his mind. Through this participatory engagement, the reader understands that Asterion’s house, the labyrinth, is a metaphor (chaotic, inexplicable) for Asterion’s existence itself. “There Are Other Things” initially reverses this experience, making the reader a consumer of the minotaur’s monstrosity once again. Then just as quickly, we are offered a humanizing, homologizing feature; the minotaur, like the narrator, is dreaming—of a ‘who,’ a being with consciousness. The minotaur and the narrator merge in this shared aspect: the shared experience of witnessing that which is unbearable within the dream.

The actual labyrinth dreamed by the narrator shares more, however, with that of the original myth, in which the Minotaur was condemned to a dark and nightmarish labyrinth because of his beastly nature. The labyrinth in “The House of Asterion,” as Martin Tilney writes, “is an intransitive space where actions have no impact and nothing makes sense. Within the labyrinth, the only “reality” is death—the death of the sacrifice victims and the death of Asterion himself. Everything else is either imagination or illusion” (Tilney, 55) Asterion is unable to comprehend the incompleteness, the mystery of his own existence, and thus creates his own meanings.[ii] In this second story, a similar undertaking is attempted, and meaning is assigned in a complex and chaotic labyrinth of dreams, but the labyrinth itself is seen as a container for the beast rather than a created object, home, or image of the universe.

            There are too many labyrinths lacking concrete minotaurs to explore them all. I choose instead to focus on one example of an implied minotaur negotiating the liminal space between self and other, which I feel represents the majority: that within “Death and the Compass.” “Death and the Compass” revolves around the efforts of the determined detective Lönnrot and his nemesis the Red Sarlach. Sarlach creates a trap to beguile and murder the detective, arranging a set of murders which seemingly follow a Kabbalistic pattern, revealing the true name of God and ultimately leading Lönnrot to a confrontation with the criminal. Sarlach explains that Lönnrot had arrested his brother, leading him to realize that

the world was a labyrinth, from which it was impossible to flee, for all paths, whether they seemed to lead north or south, actually led to Rome, which was also the quadrilateral jail where my brother was dying and the villa of Triste-le-Roy. During those nights I swore by the god who sees from two faces, and by all the gods of fever and of mirrors, to weave a labyrinth around the man who had imprisoned my brother. (Borges, “Death and the Compass,” 155)

Lönnrot responds that Sarlach’s trap is too complex, that he “know[s] of a Greek labyrinth which is a single straight line. Along this line so many philosophers have lost themselves that a mere detective might well do so too” (Borges, “Death and the Compass,” 155). Sarlach, aiming his gun at the detective, responds that “the next time I kill you, . . . I promise you the labyrinth made of the single straight line which is invisible and everlasting” (Borges, “Death and the Compass,” 155). This is a reference to Zeno’s Paradox, in which someone halves the distance between themselves and the object of their pursuit ad infinitum. However, because there are infinite halves in which to divide the distance, the pursuer never reaches their object.

No minotaur is mentioned, but a cage (as all labyrinths are) must be fashioned to suit its prisoner. The labyrinths described here are reciprocal and eternal, encompassing space, time, and humanity. They reference an inescapable recursion, a repetition of fate and entrapment which symmetrically replicates the infinite moment of Lönnrot’s death. By this I mean that the ‘minotaur’ at the center of the labyrinth is Lönnrot himself in one manner—he is at the end of the single path which the bullet takes, true mirror to the labyrinth of Zeno’s paradox)—and the desire to know in another. The labyrinth which Sarlach weaves is one which beckons to Lönnrot’s desire to understand, to awaken and know not only himself, but the true name of God – which must lead to greater self-knowledge. However, because the labyrinth is eternal and incomprehensible, it is impossible for Lönnrot to ever reach this goal: this is the true horror of Sarlach’s trap. Again, the Borgesian minotaur—Lönnrot, in this case, and his unfulfillable desire to understand— becomes human, is given an identity and longing. It wants to know itself, to reach an end to development. Yet, those goals are mutually exclusive. As we have seen, the minotaur is often the writer or protagonist himself. And, as we have seen, the minotaur must be slain to eradicate the labyrinth which entraps it and keeps it from achieving its goal. The futility of escaping the labyrinth is unignorable. The only options are to become the minotaur—the monster and the human—and remain in the labyrinth for eternity, or die. This is the choice which all humankind makes.

The Borgesian minotaur is more human by far than the Hellenic iteration, yet it retains (in both its explicit and suggestive forms) a deep monstrosity. Nearly all his minotaurs are either a confrontation of selfhood or a representation of impossible literary consumption. As Ruhtan Yalçiner writes, the Borgesian minotaur

entails the possibility of the impossible, or the invasion of reality through the speculative distillation of the imago and the symbolic. The grace of this delirium and [symbolism] represents the mystery of the Jacques Lacan’s Other. The locus of this delirium is Asterion’s incomplete individuation. Asterion hence experiences a circuit of despair via the interchange of both individuation and dis-individuation. (Yalçiner, 121)

Thus, the minotaur represents an anxiety at the very core of Borges’ writings; a fear of and longing for being and becoming a fully realized individual. The fear of an incomplete realization of personhood or an incomplete merging with the grander labyrinth of literature (that is to say, the universe or the Great Autobiography) is redolent throughout the Borgesian oeuvre: the longing to, at once, slay and become the minotaur. In Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, Borges remarks that

A man makes out footprints in the sand and he knows that they belong to the minotaur, that the minotaur is after him, and, in a sense, he, too, is after the minotaur. The minotaur, of course, wants to devour him, and since his only aim in life is to go on wandering and wandering, he also longs for the moment. (Borges, Conversations, 86).


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[ii] This is a metatextual reference to “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Dr. Albert defines the labyrinth hidden within the novel as follows: “The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as conceived by Ts’ui Pen.” Asterion, like Tsui Pen, creates his own labyrinth and identity, in a mimetic image of the universe.

Emma King is a New York City native and literature enthusiast living and writing in Brooklyn. Her current research focuses on the many enthralling ways that stories and myths are transformed, interpreted, and received throughout the Western canon. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies and Psychology from Swarthmore College, is finishing her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, and is thrilled to begin a PhD in English Literature at the Graduate Center in the fall.

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