What is a "portable concept" in literature?

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A portable concept is an idea or principle that is used in one discipline that is migrated to or appropriated by another discipline, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. For example, postmodern philosophers have borrowed from physics, using Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to explain the nature of reality. Heisenberg proposed that the act of observing a quantum phenomenon changes the phenomenon, so its nature is fundamentally unknowable. This may be true on the quantum level (the assertion is still debated), but humans exist and behave on the human level, so that the portability of this concept to the humanities and social sciences is questionable.

The idea of a portable concept, however, is valid and useful in that it encourages new ways of thinking. One portable concept in literature, arguably, is the labyrinth. The original labyrinth comes from the Ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur, a horrific monster who lived in a vast cave complex that had so many confusing tunnels and pathways that victims went in and never got out before the Minotaur killed them. Therefore, the original labyrinth was a physical structure consisting of a trap-like puzzle that victims tried to escape.

The portable concept of a confusing puzzle that lures people in and does not let them escape has been explored in literature by the great Argentine short story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, who has a whole collection of labyrinth stories, and also by novelists such as Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Pynchon. These works contain elements that are fascinating and grotesque and that are expressed in alluring and even spellbinding language. The puzzle aspect of these works requires close reading and analysis to resolve.

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