Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Hey Pretty," by Poe, from the album Haunted. Just in case you thought that at least House of Leaves hadn't seeped into absolutely everything, Mark Danielewski is Poe's brother. The voiceover and text in this video are him reading from of House of Leaves (pp 88-89, to be exact. Tuesday's reading. Freaky coincidence! This book--it is everywhere! I came into Fenton to work today--Sunday, stood in the entrance looking down the long, empty corridor, and felt a little freaked out. The album Haunted, is a companion piece to the book. You can find the songs on youtube.

I'm not sure what to do with this book yet. I think it's a matter of perspective, in the strictest sense--it's important not to try and hold it too closely, to micro-analyze it. For one thing, that's impossible, and trying will cause English Major Head Implosion. There are a bazillion things to analyze on every page, and the nested academic footnotes and welter of real and fake references don't help either. This book mocks all attempts at doing what it is we think we're supposed to do with books.

On the other hand, holding it too far away, assuming it doesn't make sense, doesn't mean anything and is just there to thwart and annoy us, also misses the point. It is, if nothing else, beautifully made. The pieces do all fit together, reflect and echo and complement each other--even the digressions. Zampano's long and absurdly academic digression on the topic of "Echo somewhere between pp 44-54, for example, describes exactly what it is we try to do when we navigate any kind of unfamiliar space, architectural or intellectual--make a sound and wait for something to come back to us. Even though an echo isn't real communication, strictly speaking, it is at least signals depth and boundaries. All the stuff about labyrinths makes perfect sense too. A labyrinth is an architectural structure which is also a mystery--and a very dangerous one if there happen to be any minotaurs hanging out in the center of them.

The whole discussion of the uncanny on pp 24-25 is somewhat helpful too--the unheimlich is that which is not home, not comforting, not safe--the things that look like those things, but aren't. That's pretty much exactly how most horror tropes work--haunted houses, monsters. They're just versions of us and our fears and desires, really.

This book does tell us how to read it. There's a plot we can follow, a fairly small cast of characters, a sort of narrative consistency. Johnny's crazy, as it turns out, has a history.

What I'm noticing are all the little echoes in the book, all the parallels between Johnny's narrative and Zampano's writeup of the Navidson Record, the academic digressions and the main plot. But most of all, I'm pretty sure that the house and the book echo each other. One of the definitions of 'leaf' is "a single sheet of paper, a page from a book. A house of leaves is an uncanny piece of architecture with doorways, corridors, and spaces that defy the laws of physics, which haunt a family. A book is also a house of leaves, opening up impossible worlds for its reader.

OK, so tell me. What are your thoughts? What is your way in to this book? What do you notice?

1 comment:

  1. After talking about this in class today I took a minute to watch the video and it seems so completely out of context with the rest of the book. Sure, it's sexy and kind of dark, gritty, and he's reading the text word-for-word, but is that really what House of Leaves is about?
    Which causes me to think, what is Danielewski's purpose for this book? What kind of reaction was he aiming for when he wrote this, narrator inside narrator inside narrator, etc. A large part of me hopes that it wasn't just for society to get off on some dark, dirty sex scenes that reveal the harsher side of life - there's gotta be more to it, otherwise why involve real critics like Derrida and Freud at all? Not that Freud isn't dark and dirty himself at times...

    I don't know, personally, I feel like House of Leaves is so much more than a scary story or a version of Sin City with super graphic sex scenes. People can just watch porn for that and be way less bothered with thought-provoking stylistic choices. But I'll give my final analysis on the book's purpose when I'm done. I really, really like talking about it, though.