In the myth of Dedalus the Greeks symbolized several matters. Primarily responsible for the Minotaur, he destroyed many generations of hopeful youth. The Minotaur he preserved by a labyrinth of great ingenuity whereby, says Francis Bacon, “is shadowed the nature of mechanical sciences, for all such handicraft works as are more ingenious and accurate may be compared to a labyrinth in respect of subtlety and divers intricate passages (…) For mechanical arts are of ambiguous use, serving as well for hurt as for remedy.” (Typhon in America, ca 1948)1

Any movement of appetite within the labyrinth of cognition is a “minotour” which must be slain by the hero artist. Anything which interferes with cognition, whether concupiscence, pride, imprecision or vagueness, is a minotaur ready to devour beauty. So that Joyce not only was the first to reveal the link between the stages of apprehension and the creative process, he was the first to understand how the drama of cognition itself was the key archetype of all human ritual myth and legend. And thus he was able to incorporate at every point in his work the body of the past in immediate relation to the slightest current of perception. (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951)

Joyce (…) wanted and got a simultaneous control of widest perspectives and the most intimate and evanescent moments of apprehension. And this he was able to achieve by analysis of the labyrinth of cognition which Aristotle and Aquinas had revealed to him. It is thus, for example, that he is able to include in the first two pages [of The Portrait of the Artistthe entire experience of the race, the ground plan of all his unwritten work, and the most individual features of Stephen’s expanding awareness. The opening words place the hero in the traditional labyrinth and confront him with a minotaur adopted to his infant years: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…”. Stephen Hero is so named because the artist in that work confronts and slays scores of minotaurs. The book swarms with labyrinths of many kinds and levels. (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951)

Traditionally there are two kinds of labyrinth, stone and sea, eye and ear. Joyce uses both constantly. (…) The moment of arrest is an epiphany, a moment not in time’s covenant, and it is by the bringing of complex perceptions to a focus in such moments that the minotaurs of the labyrinths are always overcome. (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951)

Know-how is so eager and powerful an ally of human needs that it is not easily controlled or kept in a subordinate role, even when directed by spectacular wisdom. Harnessed merely to a variety of blind appetites for power and success, it draws us swiftly into that labyrinth at the end of which waits the minotaur. So it is in this period of passionate acceleration that the world of the machines begins to assume the threatening and unfriendly countenance of an inhuman wilderness even less manageable than that which once confronted prehistoric man. Reason is then swiftly subdued by panic desires to acquire protective coloration. As terrified men once got ritually and psychologically into animal skins, so we already have gone far to assume and to propagate the behavior mechanisms of the machines that frighten and overpower us.2 (The Mechanical Bride, 1951)

the labyrinth with its accompanying association of the Minotaur, symbol of the encounter with the self. (Through the Vanishing Point, 1968)3

the story line in the minotaur myth is that of human cognition, leading to the confrontation with human identity, which is the monster. (Exploration of the ways, means, and values of museum communication with the viewing public, 1969)

Daedalus, the mightiest maker or engineer of an­tiquity, contrived the labyrinth that enclosed the Minotaur. The first page of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man concerns the cognitive labyrinth as it is traversed by Stephen, the artist hero, in his first encounter with the Minotaur and the other scandals (cf. Greek etymology)4Stephen’s surname is not Daedalus but “Dedalus,” i.e., “dead all us.” Joyce’s last story in Dubliners, “The Dead,” and the last lines of the Portrait explain the relation of the young artist to the dead; “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of ex­perience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated con­science of my race.” This verbal implication of ricorso, the millions of repetitions of the cognitive labyrinth, which is traced on the first page of the Portrait, is the task of making sense, of waking the somnambulists in the labyrinth of cognition. (From Cliché to Archetype, 1970)5

Q — is television a monster? A — Yes. It’s literally a tribal monster like the Minotaur from Greek mythology trapped in a maze of sensation. This Bull-man monster swallowed humans lost in the maze. And that’s exactly what TV does. Some of our young are fed to the Minotaur every year. (McLuhan on the Evils of TV, 1977)

  1. Book III.
  2. “As terrified men once got ritually and psychologically into animal skins, so we already have gone far to assume and to propagate the behavior mechanisms of the machines that frighten and overpower us.” Compare McLuhan to Pound, June 22, 1951: “Consider the effect of modern machinery in imposing rhythm on human thought and feeling. Archaic man got inside the thing that terrified him — tiger, bear, wolf — and made it his totem god. To-day we get inside the machine. It is inside us. We in it. Fusion. Oblivion. Safety. Now the human machines are geared to smash one another. You can’t shout warnings or encouragement to these machines. First there has to be a retracing process. A reduction of the machine to human form. Circe only turned men into swine. Our problem is tougher.” (Letters 227).
  3. Page 219.
  4. The bracketed suggestion is from McLuhan.
  5. Page 148-149.