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Here, the spiral is introduced as a figure for cognitive desert geography. Yet it can also serve as a highly polyvalent model for Deleuze and Guattari s philosophically defined relationship between the «line of flight» and «subjectification.» «Subjectification essentially constitutes finite linear proceedings,« the spirals and their lines depict potential destruction and reconstruction of meaning and territoriality. As passenger, consumer, flaneur, and escapee on the «Spiral Jetty,» Smithson describes his autodecentralization: «I took my chances on a perilous path, along which my steps zigzagged, resembling a spiral lightning bolt.» The red water of the salt lake recalls blood, which, «chemically speaking & is analogous in composition to the primordial seas. Following the spiral steps we return to our origins, back to some pulpy protoplasm.» Smithson s discourse of deterritorialization captures with virulent energy all of the concepts and media used and mobilized in his work. Spirals and whirlpools are the negative pathos figures in this aesthetic of decay. Whorls and spirals play a key role in Smithson s work. They are, quite literally, the code mediating between circularity and nomadic vectorality, just like related meandering, labyrinthine, and pyramid structures. Smithson considers almost all types, from spiral-shaped fossils to gaseous astronomical spirals. He makes reference to an old Indian legend, which claims that a whirlpool under the Great Salt Lake is an underground connection to the Pacific an explanation for the odd existence of a giant salt lake so far from the ocean.
Watching the film Spiral Jetty, we see a picture of a map of northwestern Utah (an area once covered by what is called Lake Bonneville) and hear a voice-over of Smithson reading a selection from a Utah geological handbook. It reports that the notion of the existence of a dangerous whirlpool was finally given up in the 1870s. The complex of metaphors involving spirals/whirlpools is large, encompassing different fields of knowledge and historical eras. «In using the form of the spiral to imitate the settlers mythic whirlpool, Smithson incorporates the existence of the myth into the space of the work,» writes Rosalind Krauss. Smithson conceives of the spiral as a paradoxical figuration of defiguration. It becomes the symbol for geometric entropy. Depending upon the context, there can be either destructive or deterritorializing potential in it. One almost wants to speak of the moral of the spiral a moral that differentiates between productive and destructive spiraling.