23 thoughts on “The Exaltation of the Minotaur

  1. About 84 pages, a highly luxurious and stylishly designed book that I estimate to be ten inches square.
    Double-columned text.
    My copy numbered 10/83.

    An Incident in the House of Destiny


    Two men, from within a comfortably old-fashioned smoking-robed narrative, scratch the surface of a Socratic debate regarding the soul versus mathematics, the Unknown gestalt of such things as my own dreamcatching (I guess!) versus the rigorously rational.
    Ferdinand tends towards the latter, Oscar the former, although both are experienced theurgists and now intend to use a seemingly intriguing arcane book to ritualise their debate for real and discover finally who is right.

    (This beginning rather obliquely reminds me of the ritualising of another debating gentlemanly twosome in my own work ‘Beyond the Bookcase’ published in 1989 and now shown HERE, a scenario that is likely to diverge from this Murphy work after only an initial vague resemblance such as possibly represented here, as based on my even vaguer memory…)


    “Taxicabs bearing moonstruck couples hobbled at high speed along the cobblestone roads,…”

    Much lexiphonic assonance here as well as philosophical balancing, as we meet Thèophile the bureaucrat, a ‘minor official’ with cigarette, walking under the bureaucracy of the stars (an early view of astrology?), working in the administrative building that also has mysterious statues and spirituality imbued into its stone.
    In the previous section, we had rationality versus gestalt dreamcatching about to be transcended by some book’s prescriptive not descriptive ritualistic steps, and now here we have pragmatism versus spirituality, this ritual being of “Architectural truth ought to be experienced through the body as well as the mind.” Indeed we also now have the eternal versus the common, all couched in a most fetching style, the word-rhapsody versus the mundane legalese, the senior gendarme versus the saint.

    (Queries: Thèophile –> Théophile, confidant –> confident, The strolled –> They strolled, principals –> principles?)


    “The tide of destiny stands behind us.”

    We meet two more characters, Anton and Natalia, who represent separately and severally more dichotomies in this dichotomous work – anarchy versus pragmatism, traditional values versus ideals, the few versus the many, common man versus sacred relics, the left versus right, past versus present, democracy versus aristocracy, to wreak the results by ritual and plain fact… All of these dichotomies amazingly couched in another dichotomy, a dichotomy of words, style versus communication, spelling versus unspelling, prescriptive versus descriptive, anarchy versus grammar, old-fashioned versus modernist… (Queries: principal versus principle, “before one the tall windows”…)


    “On the left lay the House of Destiny, on the right the House of Chance.”

    Thus, with this our return to the original scenario of those ritualising a debate of the rational versus the mystic, we follow Ferdinand in further dichotomies through a wonderfully visionary rite of passage in which he witnesses a crime, whereby criminal versus witness becomes the same thing under the eyes of a new Kafkaesque version of destiny’s bureaucrat within the vision itself…
    I have ‘harbored no doubt that the ensuing revelation would unfold according to its own logic.’
    Interesting that logic can paradoxically embody dichotomies, a fact that belies the rules of logic itself, where perfection and imperfection in style and graphology are both necessary for true vision to bear fruit through many smooth perfectly rhapsodic surfaces as well as the odd ostensibly imperfect rough-raw one, hence, for example, in this section … Query: Ferdidand, in one instance, <– Ferdinand. Destiny versus Chance.


    “Truth be told, she enjoyed straddling the line between anonymity and notoriety.”

    All who read this book likewise enjoy such straddling as Natalia does. Me, especially.
    And I also think I am beginning to discover the connecting secrets of this text, how the characters interact, how the dichotomies pan out, here, church and state, statue and ineffability, preservation and creation, unknowable and absolute, anonymity and notoriety, the anarchy of order, “sacred principals” or sacred principles…the catastrophic sight of an All Fools and Horses crashed chandelier upon the concupiscence of her father. The most meaningful only obtainable from the most meaningless, the essence of this text’s avant garde versus its old-fashionedness.


    “The inner world of the visionary and the outer world in which we live are inseparably bound to one another.”

    The ‘of sorts’ being the sorting into dichotomies bureaucratically?
    Otherwise, this is a perfect conclusion to this first main section of text — in this highly handleable tome, in spite as well as because of its size, luxurious heft and successfully eccentric design.
    The text itself is usually immaculate except for those perhaps deliberate aberrations or queries of chance and destiny, intrinsic to the book’s own inner dichotomy of that same chance and destiny, here whether the “visionary light as if shot out of a canon” is indeed a canon of literature that sustains you or a cannon that subsumes you as its cannonball.
    The outcome of Ferdinand’s experiment of ritualisation as a solution to the ‘mystic versus rational’ conundrum is absolutely fascinating and brings together all that the reader has construed so far from the text and the movers within it. (The bureaucrat and essential bureaucracy, the oracle or impartial god, also tie in beautifully, by BOTH chance and destiny, I guess, with the character of Snoi-Snep in my own early youthful text linked above, the name being ‘Pensions’ backwards, the ultimate bureaucracy of numbers and actuarial mortality tables, of being scared of one’s own shadow of the uncertain workless or worthless future?)
    My real-time review of Murphy’s honestly and enticingly dichotomous text hopefully is one (but only one) of its keys to its understanding for which Ferdinand himself yearns … “There is some possibility that an event will come to pass in the coming days which will elucidate the matter…” — to elucidate a text that inspires me, but also cheats, in the same way that Ferdinand’s own vision cheats in Oscar’s eyes?

  7. The Hieromantic Mirror

    Pages 33 – 36

    “The slight tinge of paranoia serves only to exalt the flame my desire.”

    The woman narrator has come to depend on her husband Edgar’s worst aspects having drifted off into (Gilman Perkins?) hotel wallpaper to meet the Consul. This has the enticing Damian Murphy ethos of the entry card as if we use this book itself as an artefact of permitted entry, and an official (this book’s earlier bureaucrat) here allowing her such card’s passage to an illicit tryst through day-dream –
    Depends which side of the mirror we are on?

    “One we got started, of course, it was hard to stop.”

  8. Pages 36 – 38

    “; a blackbird rising from a nest of tangled serpents.”

    Just BEFORE I read that phrase, my wife, sitting in the same room as where I am reading this book, mentioned a blackbird that she says she hears every morning, one that wakes her up.
    This section successfully conveys a graphic storm as the woman narrator day-dreams herself again nearer to the Consul but later welcomes her return to Edgar her husband whom I feel she might underestimate when on her extramural cavortings.

  9. Pages 38 – 43

    “The occasional tantrum blazes across the sky, casting arcane shadows on the bookshelves…”

    There are many aspects of these passages that ecstatically ache with immaculate luxuriance and hidden motives, where even lies are telling you too much. There is the counterbalancing roughshod, too, the nuggets of groan, (“I imaging plunging…”, “with elephants, canons, rooks, chariots…”) and her, our flighty narrator’s, visit — away from her husband Edgar, stealing Edgar’s game pieces for games with the Consul — to the Consulate and that very Consul, one step this side of the Embassy and the Ambassador, these bureaucracies that paradoxically hold much that is unbureacratically meaningful, rhapsodic … cheating, twisting words, too, like all bureaucracies, under the guise of rectitude and correctness. Bureacracy as a righteous uncorrupted vampire feeding on corruption?

    “There is a place within the heart in which the bestial and holy embrace.”

  10. imagePages 43 – 45
    “It’s unbecoming of the man I’d like for him to be.”

    It’s strange that there is a sense of retrocausal non-existence in becoming thus undignified that the word ‘unbecoming’ means. Mr and Mrs Chamberlain, Edgar and the narrator respectively, often play board games as he questions unbecomingly the nature of her visits to the Consulate that we might think unbecoming of her.
    There is much turning a blind eye or being in denial on the parts of both of them.
    I don’t know if it is relevant to this story, but Edgar Chamberlain wrote in 1907 an important book about homing pigeons. The visits to and from the Consul by his wife being programmed by him as part of his games or something more sinister?

  11. Pages 45 – 51

    “Their officials make use of paradox and contradiction. They see hidden harmonies where we see only conflict.”

    Hence the nuggets of groan and the interpretations of my blind faith in literary deconstruction?
    This is an incredible passage of ritual with games, as the narrator fulfils the strictures of gaming with the Consul as part of the bureaucracy of the civil service. The price of this book is worth paying for this section alone, a feat of literature as a Kabbalistic ceremony, plus a cat called Gershom Scholem.
    And a homing swan not a pigeon.

  12. Pages 51 – 56

    “Further still, half-collapsed minarets arranged in incomprehensible symmetries rise from the ruined walls of a vast and labyrinthine complex.”

    A labyrinth with scattered and torn books, too, as if the deconstruction of literature, like my own labyrinth of dreamcatchers, maketh an ancient monument to once ancient hope (“an eternal, single monument”), but now from reading this, there is indeed hope, once ancient, returning in the patterns and synchronicities formed by such deconstructions, destructions and nuggets of groan now vanished. This section is an immaculate text ironically about scenes of unimmaculate destruction.
    The narrator feels tellingly that she has been “an emissary” in the tradition of Edgar Chamberlain but now no longer a homing pigeon, but one on a singular course towards that ancient hope, never to return, meeting “administrative angels”, but she says she’ll be back, but I sense she won’t be, Edgar will wait forever for her return, she is a pawn in a game, she feels, allowing the patterns to form around her as she approaches the Embassy as if all the other bureaucracies have been laid waste by some internal IS State destroying the artwork of centuries, meeting for a nonce a flock of dark birds…
    And so end my reflections on ‘The Hieromantic Mirror’. But it will continue reflections upon me hereafter, I sense.

      • From ‘Homing Pigeon’ (1907) by Edgar Chamberlain, a book I am now reading –

        “During the Middle Ages the nations of Southern Europe were deeply interested in pigeon culture, and the ruins of old castles and abbeys nearly all contain remnants of pigeon lofts. As this was the age of chivalry, it is easy for the imagination to conjure up a picture of the time and its manners, and to comprehend the part the pigeons would play in all that constituted human life. How easy it is to picture these little voyageurs carrying messages to convent, fortress, and castle! How easy it is to decipher those messages and to find that some speak of love, others, alas! of war! But it must be carefully borne in mind that only the wealthy and the powerful could afford to keep and train these birds, for it was a costly process, and what was true in Ancient Assyria and Egypt was likewise true in Mediæval Europe. We are told that the birds were trained to go backwards and forwards with messages, so that from a utilitarian point of view they must have been superior to the modern birds. Of what messages of love and hate, of conquest and strife must these little messengers have been the unconscious bearers!”

        • Two further extracts from ‘The Homing Pigeon’…

          No doubt the priests of Ammon in Ethiopia, of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, of Nisroch in Assyria were assisted in their prophetic utterances and miraculous knowledge by innocent Homing Pigeons. These birds were held sacred by most of the ancients, and to kill them was a capital offence.


          But let us proceed a step further. The Dragoon cross was made in order to secure an increase of size, and maybe to accelerate the development of the homing faculty, which some authorities affirm did not reach its culmination in the Smerle until the bird had arrived at the age of two years. The Dragoon possessed great physical powers, a high order of intelligence, and was at the same time a bird of considerable size. This cross will be represented by: (A × B) × C, where A represents the Smerle, B the Cumulet, and C the Dragoon. The four pairs of Mendelian characters might well be, e.g.: (1) Great strength of wing ( W ) and less strength ( w ). (2) High intelligence (I) and ordinary intelligence (i). (3) Elevated flight (E) and ordinary flight (e). (4) Large size (S) and small size (s). Then A = W + I + e + s. B = W + i + E + s. C = W + I + e + S. And A × B = W W + I i + E e + s s. This hybrid form will give off gametes or germ-cells of four kinds, viz.: (1) W + I + E + s. (2) W + I + e + s. (3) W + i + E + s. (4) W + i + e + s. By selecting A B (1) and crossing with C, we get (W + I + E + s) × (W + I + e + S) = W W + I I + E e + S s. This A B C hybrid will give off four kinds of gametes, viz.: (1) W + I + E + S. (2) W + I + E + s. (3) W + I + e + S. (4) W + I + e + s. Of which No. 1 is the form required. This form will breed quite true, and the race W + I + E + S will be fixed.

  13. The Ivory Sovereign

    Pages 59 – 62

    “Albin took the cigarette from his mouth, exhaling a cloud of light blue smoke which lent a gentle dignity to the enveloping rain.”

    A most intriguing stylish start to this last work in the book, where Albin, disappointed in life, in fact tantamount to ruined by it, touches home base to help – and The House of the Ivory Sovereign, outside of which a man stands looking like a retired civil servant, and a carnivalesque carriage or two on rails in the front entrances to allow visits to various rooms of this ‘mystery house’, after getting tickets, tickets that are often just as mysterious in Murphy works….cards and entrance documents, but to what?
    See my review of other Murphy works linked from HERE, including another one with ‘Minotaur’ in the title.

  14. Pages 62 – 69

    “The carriage once again continued its ascent, curving ever to the left through the dark corridors of the house.”

    I am enthralled by Albin’s journey on a railed carriage through the house, watching tableaux of characters (Agrippina, Tresler, Klein) that are slightly awry automated mannequins behind roped off areas who talk to to each other as in conversation by means of amateurish recorded unsynchronised-lipped voices.
    This is a remarkable journey and the conversations themselves are full of implication.

    (If only very slightly, I am reminded of a dream I once had in 2010, a contemporaneous short paragraph about which was shown here.)

  15. Pages 69 – 83

    “The pleasing character of the decor was offset by a hint of neglect.”

    (“triyng”, “timber of Phrygia’s voice”, “wonton embraces”.)

    The fascinating and telling journey continues, at times lost within the bowels of the mansion, at others seeing the workings behind the scenes, the tableaux characters’ “binders” as if filed by some bureaucratic Wizard of Oz behind his partition, glimpses of motives that result in the perfect deadpan finish to the journey, inconclusive as are all rites of passage fabricated or natural — subsuming or circumventing, at least for a while, his sense of irrational self-guilt and paranoia.
    Significant for me is how Albin wonders what might happen if he weren’t there visiting this house. Are the scenes autonomous? Would they still be enacting their conversations?
    Would this story be different if I hadn’t read it, therefore?
    Is it an attraction for amusement or a serious carousel representing a machine that works the reality of the cosmos itself?
    The ivory coin he finds, embossed with his own image? Is this what he sought or did It seek him? Is this his goal? A coin like a Deruvian ticket or document for onward passage into the freemasonries of choice, except not free, hence the coin? The single one-eyed one in the country of the blind is king?

    Like this story, indeed like the many broken-into-healed ricochets of this whole wonderful book’s ever-resonating gestalt:
    “; whether the house might consume him utterly, relieving him of his autonomy, absorbing him into its labyrinthine intrigues.”
    ….like my own Dreamcatching labyrinth of book reviews through which I now feel I am taken on pre-set serendipitous railtracks, negotiating the genuine, the fabricated and the preternatural, those real-time journeys away from home then back again even if the whole journey is within a single head of channels, each artery the art of life.
    “He passed by a row of carriages lying on their sides, nestling like sleeping birds along the unpainted walls;”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s