Close readings of House of Leaves

Close reading assignment for House of Leaves

“Close reading” means you should give an explication, exegesis, or exposition of a part of the text as a way of gesturing toward a reading of the whole.  The easiest way to achieve this narrow telescopic focus is to pick a passage, or a set of passages, and tell the reader what you see; what the passage, word, or phrase means on its own; and what it means in the context of the overall narrative.  From this close reading or exegesis, you will generate the thesis of your short paper.

Exegesis \Ex`e*ge”sis\, n.; pl. Exegeses. [NL., fr.Gr. ?,fr. ? to explain, interpret; ? out + ? to guide, lead, akin, to ? to lead.]
1. Exposition; explanation; especially, a critical explanation of a text or portion of Scripture.

Exposition \Ex`po*si”tion\, n. [L. expositio, fr. exponere, expositum: cf. F. exposition.]
1. The act of exposing or laying open; a setting out or displaying to public view.
2. The act of expounding or of laying open the sense or meaning of an author, or a passage; explanation; interpretation; the sense put upon a passage; a law, or the like, by an interpreter; hence, a work containing explanations or interpretations; a commentary.

–!> 500 words minimum, submitted as a comment to this discussion thread
–!> Ideally you would post before the discussion begins but you should finish this assignment by February 20 at the latest.

A short list of links

Run-out groove on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
House of Leaves Forum

25 Comments to “Close readings of House of Leaves

  1. The vibrant blue font of “house” serves to differentiate it from the text and draw further attention to the possible levels of importance the word has in relation to the rest of the novel. In particular, I would like to explore the significance of the “blue print” and its relation to the visual labyrinth formed in chapter nine.

    In the titular position, “house” contains and collects the “leaves”, or pages of the book. The color of “house” renders it an inner-textual blueprint. This blueprint is the much needed resource to understand the layout and properties of the “house”. Until the blueprint is found, the “house” is an ever-changing labyrinth. When inside the text, “house” becomes like the numerous markers and signs the explorers leave to record their passage. Because everything inside the “house” gradually disintegrates and changes, the men are unable to identify the meaning of their markers once found, just like the words surrounding “house” continuously change and the story evolves. The ability of the house to continuously change, yet maintain several certain structural feats is described here:

    “While some portions of the house, like the Hall for instance, seem to offer a communal experience, many inter-communicating passageways encountered by individual members, even with only a glance, will never be re-encountered by anyone else again.” (118)

    And the structural shifts the house undergoes are compared to the ever-changing series of words that come before and after “house”.

    “[T]he constant reconfigurations of doorways and walls represents a kind of geological loop in the process of working out all possible forms, most likely ad infinitum, but never settling.” (120)

    Faced with the unending “possible forms” of the “house” and the endless number of ways words can be put together to form sentences, the reader becomes like the mythological Theseus, or like Navy and his crew of men, ever winding their way through the maze of words and passages provided on the pages. The format of the pages is similar to the branching passages of mazes, and the choice of the reader as to which string of words to read is similar to the maze-goer’s choice of which way to tread in a labyrinth.

    The blue text of “house” is also similar to hypertext and is associated with navigating through the online world. In this line of thinking, hypertext is the blueprint of the internet. With this in mind, online web pages may be compared to the passageways of the “house”. Users may easily lose themselves online, like the hasty explorers of the “house”, and unless they create bookmarks – which may be deleted by another user or over time – or in the explorer’s case, markers, they will be subjected to merely clicking link after link, or trying passageway after passageway, to find a recognizable page or place and once again feel secure.

    The blue hue of “house” signifies the inability to completely define the boundaries or formation of the physical house and the lack of control over the combinations of words to make sentences using “house”. The countless appearances of “house” on the pages teases the reader because it’s a constant reminder of what the reader must see, but will never actually “see”, the blueprints of the “house’s” physical dimensions and an answer as to where that mysterious ¼” disappeared to.

  2. I’m not sure if I’m replying to the above post, or this topic itself, but this is meant to be a stand alone examination of the role of footnotes in House of Leaves.

    The use of footnotes in this novel are unorthodox, to say the least. They violate normal usage in many ways, and it is up to the reader to form an opinion as to why this violation has taken place, and what it means. I will first examine the role of the false “citations” used in the Navidson Document itself. There are endless citations for many points that are made within the “primary document” that examines the film. All of these citations are, according to Truant, non-existent or nonsensical. This fact puts the reader into less of a “scientific mode” and makes the navidson story more of a narration instead of a historical fact. It also has the effect of making the reader more likely to gloss over footnotes. This glossing could lead to hidden cues found inside these “citations”. Given that this novel is obsessed with such hidden clues, this is a great possibility.

    The falsity of the citations also leads the reader to sympathize and give much more credence to everything Johnny is saying. Each time we come across something, Johnny is also coming across the same thing. His status as a fictional character in a book is somewhat diminished, and he becomes more of the shadow of a person. It is as if we are receiving this “document” for the first time, and his “notes” are evidence of someone that came before us. Johnny’s notes also have the habit of completely devouring the main narrative. In this way the reader has to come to terms with the fact that the Navidson Document may not be the primary text. This is a strange, and alienating experience. Often times the two narratives are woven together in a fashion that purposely creates confusion. For example, the reader is approaching the climax of a Navidson episode, and just as we are engrossed, Truant steps in and goes on a huge tangent; just at the peak of Johhny’s story we are dumped back into the Navidson document. This process is repeated constantly and is extremely disorienting.

    The interaction of us as the reader, with Truant in tandem through the text is fascinating. In the “echo” chapter (5) the reader’s attention span is truly put to the test. When the novel started I was committed to reading everything in both sections, and up until this point I succeeded. But after checking countless pointless footnotes my attention began to degrade, and as Johnny’s narrative became more primary I shifted my focus. This chapter goes heavy on a bunch of details that really don’t matter to the reader. We are given an in depth scientific explanation of a phenomena that truly does not matter to us. After a while I simply began to scan along, looking for interesting things, but mostly just chugging along. I hit the next footnote, and it “echoed” my thoughts exactly, “Frankly I’d of rec’d a quick skip past the whole echo ramble if it were not for those six lines, especially the last bit”

    I thought it was fascinating that my thoughts would be pre-empted in such a way, and I even wrote “I did!” in the margin above the footnote. I find that this novel is entertaining to react with in such a way, and I have been notating more and more. It makes me wonder about what would happen if I gave my novel to another person. They would be reading through the layers and layers of thoughts, and they might lose track of reality.

    I think this is the purpose of the footonte system, and the examination of an examination that the novel uses to tell a story. The reader is submerged in so many layers of fiction that after a while it is difficult to separate reality from fiction.

  3. Close Reading Exercise – House of Leaves

    The passage on page 117 of House of Leaves is a good representation of the text as a whole (see the passage I am referencing below). There are three themes in this passage that epitomize House of Leaves itself; the theme of being lost (the labyrinth), and the theme of construction through jokes and games, and the theme of truth value.
    The narrator at this point in the text, Truant, emphasizes that the idea of being lost. He uses phrases such as, “I had no idea where I was”, “no sense of time either”, “losing myself”, and “lost.” The repetition of being lost is seen in the text overall, especially in this chapter (chapter 9). Chapter nine is about the idea of the labyrinth; “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit” (dictionary.com). Truant cannot find his way in the story, just as the readers cannot find their way navigating through the text. The text, thus, itself becomes a labyrinth where both the readers, and Truant, cannot find their bearings. Even the storyline in this passage has a labyrinth-like quality. The story is hard to follow; from Truant and Natasha, to Truant and the Australian, to the blind man. Truant even says, “wow, am I wandering.”
    There is also a conflation of the labyrinth theme with the theme of humor in this passage; “she lived right around here somewhere but wasn’t that funny, she couldn’t remember exactly where.” Throughout this passage, laughter is repeated suggesting something funny or a joke; “giggling”, “wry smile”, “laugh”, “laughed”. Even “Love At First Sight” suggests laughter; the first letters of each of these words spelling “LAFS” (laughs). The juxtaposition of the language of humor with the language of being lost is thought provoking. Could it be that the text itself is just a joke on the readers? Is the end of the labryith just a joke?
    Concern with the truth is also apparent in this part of the text, a theme that is seen throughout the whole novel. The novel is essentially “a book about a book about a film that does not exist” (class). The fact that this film does not exist, places truth as something that is not stable in the novel. Even the quotes in this passage suggest an instability of the truth. Truant obsesses on whether Natasha’s car is white or not throughout this passage, showcasing his obsession with truth; “when the car pulled over, a white car? VW Rabbit? maybe/maybe not?” Truant goes on to nod his head about something that may or may not be true, saying, “as if that kind of empathetic shaking could actually prove something.” This quote suggests that the mere shaking of a head, or in the case of the text, a mere construction of a novel, have the power to prove something true. Truant also says of Natasha, “though at least this much I could safely assume to be true” – yet, in this novel, how can one “safely assume” something is true?

    When I finally walked outside, I had no idea where I was, orange lights burning like sunspots, initiating weird riots in my head, while in the ink beyond a chorus of coyotes howled, or was that the traffic? and no sense of time either. We stumbled together to a corner and that’s when the car pulled over, a white car? VW Rabbit? maybe/maybe not? I strained to see what this was all about, my Australian gal giggling, both pacmen going crazy, she lived right around here somewhere but wasn’t that funny, she couldn’t remember exactly where, and me not caring, just squinting, staring at the white? car as the window rolled down and a lovely face appeared, tired perhaps, uncertain too, but bright nonetheless with a wry smile on those sweet lips – Natasha leaning out of her car, “I guess love fades pretty fast, huh?” winking at me then, even as I shook my head, as if that kind of empathetic shaking could actually prove something, like just how possible it is to fall so suddenly so hard, though for it to ever mean anything you have to remember, which I kept telling myself as that white? car, her car?, sped off, bye-bye Natasha, whoever you are, wondering if I would ever see her again, sensing I wouldn’t, hoping senses were wrong but still not knowing; Love At First Sight having been written by a blind man, albeit sly, passionate too?, the blind man of all blind men, me, –don’t know why I just wrote that—though I would still love her despite being unblind, even if I had all of a sudden started dreaming then of someone I’d never met before, or had known all along, no, not even Thumper—wow, am I wandering—maybe Natasha after all, so vague, so familiar, so strange, but who really and why? though at least this much I could safely assume to be true, comforting really, a wild ode mentioned at New West hotel over wine infusions, light, lit, lofted on very entertaining moods, yawning in return, open nights, inviting everyone’s song, with me losing myself in such a dream, over and over again too, until that Australian gal shook my arm, shook it hard—
    “Hey, where are you?”
    “Lost” I muttered and started to laugh and then she laughed and I don’t remember the rest. (117)

  4. While reading Daneilewski’s House of Leaves, the most striking part to me was the creation of the Navidson family. There is so much put into these characters that they literally jumps off the page. We are supposed to be watching the story of the Davidson family’s dissolution in the House through multiple perspectives, which could easily lead to a loss of understanding in whom these people are meant to be. But Danielewski is able to insert the perfect amount of realness (pain, love, suffering, question of the unknown) that personally I truly was affected by what was happening to these people.

    Because much of the narrative is a near play by play of the videos of the Navidson family, I connected with these people (almost in a Paranormal Activity voyeuristic way) that allowed me to feel their pain in more depth than most characters on a page. By using asides to give us more information on the relationships between Will, Karen and Tom I began to view them as people, not characters. This was most useful aspect that the footnote gave. These inputs were things I wanted to know – they were not merely fake citations meant to lead me astray, they were ‘facts’ about these people that would me dissect their actions, their motives, and give me a way to view them within the craziness that was happening in the house. While plenty of the footnotes in House of Leaves were meant to create confusion, to push me here and there, to make me question what I’m reading, by using them to create a larger portion of a person, it in itself gave a model for the book. A human being is essentially a large maze that we need footnotes to understand – Danielewski created these people and gave us the perfect mechanism to understand them.

    For some reason, for me, with the Navidson’s being so real, it took away from the ‘realness’ of both Zampano and Johnny Truant. Neither of these characters jumps out of the page the way the Navidson’s do (even though we get ‘first-hand’ information from Johnny in all his asides). Johnny comes off as a caricature of a student of literature. He’s continually trying to piece together the story, work his own way through the labyrinth, and because he loses track, we lose track. He’s so focused on putting Zampano’s book together that neglects everything else.

    Without the authentic feeling that is given with the Navidson’s, the entire narrative falls apart. While House of Leaves is about the question of reality, the idea of labyrinths, the absurdity of reading in this particular fashion, it creates a story about a family, and about the destruction of that family. Reading this provided me with a base to come back to when the footnotes, the physical shape of the words would become enough to make me put the book down – a little bit later, I would inevitably want to find out what was happening with that family and pick it up again, and begin to shuffle through the labyrinth Danielewski created. I don’t think House of Leaves would be as intriguing as it is without this human element, because then we’d be stuck in the maze of letters, and footnotes, and strike-throughs and I know that when I came back out, it’d be very hard to look again.

  5. With Danielewski’s House of leaves I felt that the closer I was trying to read and analyse the further away I ended up being. The reader begins to question everything within the text and even the reality of things outside of the text. Throughout the novel the reader is trying to work through the Labyrinth they find themselves falling deeper and deeper into. In chapter IX we have already discussed how the looping footnotes that if followed correctly lead us around in a never ending continuum. In order to escape the reader must ignore the instructions set in the footnote. Perhaps this is Danielewski’s way of telling the reader that by focusing on one aspect too much we lose what else is there. In this case until we stop focusing on the footnotes we can not continue with the Navidson record.

    The concept of placing the reader into a labyrinth is disorientating and ‘everyday familiarity collapses.’ (25) There are many instances in House of leaves in which the reader finds themselves thinking ‘I don’t know.’ (25) Whether it’s a case of I don’t know what I’m reading or how I should be reading it. Or whether it’s a matter of I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know how I got here. On page 24 it reads ‘what took place amounts to strange spatial violation which has already been described in a number of ways.’ This notion of being described in many ways links with the thought ‘I don’t know’ because we can not be certain as to which references in the book are true. Furthermore, Johnny copies down the German version of the uncanny. He describes himself as feeling ‘fine’ (25) after doing this. However, something compels him to find the translation and later he writes ‘I didn’t feel at all myself.’ Here we see that by looking for further explanation rather than accepting what he is presented with Johnny becomes disorientated. In addition at the beginning of this footnote Johnny describes the translation as being ‘a real bitch to find.’ (25) This could simply be a reference to the fact that many of the works cited in the novel are false. However, it could also suggest that he was not supposed to go searching for it. The fact that even these five words can be interpreted in many ways links back with the idea that what takes place in House of leaves can be ‘described in many ways.’ (24) Having discovered that there is so much for the reader to agonise over in House of leaves the passage on the uncanny ends with the line ‘nothing else is meant by our talk about “uncanniness.” (25) This then dispels a close reading of the text.

    The passage on the uncanny is used to describe the state in which the house appears. Throughout the novel as we all know the word house is printed in blue. The passage on page 24 contains the word haus, which as the German word for house is also printed in the same blue font. The same passage also contains the word home, which remains in black. This highlights the thought that the house and the home are two separate concepts. It also suggests that the uncanny means ‘not-being-at-home’ (25) so one could infer that the uncanny relates to the ‘house.’ We usually assume that the house is the outside and the home is the inside. As Sierra has discussed the colour blue is used for hyperlinks, so if we take the idea that the house is the outside every time we see it printed in blue it links us back to the inside. I feel this highlights the fact that the house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Furthermore, I feel this pertains with the concept that the reader should look at what is there (inside) rather than what is not (outside).

    • Like many of the others who already posted, I feel as though the process of close reading this text is in need of a close reading. The entire text is a layering of close reading which in theory ends at the individual reading the book but as this blog post and the thriving fan forums show/create, ones individuals reading, process of reading and reaction to reading is data that can be read. This layering is made evident when the narrative begins discussing the motivation behind the Navidson Record. We learn that the book we are reading is the reception and analysis of “The Navidson Record” which was made to help a failing marriage. Our narrator informs us within the text “None of this, however, is immediately apparent…” (10) And proceeds to do a close reading of one of the scenes. On my first reading through the narrative, I was more compelled by the form and story that had this assignment not been given, the close reading of the close reading wouldn’t have occurred. I immediately identified with the narrator. I believe this close reading is done to serve an overarching theme within the text of a reader’s distance from a work and the effect of social influences on reading within reading itself. In this case, we are to completely accept the narrator’s account of the Nadvidson Record and interpretation of it. Never having seen Navidson Record, we can only take him at his word. Thus, our close reading of House of Leaves becomes a close reading of a close reading but the original text is out of our reach. I cant help but wonder weather a close reading can truly be done without access to the fictional Navidson Record. The context of the entire narrative is lost.
      I believe that Danielewski underscores this inherent distance one has from a text with his use of excessive, sometimes incorrect or nonexistent citations and references. One cannot truly understand a work without understanding all aspects of its content including its references. Danielewski’s text becomes impossible to truly grasp completely. We cannot verify every one of his sources and as it has been pointed out in class, some references are simply incorrect. I couldn’t help but consider the function of the citation in our contemporary literary discourse. It is considered a proof of accuracy but when they are included in a text, it is often accompanied by opinion and interpretation but rarely, if ever, have I thought to follow every footnote to its source. The amount that we take for granted becomes painfully evident in a text such as this where one is consistently looking for something concrete to situate them on. I also found some of the sources he cited as interesting.
      He begins the book by citing a translation of Paradise Lost as well as referencing Moby Dick or “Melville’s behemoth” (3) while at the same time mentioning modern pop culture icons such as The Simpsons or The Real World. I believe that this is an effort to show the extent to which one would need to be cultured in literature as well as pop culture to understand modern works. It is a testament to his warning “This is not for you,” that once can think of a very small portion of the population that could understand all these references without the need of some external research. Danielewski’s use of citation along with an already exhaustive amount of information is a very poignant paradoy of the modern reading experience. He shows the genuine inability of text to ever truly ground itself in fact. Either a text becomes unmanageable due to the amount of information presented or information is disregarded and its truth is taken for granted.

      • To Karan:

        I really enjoyed reading your analysis. The way you interpreted the layering of the book and how all of the different levels of close readings distance us from the original text really reminded me of Henry James’s, In the Cage, when we discussed the function of the telegrams. Similar to the way the Navidson Record is filtered through the critics, Zampanó, Truant, and then us, the telegrams in James’s text are manipulated as they go through the postal process, as they are deciphered by the main character, and again as they are dissected by us. The textual product we as readers end up with proves to have travelled far from its primary source and we are left with disguised content and the inability to uncover the true meaning or message. In the end, both Danielewski and James implement mediation, miscommunication, and a lack of truth in their texts and although it may be frustrating for the reader, it really does provide us with a new way of reading a book and contemplating over the endless implications of each passage. But as we learn from the girl in the cage and Truant, we have to limit our threshold of interpretation because without a filter we run the risk of driving ourselves mad when thinking about all the deductive possibilities.

  6. Understanding the Figure of the Monster in House of Leaves

    In order to understand the monster that haunts Johnny Truant and the characters in the Navidson house, it is first necessary to identify the situations in which the monster makes an appearance and where it hides in the dark waiting to resurface.
    Throughout the text, the Navidson’s house with its accompanying hallway is described as a type of maze or more specifically a “labyrinth”—one that is complicated and proves to be difficult to identify as a phenomenon that occurs in reality. While the label of “labyrinth” defines the mysterious section of the house, the text also frequently equates the image of the labyrinth to the brain or more specifically the complexity of the subconscious mind. The transition from the labyrinth as a surface representation of a literal maze to a psychological metaphor is apparent in statements such as, “some critics believe the house’s mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it…arguing that ‘the house, the halls, and the rooms all become the self—collapsing, expanding, tilting, closing, but always in perfect relation to the mental state of the individual”(165). With this interpretation in mind, the house becomes more than just a type of rare, supernatural spectacle, but proves to be a more tangible and overt way to create a metaphor for the unknown and complicated functions of the psyche. Truant comes to this same conclusion when he often refers to his brain as the-“inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears”(89). (More of these comparisons can be found on pages 51, 179, 330).
    Once the figurative implication of the “labyrinth” is established, it is then possible to answer questions like the ones posed on page 111, debating whether the labyrinth “conceals a secret? Protects something? Imprisons or hides some kind of monster?” In being exposed to the monster’s presence within the house’s hallway, we are then able to recognize that if the labyrinth stands for the human psyche then the monster lurking there and living within the darkness is merely a fabrication of that same mind. At the beginning of the text, the depiction of the monster is more concrete; Truant describes it as a creature with “extremely long finger nails” and eyes that “have no whites” but instead “glisten red”(71). Here, the image of the monster takes a physical form—like a creature out of a horror film, but as the text progresses the corporeal manifestation of the monster begins to dissolve and its true nature is revealed.
    The growling, bloodthirsty monster that the characters swear to hear and sense just behind them never actually materializes. This becomes obvious in the text when Truant states:
    It felt exactly as if in fact I had turned and at that instant caught sight of some tremendous beast crouched off in the shadows…ragged claws slowly extending… except that when I finally do turn…I discover only a deserted corridor…this thing, whatever it had been, obviously beyond the grasp of my imagination or for that matter my emotions, having departed into alcoves of darkness. (27)
    In this passage, the words “as if” highlight the fact that Truant did not in fact turn around or see a beast “crouched in the shadows,” it was merely a vision generated by his overactive and powerful imagination. The idea of the monster as a creation of the mind can also be seen in the Truant’s comment regarding Tom’s hand puppet monsters reflected on the tent wall in the Navidson house; he states, “only Tom’s creatures, born out of that absence of light, shaped with his bare hands, seem able to exist in that place”(261). From these two examples it is clear that the characters are responsible for making their own monsters; this is seen when Tom actually fashions the beast “with his bare hands” and when Truant discloses that his monster is simply a subconscious projection. As the image of a real life monster begins to fade, its profound representation is slowly revealed.
    As Truant shares memories of his past, the figure of the monster shifts into a personification of his abusive foster father, Raymond. Truant uncovers a memory of his childhood when Raymond attempted to beat some sense into him by bashing his head against a wall and hitting him across the face with his fists; Truant explains that he was “only thirteen and this monster was a marine”(325). Another moment in which the “monster” turns out to be a horrendous memory from the past recurring in the present can be seen when Truant has a panic attack in the dark storeroom at the Tattoo Parlor. He is suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that he is not alone, that the monster is closing in on him. When he rushes from the room he hears something hiss and slash out at the back of his neck leaving a “long bloody scratch” as evidence (71-72). Near the end of the text, Truant’s mother’s letters reveal that the cuts on his neck are in fact old scars from when she tried to strangle and kill him as a young boy. These correlations confirm that the monster hidden in the subconscious labyrinth is none other than the repressed memories that the characters spend their whole lives trying to bury and stifle in the depths of the mind.
    This claim is further validated by a critic’s psychological examination of Karen Navidson, stating: “Karen has begun to deconstruct her various mechanisms of denial…She recognizes that the key to her misery lies in the still unexplored fissure between herself and Navidson. Without knowing it she has already begun her slow turn to face the meaning, or at least one meaning, of the darkness dwelling in the depths of her house”(316). In this description, the critic highlights the fact that Karen first attempts to cure “the darkness dwelling in the depths of her house,” or more specifically, the dark memories existing in her mind, through the use of denial and suppression, but she recognizes that this is a flawed treatment and decides to focus on “deconstruct[ing],” exploring, and “fac[ing]” the true meaning behind her misery in an effort to heal. (For Karen, her issues most likely stem from the fact that she was raped by her stepfather=MONSTER. Page 347).
    As a product of the psyche, the monster proves to be a metaphor for troubling repressed memories that hide deep within the subconscious. Because these past memories are often disturbing and cause a great deal of emotional pain when confronted, it is easy to see why the characters, and people in general for that matter, opt for suppression rather than expression. When people have worked their whole lives to keep traumatic events from the past at bay only to have the mind suddenly release these memories from its depths, it is understandable that many would react as if under attack, specifically by some type of monster. Instead of having to face the ugly, scary, and depressing reality of a harrowing experience, the majority of victims prefer to let the memories lie dormant in the brain, allowing the past to get more rotten with time.
    By using repression and avoidance practices anyone has the capacity to bottle up hurtful memories and thereby produce a haunting monster. Truant explains how this is done:
    And fuck, now I know exactly where I’m going, a place I’ve already managed to avoid twice, the first time with the tooth improv…which I suppose I could still resist. I am resisting…I mean I could always just stop, do something else, light up a joint, get swollen on booze. In fact doing virtually anything at all, aside from this, would keep me from relating the real story behind my broken tooth, though I don’t know if I want to…I actually think it would do me some good to tell it, put it down here, at least some of it, so I can see the truth of it, see the details, revisit that taste, that time, and maybe re-evaluate or re-understand. (92)
    In this passage, Truant emphasizes his method of resistance and avoidance to prevent his mind from recalling how Raymond knocked out his front tooth. His approach to deadening his senses and recollections comes in the form of drinking, drugs, and sex, but at the end of his statement he realizes that in getting in touch with this memory, in talking about it, revisiting it, and re-evaluating it he may come to better understand his past, making room for the healing process. Because no matter how good the sex and drugs feel at the time and no matter how much pain it erases, when the mind numbing is done all that is left are “thorns [that] have surfaced. Sharp thorns…overrun by weeds and deadly vines”(264).
    When avoidance fails to do the trick, running from past and the memories seems like the next best thing to do. Truant also recognizes this as a possible avenue but explains how this route ultimately disappoints as well. He writes, “As I recheck and rebolt the door…I feel with the turn of each latch a chill trying to crawl beneath the back of my skull. Putting on the chain only intensifies the feeling, hair bristling, trying to escape the host because the host is stupid enough to stick around, missing the most obvious fact of all that what I hoped to lock out I’ve only locked in with me”(326). In attempting to lock out his external imagination of the monster, Truant finally realizes that the monster is not one that is without but one that is within—crawling “beneath the back of [his] skull,” and it is impossible to escape the mind, impossible to evade the self.
    So how does one rid himself of the memory monster that inhabits the realms of the mind? The first solution can be found in an analysis of the Navidson record, stating, “Though Exploration #2 ends up lasting over eight hours, Holloway, Jed, Wax only hear the growl once…for the most part everything has remained the same. It is almost as if continued use deters the growl and preserves the path they walk”(85). The more the men return to the labyrinth (which we have established is the subconscious mind), the clearer the path becomes and the more the monster fades away. Similar to what Truant realizes when coming to terms with the history behind his broken tooth, revisiting the memory and accepting the details is what will unveil the truth and a new understanding that will ultimately rid the mind of the monster. Throughout the text, Truant slowly gets in touch with his memories as he reveals intimate details about his life; with each story he shares, he finds more relief. This sense of Truant’s burden being lifted is best seen when he unloads his feelings onto Thumper. He discloses, “And you know the more I talked the more I felt some of the pain and panic inside me ease up a notch. In retrospect it was pretty weird. I mean there I was wandering into all this personal stuff. I wasn’t even sharing most of it either. I mean not as much as I have been putting down here…That’s when something really painful tore through me, like an old, powerful root, the kind you see in mountains sometimes splitting apart chunks…this thing was splitting me apart. My chest hurt and I felt funny all over, having no idea what it was, this root of feeling, until I suddenly realized I was going to start sobbing”(106). In just putting everything out on the table, not being ashamed of his feelings, letting his pains and fears release from his mind and expel through his mouth out into the world, Truant slowly disarmed his monster. The pain and panic “eas[ed] up a notch” and the roots that had latched one of his dark memories to a place in his subconscious finally broke free and left, taking its tainted nature with it.
    Truant’s situation is not a unique one. Not one of us leaves this world unscathed. We have all had to endure moments that we wish we could go back in time and erase, things that we wish never happened in the first place. But since we cannot change our histories we often resort to methods of repression and avoidance the same way Truant does. Using drugs, alcohol, and sex are not the only means of escape, the mind is often numbed in ways we deem innocent, such as: eating, reading, running, sleeping, fighting, overworking, television, computers—pretty much anything external that keeps you from having to face the internal. In seeing how much liberation Truant gains in even a brief moment of crying, why wouldn’t we want to take a second to sob every day if it is going to give us some peace? It is about time we all take a moment to enter those dark spaces of the mind and wait for our monsters to make an appearance; but this time, instead of running away from the pain, recognize it. Recognition is only the first step, you can sob, shout, or laugh, but resolution takes time; damage runs deep and forgiveness is often hard to come to terms with. But if resolution does take place, you can look forward to unleashing the monster from your subconscious and finding freedom.

    Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
    -Buddha

  7. Irony and Cinematic Self-Reference

    In chapter 9 of House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski shows how self-reflexivity functions across varieties of ironic tropes and attitudes, and emphasize the impossibility of placing oneself completely outside culturally dominant models of representation. Danielewski compare the conceit of these cultural attitudes with the equally impossibly task of achieving autonomy over metaphysical constraints. Ironic attitudes create a self-referential dependency on negating the very beliefs that conditions their responses. Irony acts as a defensive measure of individuality, a reflexive reaction within a climate of cultural hegemonies. Hence, everything in the novel that seems to imply a thematic is eventually dissolved. And the contradictions that irony references are nonetheless suppressed. As Zampano maintains, “All solutions then are necessarily personal,” yet some are necessarily more personal than others (115). For Danielewski, thematic indeterminacy conjures up the anxieties associated with paralytic self-awareness. These same anxieties irrationally inform ironic attitudes of disaffection and autonomy. These anxieties become the literal equivalent of this particularly physical phenomenon, and employ ironic attitudes of disaffection and autonomy as defensive measures against those anxieties.
    This is how the ironist, Johnny Truant, is both within and outside the very culture he critiques. On a literary level, irony is generally defined as revealing a “discrepancy between what is said and what is meant” (Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms 174). This assumes the stability of linguistic boundaries, especially the power of language to represent all that is entailed by consciousness. Further, that by naming the referent it is also contains it, and thus negates its possibility of intrinsic value. This creates a paradoxical cultural identity that searches for corroboration by appealing to the founding paradox of language, the oscillations between absence and presence. Irony then becomes a metaphor for these various instabilities. For instance, “Ironically, the very technology that instructs us to mistrust the image also creates the the means by which to accredit it” (144). Danielewski uses “Ironically” to mean several things at once. It could refer to the cultural system as inherently ironic. Or it could connote the Zampano’s attitude, and acknowledge the irony of speaking with the very authority he criticizes for controlling discourse. These ambivalent ironies show how the align the power of the author parallels the power of other cultural modes, such as film and documentary, to circumscribe and hence restrict meanings. Structural irony becomes layered atop verbal irony; which Danielewski attaches to “the hegemony of the standard photographic image,” and our alienation from those factors of production (143).
    Danielewski uses a frame narrative to exploit these superficialities that also divide seemingly liberal and marxist academia from capitalistic mass culture, in a way that assumes their mutual exclusivity. These dichotomies over class resurface when the reality of The Navidson Record is confirmed by its poverty of special effects (148). This revelation implies a founding binary at work in popular entertainment, which aligns pleasure and money and suffering and deficit. Here, Danielewski contrasts the use of irony for humor, as associated with Johnny, with the use of irony for revelation by Zampano. But as the obscurity grows surrounding the “House,” our narrator, or audience surrogate in filmic terms, can no longer extricate himself from the story or from his confusions. The reader begins to lose their own frame of reference. The reader can no longer be clearly delineate the novel from the mass culture it seems to oppose. Johnny Truant’s sitcom like misadventures appear to rescues us from the monotony and ardor of close reading with a little bit of cinematic pleasure. Hence, the intensely visually and visceral nature of his sexual exploits. While Zampano’s academic voice drones on into obscurity often exacerbating patience, the footnotes signify escaping into pleasure. These cinematically motivated “mechanism of interpretation…[lead] to denial and aversion” of the always “recurring threat of [the ghost’s] own reality.125” (149). These moods of anxiety, “continually…recurring,” create within it “its own reality,” illustrating the novel’s founding self-referential obsessions (149).
    The tensions are embodied in the ambivalence that define “House” from the outset. Wherein the anxieties in which “one feels uncanny” are described as a feeling of being both “nothing and nowhere” as well as “not-being-at home” with that nowhere (25). These anxieties and unstable meanings define irony as a defensive reflex. For instance, these dichotomies appear when critics describe the House as “inconceivable” given the cost of special effects (148). The connotation of “inconceivable” reflects an epistemological line of inquiry, and implies a failure in our ways of knowing when we lose the context of market exchange. Here, interpretation seems to be imagined as a primarily intellectual and linguistic operation. For instance, these dichotomies appear when critics describe the House as “inconceivable” given special effects cost (148). So it’s the constraints inherent to the system that prove the House’s existence. It seems ontology reworks itself to fit within existing cultural forces of epistemology.
    Danielewski constructs his thematic of indeterminacy within these constraints; the technical perfection of Hollywood cinema is opposed to the guerilla documentaries of “Cinema Verite” (139). His exaggerated metafictional frame around The Navidson Record, with its discussion of the ugliness of loss and existential anguish, is set in direct opposition to popular cinema. Hollywood is often criticized for this very thing Hollywood; for using linear narration to provide a “safety net” from such concerns (139). Danielewski symbolizes this dialogue through the ambivalence of the “House,” which represent the fear of a void, but also its wish. The void is both a projection and the manifestation; two sides of the same anxious desire. This thematic paradox returns in language, where reading and writing work together by referring to a “central” referent, which is described by Derrida as organizing from within and without (112). What is most confusing about the way Danielewski maps these binaries is that they do not try to resolve the text’s founding contradictions. At this point, it seems entirely up to the reader to make with it what one will, reemphasizes the novel’s obsession with thematic indeterminacy. From this perspective, felt anxieties over the many textual mazes now just seem like an ironic revelations of the novel’s founding existential punchline.

  8. Reading Insanity in House of Leaves

    House of Leaves is the first ergodic text that legitimizes the art form. Previous efforts, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books and other types of fiction where the reader dictates the course of the story through games and manipulation of the text have always been viewed as childish or novel, though not in a good way. But Danielewski’s text is still a fascinating look into the mind of the reader, and calls into question the necessity of conventional narrative flow, a question that very closely ties into the idea of insanity and madness.

    While the conventional narrative of Johnny Truant and the Navidson record are laid out in such a way that it’s easier to follow, Johnny’s frequent interjections as he’s viewing Zampano’s narrative, that is, the development of his own little story is perhaps Danielewski’s remarks on the how distracted reading has become. The layout of the narrative, if one can call it conventional, is presented in such a way that’s deliberately confusing, with font changes, footnotes that seem to lead nowhere, and sudden, dramatic format shifts. Danielewski seems to be acknowledging that reading, in the traditional sense, is becoming a dying art form, and shifts House of Leaves to accommodate the millennial reader’s style of reading – distracted, fragmented, and bizarre. Johnny’s obsession with the Zampano’s take on the Navidson record is also fascinating to consider; the reader never fully understands his motivations, nor can the audience take anything he says without a grain of salt. As a drug addict who may possibly be insane, he fits right into the mold as an unreliable narrator, but in a way, he becomes the audience surrogate. He’s obsessed with the text, trying to understand all of his secrets, and his deranged motivation a mystery to the reader. But in a way, the reader is just like him. House of Leaves is an endlessly engrossing text, a page-turner with a multitude of secrets and games on any given page. The reader is cast into Johnny’s role, we are determined to understand what Danielewski is trying to tell us through the novel, motivated to uncover every secret; the massive forums that are dedicated to unraveling the text is a testament to the strange obsession that grips the reader when they’re sufficiently fascinated. Danielewski’s comment on the reader is twofold – one examines the inherently distracted mindset of the 21st century, while the other very coyly acknowledges the unexplainable tendency to try to make sense of a mystery, by any means. By shifting the paradigm of what a reader is supposed to understand, Danielewski turns the genre on its head.

    The idea of insanity is also featured heavily in the text, reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. The Whalestoe Letters are an interesting way to convey the madness that has gripped Johnny’s mother, and the audience becomes increasingly more aware of her paranoia, in effect, more disturbed and disconcerted, as the letters grow crazier and crazier. This, juxtaposed with Johnny’s maniacal obsession with Zampano’s writing, calls into question the entire narrative – the reader simply can’t trust what Johnny says; in one section where he interjects with his a biographical anecdote, he notes that “I, in what has to be one of the strangest reactions ever, opened my arms to play the bold, old catcher of it all…the oil covering my forearms and transforming them forever into Oceanus whirls” (505), constructing these convoluted narratives about his past life, when his mother tried to strangle him, and his foster father abused him. Much like Patrick Bateman in Ellis’ landmark novel, there’s so much trauma that’s described in such detail that it’s hard to take anything seriously. Johnny is the unreliable narrator whose proclivities are so perverse and grandiose that it’s hard to say whether or not anything he says is true, much like the grotesque murders that Bateman claims to have committed. This postmodern technique is stylishly insane in its own way – creating these huge fantasies only to have the reader question their legitimacy, and reflects the damaged minds of the narrators.

    House of Leaves is an interesting look into how insane the characters, and indeed, the authors, can get when creating their own narrative. The storyteller has the freedom to do what he wants, but the person listening has just as much freedom to interpret as he will.

  9. In chapter 12 the topographic aspect of the book really starts to play tricks on the mind and draws the reader into the demonic essence of the labyrinth and the psychotic breakdowns of those stuck in the hallway. Pages 288-295 drag the reader in literally and figuratively with the layout of the text on the pages which gives one a feel of what the characters in the book are experiencing. The words start to move across the pages in different directions… some moving upside down others to the side and across the pages diagonally. The letters of the words begin to become more and more spaced out which causes the reader to have to slowly move their eyes along the words in order to read them. I believe this is a very calculated move by Danielewski in order to invoke the feeling of struggle through the struggle in reading the words in comparison to the struggle of the men trying to escape the black hole of the hallway.

    The whole passage reads “ Then as the stairway starts getting darker and darker and as that faintly illuminated cirlcle above – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – starts getting smaller and smaller, the answer becomes clear: Navidson is sinking… Or the stairway is stretching, expanding, dropping, and as it slips, dragging Reston up with it. Then at a certain point, the depth of the stairway begins to exceed the length of the rope. By the time Reston reaches the top of the rope as gone taut, but the stairway still continues to stretch. Realizing what is about to happen, Navidson makes a desperate grab for the only remaining thread connecting him to home, but he is too late. About ten feet above the last banister the rope… -us… -a-“ (288-295)

    Such words as “stretching” and “expanding” on page 289 are written on the page like so, “ s t r e t c h i n g” and “e x p a n d i n g” the words are drawn out just like what in actuality is happening to the hallway. The words are typed on to the page perpendicular to each other and then both share the letter “g” which I feel represents the two words running into each other as if the stretching and expanding are never-ending just as the labyrinth of the hallway. The word “sinking” is always typed out on the page in a diagonal form…representing the decline in the word as the action is happening in the story. The word sinking is also followed by “. .” which adds to that feeling of trailing off or a decline of some sort. On page 293 “the rope” is written down the side of the page and upside down, which gives the reader an actual visual of the rope that is being used in the story to hoist the men out of the hallway. This type of visual reading that is accomplished through only a couple of letters is amazing. On pages 294 and 295 there is only one word on both pages… and they don’t seem to really make sense or be connected to the previous sentence in anyway. To me these last two words that seem to be just floating in the middle of the page represent the lost hope of Navidson not being able to grab onto the rope and make his way out and his psychotic decline while being down there.

    I chose this passage because I thought it was interesting that on 8 pages of this book there were only 4 sentences, but these 4 sentences and the way they were written out across the pages induced the most feeling out of me. The spacing between the letters of the words and the way they were spread across the pages…gave me the same feeling of frustration, anxiety and suspense that the characters must also have been feeling. Danielewski’s writing technique on these few pages really involves the reader…not only mentally but how they physically have to hold the book while engaging in the text. It causes one to become somewhat disoriented and confused, and it amazed me that so many feelings could be evoked just from closely reading these few sentences.

  10. Last quarter I took a class that dealt specifically with the uncanny and the fantastic. On the surface the short stories we read appeared to be about phantoms, ghosts, and haunted houses. However when doing a close reading on these stories it is clear that the authors’ true message proposes the theory that all each person’s subconscious is their own version of a haunted house. By that I mean everyone attempts to repress things that they would rather forget, but as Freud lays out in his essay on the Uncanny, things we repress often manifest themselves in ways that terrify us later on.
    On page 24-25 of House of Leaves, Zampano himself speaks of the uncanny. The furthering theory of the self as a haunted house can be illustrated here when Johnny provides his reader with the English translation of the German word for uncanny: “unheimlich.” In German, “the uncanny” can also be translated to “not being at home.” To many people their own house is a place of safety and comfort, a place to escape from the terrors of the outside world. In fact, at first the Navidson family also sees the house as a physical escape. It momentarily symbolizes a “cozy little outpost” where Karen and Navidson can rebuild their marriage, and their children can grow up in the sheltered countryside (9). However, this perfect façade does not last long, as the family begins to experience the uncanniness the house possesses. The house turns from needed shelter and protection to a labyrinth of dark hallways and expanding spaces. These new spaces are the depths of Karen and Navidson’s relationship they are unwilling to explore. Their attempts to repress the troubles in their marriage reveal themselves in the uncanny nature of the house. The physical house becomes haunted; and thus, fear is struck within any individual that attempts to go into the darkness.
    Danielewski also brings this haunting into Johnny’s life. After Johnny reads this portion of Zampano’s work he exhibits a very strong reaction to the thought of the uncanny. Following the English translation he provides his reader with this footnote: “The point is, when I copied down the German a week ago, I was fine. Then last night I found the translation and this morning, when I went into work, I didn’t feel at all myself.” He goes on to say that he’s unsure if it’s because of the translation or just his “strange mood fluctuations.” However, the one thing he knows is true is the “not-being-at-home. That part is definitely true” (26). From this point on in the text, Johnny is prone to hallucinations and severe panic attacks. Things from his past he has repressed (that only come to light because of his mother’s letters) sneak through his subconscious in distorted visions. Johnny himself is a haunted house, completely weighed down by a seemingly horrific childhood. The further into the book the reader get, the more insight Danielewski provides in Johnny’s fragile mental state. His exploration into the Navidson Story only further brings to light his instability. As the narration progresses Johnny finds it more and more difficult to leaves his house, and has to use all his will power to get out the door. This is because, similar to the Navidson’s, his physical house has transformed from a shelter to a trap, because he cannot deal with things in his past he has repressed.

  11. There is something on page 97.

    In a text full of bizarre symbols that are otherwise harmless, it is a wonder how this one little thing can be so unnerving. The elegant check mark, which typically indicates a certainty of being or claim to fact, offers none of its former solace. It appears nowhere else in the text, and it makes no clear statement of what it intends to do where it is currently situated. The check mark is referenced once by Johnny’s mother (609), but to no meaningful end. At least other symbols have a footnote anchoring them down, yet neither Zampano, the editor nor Johnny–who is most relevant to the mark, if his mother is to be understood–address this one. And so it hangs on the edge of the page, beckoning for an explanation. However, the emergent problem is that, in an attempt to make sense of the senseless, to ground the inherently irrational in the rational, one encounters similar frustrations to the explorers in The Navidson Report.

    The human brain’s incessant schematizing often makes connections where none exists; here, on page 97, the check mark soon gives way to any number of “checks,” notably checklist. Page 97 begins chapter VIII, the first organized foray into the house’s shadowy innards. A list of gear, cameras, supplies and scientific instruments heads off the narrative. A similar list appears as Navidson enters the house alone much later (424), but the text contains other kinds of lists beyond the equipment characters use on their adventure. Another list (370-371) details what is scientifically “known” about the dark space within the house. The notorious footnotes–not Johnny’s intrusive yammering, rather the academic notes–stretch into the hundreds, providing a list of references for the text. One unnecessarily long note (footnote 75, pg. 64-67) lists photographers and contributors to one of Liza Speen’s books, a reference in itself. Overtaking even that list, however, is the House of Leaves index, which proves only half as helpful as an index ought to be. The index includes entries for pronouns and connective parts of speech, like “for” (676), “in” (680), “into” (681) and “me” (685). Many of the words listed in the index–97 entries, eerily enough–bear the mark of “DNE.” Memory cannot recall if any of those words actually appear in the text, but using “house (blue)” and “house (black)” as references (680), where (blue) has dozens of entries and (black) has “DNE,” one can safely conclude entries bearing “DNE” do not exist anywhere in the text.

    A common thread runs through all of these lists: they are constructs of man, meant to constrain things into an orderly, manageable reality, but in House of Leaves they are not particularly useful. The equipment Navidson’s team assembles treats the emptiness of the house like a mountain to scale or a cavern to spelunk, but that is goal-oriented thinking–they assume a highest peak or a furthest depth when none exists. They prepare themselves for anything, but they do not, perhaps cannot, prepare themselves for nothing. Its vastness and mystery insists the mind believe something exists there, not unlike the drive to explore outer space and find something to prove the human race is not alone in the universe; the possibility of nothing is difficult to accept. The analysis of the scrapings from the walls proves the furthest reaches of the house are “older than even our solar system” (378), scattering any sensible scientific inquiry as to its origin or purpose–if any. Zampano’s footnotes are also quite meaningless, citing no real books, often no real people, but if real people the quotes are frequently invented, and to top it all off, the lengthy list of contributors to Speen’s book is “entirely random” (footnote 76, pg. 67). At virtually no point in Zampano’s analysis of The Navidson Report does he offer any concrete evidence from outside sources; the footnotes, like the other lists, attempt to make real something that is wholly unreal by using traditional methods of citation, organization and categorization. The failure of reality constraints is made clear by the index: House of Leaves is so confounding, the book fails to index itself; hell, the index can’t even index itself. Like the hallways in shadow world of the house, many indices lead nowhere. They defy the consistency expected by a typical book’s index.

    All is not as hopeless as it seems. The check mark offers one point of certainty: page 97 is precisely where House of Leaves first slips into its disorienting, post-modern textuality. Gently, at first, as evidenced by the sprinkling of Morse code, but as the expeditions into the house continue, the text breaks free from its confines and reconfigures itself in unorthodox, sometimes annoying, ways. Of all the things House of Leaves could plainly indicate with a check mark, it chooses the point in the narrative when everything peels away from reality. How nice.

  12. Reader as Detective

    The Introduction to House of Leaves shocks readers into the film noir detective role instead of the traditional passive reader role.

    To start, the American Typewriter font looks, for lack of a better word, like a typewriter. On the one hand, this font provides a distinct “voice” for Johnny Truant, the supposed narrator/compiler of HOL. For instance, the footnotes in the following chapters that are written in this font as well as other portions of the book in this font allude to Johnny Truant. That said, this font becomes a familiar, if not at least comforting thing to look at, and establishes a kind of trust between reader and Truant. In short, readers want to trust this guy because he appears to be truthful in his writing from the intense description to the font choice resembling letter font, not cold textbook font.

    Truant continues to build trust with the readers as well as establishing a film noir-like world through self-conscious description. For instance, Truant ushers readers into the noir attitude when he says, “It was the end of ’96. Nights were cold.” And so on and so forth, which resembles a Sunset Boulevard kind of an intro to the world readers are about to step into. This allows the readers to enter the detective mindset since Truant continues to build a world that calls for constant criticism, or sorting through facts to see a clear picture. In fact, Truant literally pulls readers into a crime scene investigative mind setting by taking a very special interest in Zampano; specifically, Truant describes in detail the “police” finding Zampano and the whole process behind cleaning up a crime scene, or cleaning up after a dead body in general, without actually being present at the scene. That being said, the morbidity of this scene interests readers to follow this particular story and follow Truant as their surrogate character who is intended to solve the story. However, Truant does not allow this traditional role between character and reader by forcing the readers to inhabit the active decipherer rather than the passive observer.
    On top of this, Truant flatters the reader, or seems to at first anyway, by complimenting that “Hopefully you’ll be able to make sense of what I can represent though still fail to understand” (xvi). This also points to Truant’s intention to withhold complete information from the readers. Similarly, he intends for the reader to take in everything that he had gone through of Zampano’s just as he had, which defends the odd arrangement of the rest of the novel. In this way, the readers have no other way to proceed through the novel other than to determine things for themselves without the complete guidance of another party, specifically the narrator/author figure.

    Before the “narrative” actually begins, however, readers encounter what would have traditionally been the dedication page to find “This is not for you” typed instead. In other words, this statement shocks the readers by hinting that the book they’re holding in their hands and are about to read could have a purpose other than simply being read, or rather simply consumed, by an audience.

  13. First of all, apologies for the delay of this forum posting, I had to finish reading before I would commit my opinions to the page. This of course was in keeping with hope that there would be some final “aha” moment in which all the cryptic clues would click and the interweaving of the various narratives would reveal their pattern, however complicated. (While of course, this hope was eclipsed by my doubt-filled knowing that it this clarity would not be given.) That being said, I chose page 467, the scene of Navidson in his abyss, reading HOUSE OF LEAVES with only a book of matches, burning the pages he has already read to light those remaining. The situation is first analyzed by yet another made up intellectual, “Staker,” the narrator naming his endeavor (and presumably the multitudes which have proceeded it) as “academic onanism,” an academically onanistic way to say, mental masturbation. Dismissing the self-important calculations and pontifications that fail to provide new “illumination” of the textual issues (pun intended) as “[having] very little to do with the real world.” This comment on the “real world” is a challenge to the reader’s own interpretations, the ones of any use being those that function in a tangible realm of human referents.

    From here, the narrator comments on Navidson’s “falling behind” in reading, attributing it either to his own clumsy handling of the absurd process, or because of the book’s “words…arranged in such a way as to make them practically impossible to read.” Navidson, too, is experiencing the changes in textual layout that correlate with the spatial shifts of the house. Or perhaps it is a comment on the convoluted nature of the narrative itself, layered with multiple referents, footnotes, and authorial voices. What is to be made of Danielewski writing his novel into his novel? It echoes those aims of Calvino in If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler yet operates in a succinctly different register. It adds yet another fork in the labyrinth, Navidson simultaneously absorbing his own story and destroying it. The natural progression then (maybe merely my own) is that Navidson inevitably realizes his existence as a fictional character, a shade drafted “out of the blue” to construct a monstrous allegory on the action of writing and reading analytically (17). Finally, Navidson is left with only one match and one more page to read, and he “waits,” “postponing this final bit of illumination.” It could be that he is putting off his inevitable abandonment to absolute darkness, or like myself, holding his breath for a final page that provides resolution, or hesitation over completely destroying the physical realm in which he actually exists.

    It is no coincidence that once this “final act of reading, a final act of consumption” takes place, that Navidson begins to fall hopelessly farther into his abyss, free floating after he has been completely unmoored from his textual referents. “The book is gone leaving nothing behind but invisible traces already dismantled in the dark.” The reader can attempt to connect this with Johnny’s previous description of pages that were burned by some mysterious heat, and yet not at all because in this scene the deconstruction is total. I took it as an allegory for when a book is read and “consumed,” and while not necessarily physically destroyed, the pages are wrung out for all their possible signifiers. The reader connects meaning to whatever degree they are capable: from the “layman” that reads for purely aesthetic escapism (maybe skipping over the words they do not know without trying to learn them), to the intellectual that reads with the intention of reapplying the information to their own hypothesizing, and of course every degree in between. The question remains as to what happens to the book once it is through being read, and imprisoned between its two covers, or perhaps the real question is what happens to the book once the author releases it bound in its final form? Danielewski seems to imply that no matter the aptitude of analysis, once the reader rediscovers, or saves the signifier, Navidson, from the darkness of the closed leaves, they will extract a “limping,” transfigured symbol. Perhaps missing an eye or hand, colder than when created, a face different than the one originally imagined (523). The symbols cannot resist the affectations of personal implications. For this reason the narrator rejects critical analysis that does not place the human experience at the center of its claims. It must have everything “to do with the real world,” no matter how abstract or fantastic the original work.

  14. I have found that a prominent element of the text is the question regarding the border between fiction and reality. Constantly, the reader is bombarded with unreliable narrators (even the Editor) and lists so extreme as to border on absurdity. As Chapter IX comes to a close, Zampanò’s narration brings the discourse on photography and digital media into the conversation as it relates to the significance of The Navidson Record and the house itself, and it is here that the absurdity rears its head.
    After going on and on about the changing nature of film from something that was inalterable to something often fabricated and modified, Zampanò says, “Perhaps the best argument for the authenticity of The Navidson Record does not come from film critics . . . but rather from the I.R.S. Even a cursory glance at Will Navidson’s tax statements . . . proves the impossibility of digital manipulation.
    “They just never had enough money.” That is to say, of course, that one requires significant financial backing to produce the effects required for his film—something that Navidson apparently did not have. But the irony is blatant to the reader. Navidson’s house does not exist, nor does the film, Navidson himself, or even Zampanò. While Zampanò is trying to prove the veracity of the film, one cannot help but ponder the fact that it is entirely fabricated as even a concept. The reader must question what defines fiction and what defines reality.
    Zampanò’s description on pages 148 and 149 continue to detail why Navidson could not have built this house. “The Navidson Record would cost a minimum of six and a half millions dollars. . . . Beauregard again: ‘Considering the cost of special effects these days, it is inconceivable how Navidson could have created his house.’ . . . the best argument for fact is the absolute unaffordability of fiction.” Even aside from what I have noted before, this brings to light an entirely new level of irony and absurdity; the insinuation is that an impossible object—something of fiction—can be brought to fact through simple purchasing power. Navidson could have created his house, assuming more money to his name. Of course, the irony is pleasantly two-fold; Navidson and Zampanò are both fictional characters in a fictional world and the entire situation is wrapped up in the void where Danielewski’s visions and the reader’s imagination merge. One must then wonder about the interplay between fiction and reality. Where do the bounds of this text end and those of reality begin? Do they overlap? How can we ever really know? I mean, has Danielewski, through efforts of fabrication, produced something real? The labyrinth may very well have expanded well beyond the limits of the physical book (one only needs to look at the House of Leaves forums to see the proof of how much this has been taken to heart; the contemplation and investment into “solving” the text overwhelms any concept of fictionality). It has even expanded into this post, to which many of you have no doubt responded to with tl;dr.

  15. Within House of Leaves is the separate narrative of The Navidson Record. The analysis of this non-existent movie is what makes up the bulk of House of Leaves so for that reason my close reading is on the second chapter and mostly on the bits that pertain to The Navidson Record more so than Johnny’s footnotes.
    Chapter two continues the style of writing used in chapter one and is supposed to be from Zampano’s analysis of the film. The dry tone carries a sense of authority and realism to this portion of the text, that this is an actual piece of analysis. It also contrasts sharply with Johnny’s writing, which the reader encounters first in the intro and later on in the chapter, and is complex, highly personal, and very misleading. The style of Zampano’s portions of the text serves as a kind of safe haven for the reader, something familiar and mundane. When the unnatural elements of this story begin to creep into that, the reader is made to feel all the more uncomfortable because of expectations created by the writing style of something purely academic. The same weight of authority is also given to those elements of the supernatural as it did to the analysis. This same effect applies to later chapters when physical changes are made to the presentation of the text, what greets the reader is not the familiar long rows of words, but something unsettling. It is something of a literary Blair Witch Project, which used camera work that was associated with home movies, something viewers could relate easily back into their own lives, and told a horror story. From the descriptions given The Navidson Record itself is also a film in the similar vein.
    In the same way that photographs seemed to threaten painting, film is also a danger to novels. Similarly in how art has become more avant-garde, novels have also attempted to change and modernize, with House of Leaves being one example. Considering that, it is interesting that House of Leaves is a book about a movie, albeit a fictional one, letting it make some commentary about the differences between the two. From the descriptions in chapter two alone, The Navidson Record may as well be the greatest movie ever made. Every shot is a masterpiece that tells so much in so little time. The descriptions of the film are also regularly interrupted by commentary from well known critics, adding to its prestige. In chapter one it is also described as having commercial success as well as recognition from academic sources far and wide. At first it seems to praise film as the superior media but in order to achieve this, something common place to novels is used, the narrator. The narrator, omniscient or otherwise, typically has great trust placed in them for the accuracy of their descriptions about what is happening in the text. The reader will place even more trust in this narrator because of the existence of Johnny’s narration, who reveals himself at many times to be an unreliable narrator, which contrasts with the academic style used by Zampano. The narrator tells the reader that the movie is great, and the reader believes it.

  16. During my selective readings of “House of Leaves”, I became increasingly preoccupied with the “bizarre textual layout” (134) that dominates much of the pages of the novel. The comparison between the textuality of “House of Leaves” and the labyrinth of the house could perhaps be summed up by the simple statement that the ever-changing design—one that defies convention as it twists and warps itself across the pages—reflects the mercurial structure of the house itself. The “bizarre” pages, which flourish in Chapters IX, X and XII, invite a close-reading with their eccentricities and nuances; yet the epigraph at the beginning of Chapter X reminds me of something that, having been whisked away by the pervasive and quirky vacillations of the text, I had forgotten: like the structures of a house, the text I was so vigorously investigating is “pre-determined” (153). By giving us this simple phrase, Danielewski seems to be subtly reminding us—nestled within a layer of self-referentiality—that the physical text of “House of Leaves” is static and “pre-determined”; though the serpentine passages of the physical text, like the labyrinth of the Navidson house, may alter perception and insist on its own distortion, it remains an objective, material object existing as shapely ink on pages in a book.

    Yet the text maintains a sensitive balance between instances of revealing its fixedness (I use this term in place of “less dynamic,” knowing that there exist different editions and that a book is just as subject to being altered physically, which both “House of Leaves” and if on a winter’s night a traveler investigate) and its variability. Zampanò writes of the house that “The Infinite Corridor, the Anteroom, the Great Hall, and the Spiral Staircase, exist for all, though their respective size and even layout sometimes changes” (178). Likewise, the page layouts of “House of Leaves” “exist for all,” even if our perception and interpretation of these pages are different.

    An example of changing perception occurs in footnote 167, written by Zampanò. The footnote discusses the non-existent book titled “Vertical Influence” (131), the text of which has been conspicuously flipped sideways. In order to read this text, the book (or head) must flip to the side, at least to some degree. Reading these lines causes the words to travel vertically down the page in relation to the “normal” orientation of the majority of the text. This curious positioning demands a movement that inevitably shifts perception, as in the labyrinth. Zampanò earlier provides a quote from Penelope Reed Doob that “What you see [within a labyrinth] depends on where you stand” (113); indeed, by moving (or “stand[ing]”) elsewhere, one could see a now horizontally-aligned list of things provided in a book concerned with verticality, which is surrounded by the vertical text of Truant’s ghost story, its words trickling down the page instead of moving across it.

    If the flipped, reversed, struck out, boxed, and otherwise metamorphosed barrage of text in Chapter IX suggests mutability, reflecting the labyrinth of the Navidson house, the paucity of text in Chapter X mirrors the “utter blankness found within” (119). In its most descriptive passages, the majority of the text rests confined to the top or bottom of the page. Before Navidson and Reston descend the stairs, the text remains at the top of the page, but after they have descended, the text mainly sits on the bottom; while they are descending, part of the text sits on top, while another part sits in the middle (160), as if the reader is likewise “descending.” The pages describing Jed’s fatal attack expand time as well as the space between text, such as when the doors shut “one” (220) “after” (221) “another” (222) “after” (223) “another” (224); it took me longer to read each of these words than it would have if they had been next to each other, or even on the same page.

    In spite of these dynamic pages, I am again struck by that word “pre-determined,” which makes me fixate on authorial intent. Yet I cannot discount the importance of experience; “House of Leaves” strikes a balance between the singularity of individual reading experiences and its material being. The text exists on its own, but for the readers the text affects the mind “only when experienced” (170).

  17. Danielewski clearly demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between form and content, notably the way form influences content and vice versa. The textual layout of the novel is, paradoxically, jumbled in an often cryptically systematic manner. There are some passages that are presented upside down, some are sideways, long lists of different subjects ranging from architects to filmmakers, and mirrored imaged lists are contained in blue boxes.
    It is this “bizarre textual layout” (134) that breeds an interesting way of interpreting the subtext of words via molding the articulation of words for the reader. For instance, there is a blank square on page 145 surrounded by text. Some of the words are cut off in strange places causing the reader’s eyes to jump across the page and stunt the flow of internal speech.
    The structure of the text compels the reader to read in fragmented syllables, mimicking the verbal elocution of someone cautious, taking time to choose his/her words and hanging onto syllables. It also harkens back to the cave explorers referenced on page 125, footnote 159. The anecdote in the footnote reads:
    “When first entering the chamber, the party of explorers kept close to a wall assuming incorrectly that they were following a long, winding passageway. It was only when they chose to return by striking straight out into that blackness—expecting it to run into the opposite wall—that they discovered the monstrous size of that cavern.”
    The blank square can be interpreted as the void the size of “over 17 football fields (125).” The text surrounds the square/void, hanging onto the outside edges precariously like the cavers hanging onto the outermost part of the cavern.
    It is also important to consider that, in this footnote, there is a mention of agoraphobia, “the fear of open spaces.” Perhaps it could have some gravity in regards to the pages of the novel—especially in chapter 9—being characterized by the clutter of text; there are hardly any open spaces and when there are, that sense of something just around the corner, looming, is present. This can be brought back to the square/void on page 145 and how the way words are cut off by the square/void (“Ou/r,” “hum/anity,” “univer/se,” etc) interrupts the flow of the reader’s internal speech. This technique does several things. The square can be interpreted as a representation of speech being projected across a gap of silence and still being received on the other side of that gap. It can also be taken as a way of illustrating the experience of the cavers referenced on page 125; the idea that the text surrounding the square is being yelled across an open space, and it might take awhile for the other end to hear the rest of a word.
    This technique is also evident and effective on page 216. A few words appear on a page of their own “[…]all those doors (216)” “behind (217)” “the man (218)” “are slamming shut, (219)” “one”(220) “after” (221) “another (222)” “after (223)” “another (224)” and so on, the sentence continues. The form pushes the reader to experience an emotion that is already suffused in the content in a different way. With each turn of the page, the interrupted speech builds up a feeling of suspense in the reader, pushes the reader into holding his/her breath with each page flip.
    Sidenote: The process of close reading this text underscores the idea that close reading ANY text produces a labyrinthine path of observations, thoughts, and analyses. There is that sense of trying to reach a destination, but—especially in the case of House of Leaves—you are essentially wandering through “a labyrinth without end (136).”

  18. “Subjectively centered”

    Danielewski’s use of a total information overload, through footnotes, multiple margins, different fonts, languages, and colors, interconnected plots, and intentional distractions, is intended juxtapose the purpose of the labyrinth with the philosophy of Existentialism, and this idea is realized when linking his footnote on contrasting views of the idea of the center to a conversation Karen is having with a psychiatrist on the page that is located in the direct center of the novel. His challenge to the audience is to overcome a great obstacle to complete an objective, where the obstacle and the objective are one in the same, which is a paradox that comments on the search for meaning in life. Danielewski is arguing for an Existentialist’s view on life, and that the meaning of life is to simply supply our live with it’s own meaning, and to do so passionately, but means of challenging to reader to work hard to sift through the distractions to find meaning unique to the individual reader, which can be attributed to his use of the term “subjectively centered” when Zapanô is addressing the purpose of the labyrinth, which also can be read as Danielewski’s purpose for the book itself.
    Danielewski’s footnote on page 112 translating a fictitious French definition of the center as it relates to the question of structure and the corresponding counter-argument in the footnote on page 113 begin to address one’s inability to find purpose. The first theory states that the center’s function is “to orient, balance, and organize the structure”, yet the passage contradicts itself, saying, “the center is not the center” (112). The second passage contradicts itself in a different manner, as Danielewski uses a Christian writer to argue for an Existentialist’s view on life, as this fake writer argues, “To ‘reach the centre is to achieve a consecration, an initiation. To the profane and illusory existence of yesterday, there succeeds a new existence, real lasting and powerful’”, but then contrasts himself by following up saying “‘every live, even the least eventful, can be taken the journey through the labyrinth’” (113). The Christian writer is saying that life’s purpose is to reach the center, but he also argues that perhaps there is no center by calling life a “journey through the labyrinth”. The Christian’s writer declaration that “man’s space is ‘subjectively centered’” (113), further argues for an Existentialist’s view on life.
    Using Zampanô’s emphasis on the center, I investigate the physical center of the novel, page 355, which follows Karen’s life after the house, and a conversation she is having about the purpose of the house with a psychiatrist, Dr. Leslie Stern. Karen seems thoroughly concerned with the purpose of the house, while Dr. Stern, the voice of reason, responds “there you go again with ”meaning”. I gave up meaning a long time ago.” (355). Karen then continues to remember a conversation with an architectural engineer, who is attempting to get understand the house’s ability to extend into the core of the earth, which simply leads to an infinite number of questions. Danielewski’s reasoning for this can be found in his one and only use of the world house that is not in blue, but red and struck through with a line. The line is:
    “or in other words, like the house, the film itself captures us and prohibits us at the same time it frees us, to wander, and so first misleads us, inevitably drawing us from the us, thus, only in the end to lead us, necessarily, for where else could we really have gone?, back again to the us and hence to ourselves” (114).
    Danielewski wants the reader to use the house as a metaphor for life, using the house to “lead us” on a journey that develops a sense of self realization, by means of his use of intentional distractions to increase the difficulty of finding meaning in the book, as his “ideal goal”, the succeeding of finding meaning in the book, or life, “one can only attain after a ‘hard journey’” (113).

  19. Reading literature has taught me that usually, a house is not merely a house. As I read a House of Leaves, I saw a small connection to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” In this particular play, the room can be read into in various ways, one being that the room is a human head, with the window as eyes. In House of Leaves, the class made the connection with the house and its labyrinth being a representation of a person’s psyche. Chapter 4 of Danielewski’s House of Leaves presents the theme of knowledge leading to madness as well as poses a concern towards the frailty of works of art (or text.)
    I have been reading Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitrou’s Logicomix concurrently with House of Leaves and both share characters, who in the search for ONE truth or reason, have gone mad. One of the ideas presented in the former is that logic breeds contradiction and trying to find logic in those contradictions would be like trying to fill up a leaking jar. In House of Leaves, the reader sees a similar notion. Skourja mentions two types of riddles: those with solutions and those without. (33) According to her, it is the riddles without solutions that bring torment. Skourja delves into the etymologies of “riddle,” “opinion, conjure,” “to interpret,” “read,” “to calculate, to think” and finally “reason.” I found this particularly interesting because by doing this, Skourja directly links riddles to reason which might present a paradox since the unsolvable cannot be reasoned until a solution is found.
    In addition, the reader sees another paradox of sorts in the line “Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the appearance of ‘not knowing.’” (34) This line was particularly striking because it seems as if ‘maturity’ is most often association with a certain acquiring of knowledge. For example, when one comes of age, it is usually because that person experiences something that leads the person to gain an insight of sorts. But it is rather odd, that this new self-knowledge is the acceptance of not knowing.
    In House of Leaves, Danielewski presents the fragility of books. The impermanence of the text is seen on page 38, in footnotes 44 and 45. Zampano’s footnote is “buried beneath a dark spill of ink” and is irrecoverable “along with the rest of Mr. Stabenrath” (38). In addition, on page 31, Truant’s footnote discusses the elimination of Zampano’s physical being, for only the “leaves” are all that is left of him. Zampano’s apartment “has been scrubbed with Clorox, repainted, probably rented out to somebody else” while his body is “either molding in the ground or reduced to ash (31).” This statement does support the idea that although every physical trace of Zampano has been removed or replaced, he has been preserved through the text. However, the reader must remember that the text itself is very delicate. The word “leaves” suggests paper-thin layers. Perhaps this is to show that the book’s foundation is not solid—the readers are given a heap of false sources, an unreliable writer (Truant) who is writing down a blind man’s examinations (Zampano) of a film. These layers suggest the need to scavenge and dig for something that would provide logic (as to why the interior of the house is bigger) and reason (as to the book’s message) and yet in doing so, one risks becoming insane. Readers already see possibilities of insanity if one embarks on a quest for one truth—the state of Zampano’s apartment after his death and Truant’s incident with delusion and reality (page 108, chapter 9).
    The fragility of this particular text reflects the fragility of the mind. With age, both the mind and the book alters while some parts are lost; the more knowledge the mind tries to attain, or, in the case of the book, present, the more convoluted things become.

    By the way, I found this today and thought it amusing:

    http://xkcd.com/472/

  20. Danielewski’s House of Leaves proves a series of questions and puzzlements to the reader as they try to navigate the labyrinth that makes up House of Leaves, however part of the joy of House of Leaves is that there is no right way to enter or leave the maze. The words that resonate with me the most throughout this text are these, “All solutions then are necessarily personal” (115). I take this to mean that all “solutions” to this text must come from the reader and their personal experience. As I review my copy of House of Leaves that was given to me last year I find myself staring into myself. My personal annotations demonstrate my decent into insanity as I read this novel. I do not think it is possible for a single person to claim that there is one solution, one interpretation to this novel. In fact the book, in a way, makes fun of that idea. House of Leaves clouds any clear pathway through the novel in footnotes and different narratives. Therefore, the only way one could interpret all the information and text that is presented to them is on a personal level.
    I found myself attempting to navigate my own path out of labyrinth. When there are portions in the Navidson Record that are left blank because they are burnt, I found myself compulsively attempting to fill in the blank spaces. This was a part of my personal solution. I tried to restore the text to what I thought it was before it was burnt. However, there is no way for me to tell whether my inferences were correct at all. Thus I find myself restoring a text based off of me and I therefore place myself into the book. Just as the footnotes demonstrate the personal relationship each character has with the text, my annotations demonstrate my personal relationship, and add a new level to the insanity that is House of Leaves.
    Moreover, my personal addition to the text creates a specific type of relationship between reader and novel. Where there are books that simply allow you to read things and take them at their face value, in order to even begin understanding House of Leaves it requires a deeper level of reading and understanding. While many in our class have argued that it is probable that House of Leaves makes fun of reader’s attempts to close read, I would argue that the level of attention needed to understand the nuances of House of Leaves surpasses most other novels I have read. The fact that the reader needs to be able to discern which information is necessary and where the secret messages are encoded requires engagement from the reader and multiple levels of reading. While reading the text for symbolism is necessary, understanding the topography of the text is just as vital to discerning the levels of the text. House of Leaves therefore proves to not just be a novel, but a puzzle, an object, and an insight into one’s self.

  21. As it has been noted, form plays a tremendous role in House of Leaves. Form and content are symbiotic throughout the text, and perhaps no more so than the scene where Navidson enters a strange place, climbs a ladder and enters a crawl space. The reader at the beginning of this scene is disoriented, almost nauseated by the manipulation of the texts orientation. As Navidson is seemingly disoriented, the reader participates on this journey that is deprived of any direction; vertigo. As Navidson sees a familiar form of a ladder, the reader does too. Finally having a sense of direction, knowing up form down, the reader follows Navidson up the rungs. By structuring the text to resemble the rungs of a ladder, Danielewski is forcing the reader to actively participate in the story. The vertical structure allows for only one correct reading in this instance; you could read the words going down the rungs, but you would not be heading the correct direction, thus loosing the ability to follow Navidson. The reader must struggle up the rungs of text, just as Navison struggles; Reading bottom to top is an unnatural experience that requires concentration.
    As Navidson reaches the top of the ladder, his hard work is praised, “His tenacity is rewarded. Thirty minutes later he reaches the last rung” (441). This is on some level, authorial encouragement; Danielewski knows that he has aligned the reader’s journey with Navidson’s, and is indirectly cheering on the reader. As Navidson reaches a small room, the type set is restored to a left to right top to bottom traditional layout. The nine words on page 442 resemble the structure, which they describe, “Small room with one door which he cautiously opens” (442). The reader not only knows that they are in a room, they can see that they are. The reader shares the same sentiment of caution as they enter the small corridor with Navidson.
    The corridor has a claustrophobic and constricting feeling as the text progresses. The words and form tell the reader that the space is getting smaller, and the brevity of each increasing page adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. The pages must be turned at an increasing pace to accommodate for the decreasing information provided on each progressing page. As the type set changes to two flat lines per page, the image of crawling in a confined space becomes tangible. As he emerges from the crawlspace, and is told that everything has changed, the reader sees that indeed this claim is true. The structure comprised of “X” resembles either a house or a wall in a room. This structure being constructed of only “X” alludes to the mysterious nature of it, as in mathematics, “X” represents the unknown. The further he moves through the text, the more he discovers about this thing that he is looking at. The closer the structure of the text progresses, the closer both the reader and Navidson come to discovering what this place they have arrived at together really is.

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