[More on House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — because I’m resigned that I need more than one post to process this creature. The first part of this ongoing series talks about initial impressions and first encounters with the book.]
In his introduction, Johnny Truant describes The Navidson Record, the manuscript of his friend’s dead neighbor Zampanò, as thus:
Endless snarls of words, sometimes twisting into meaning, sometimes into nothing at all, frequently breaking apart, always branching off into other pieces I’d come cross later — on old napkins, the tattered edges of an envelope, once even on the back of a postage stamp; everything is anything but empty; each fragment completely covered with the creep of years and years of ink pronouncements; layered, crossed out, amended; handwritten, typed; legible, illegible; impenetrable, lucid; torn, strained, scotch taped; some bits crisp and clean, others faded, burnt or folded and refolded so many times the creases have obliterated whole passages of god knows what — sense? truth? deceit? a legacy of prophecy or lunacy or nothing of the kind?, and in the end achieving, designating, describing, recreating — find your own words; I have no more; or plenty more but why? And all to tell — what?
And I have to agree. Elsewhere, where Truant points out an inconsistency, he also says, I have no idea whether it’s on purpose or not. Sometimes I’m certain it is. Other times I’m sure it’s just one big fucking train wreck. I have to agree with that one too. All this is basically what I feel about this gorgeous, confusing, structural-wonder of a book. That is, when I’m not thinking that it’s a gorgeous, confusing, structural-wonder of a book.
So, yeah, let’s set that aside right here: I think this is an awesome book. I don’t love every part of it — I’ll actually focus on the most problematic aspect of my experience in this post — but overall, it blew my mind. I enjoyed the mental leaps I had to make, I enjoyed playing spectator and detective re all the rabbits Danielewski was pulling out of the proverbial hat, I enjoyed the story [not all parts of it, sure] — but I liked this book a lot. A lot. We’re just getting that out of the way because, frankly, House of Leaves is a mindfuck and I need to make sense of this, well, this creature.
Thus, this post, the one before this, and the next [two-ish] to follow. You might have figured out by now that this is less about you, Dear Reader, as it is more of me talking to myself, haha.
Where was I? Ah. So: » Zampanò’s found text, The Navidson Record, itself begins questioning the authenticity of a cult film called, also, “The Navidson Record” — which is, essentially, about a house that is larger inside than it is outside. A short film, a teaser of sorts, “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway,” was made from the original full-length. The footage reveals a ten-foot-long dark hallway within the house, a hallway that wasn’t there before, a hallway that the house doesn’t manifest from the inside. It defies explanation. There is just so much wrong in this house.
» Zampanò’s The Navidson Record is meant to be an academic text — the arch tones, the footnotes both from Zampanò, and Johnny Truant, and the editors to whom Truant supposedly submitted the text. Hell, the novel’s very form turns this academic-text-ness around on its head, makes fun of it, it seems, while at the same time fully taking advantage of it: It’s a study of a film called “The Navidson Record” that doesn’t seem to have existed in the first place. It’s a [hoax?] film within an academic study within a found narrative within Danielewski’s novel.
» Navidson family and the events in the house of Ash Tree Lane → “The Navidson Record” [film, from which two shorter films — “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway” and “Exploration #05” — derive] → The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study] → The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study as edited by Johnny Truant] → The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study through Johnny Truant, through unidentified editors] → Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel. Well. That’s how it goes. As far as I can understand. Dammit.
» Zampanò is making all of this convoluted shiznit up. Or maybe he’s not. But then, Zampanò’s form in itself can’t be trusted, so why trust the content? And, besides, Johnny Truant isn’t the most reliable protagonist/editor. He’s influenced the original text here and there, and he doesn’t always say how. So. Note to self: A question of truth within Zampanò’s text, of Zampanò’s text. And in some unnerving instances, of Johnny Truant’s. And especially of Danielewski’s [although, well, I’ve basically forgotten about the author, given how much I have on my plate already.]
» I’m going to try to figure out style. House of Leaves frequently plays with form and structure, using style not only to support storytelling but also to reflect the content of the narrative.
→ The former: easily, the premise that this is a found document, an academic text, an exploration. Footnotes, references, all suggesting a careful study — all aimed to lend authenticity. And although I’ve said that there is little to no trace of Danielewski here: this structure is, in fact, his presence. This is the author’s decision: Obliterate the writer’s ego only to raise it further: “See, this text kicks ass on its own.” Fuck.
→ The latter, of course: text reading diagonally, the font shrinking or looming, the one-line-a-page shtick, etc.: reflexive and reflective of 01, Johnny Truant’s psyche; 02, Zampanò’s psyche; 03, Navidson et. al. psyche; 04, the very nature of the house of Ash Tree Lane with its ever-changing dimensions — claustrophobic one moment, a giant nutjob of space the next. [And, to tell ya the truth, a few of these parts pissed me off. So much so that I can’t bear to talk about them in detail. Let’s just say that there were times that incomprehensibility was the theme of the hour, and no one within the pages were relenting — that they had contrived to make it hard for this reader to even approximate the act of reading. Gah. [Samples of such pages in the next two pictures.] Note, too, that there are a lot of clues, the literaria-highfalutin version of Easter Eggs: codes, puzzles, whatnot. Note, too, that I missed a lot. And that I only knew I missed a lot when I Googled the bejeebies out of this book.]
→ Perhaps the most basic stylistic device Danielewski employs: house will always be in blue. That textual distinction — house, house, house: Dude. It’s chilling. So consistent, so atmospheric. I see that blue word from the corner of my eye and I prepare myself for a creepfest. It’s conditioning! And it’s goddamned effective. HOUSE!
There’s more, of course. I could be cutesy [albeit appropriate and dead-on] if I say that the convolutions in this novel’s form and structure perfectly mirrors the mindfuck inside. Mirrors, inspires, draws from. There are more convolutions, but I’ll end this self-ramble here. There will be a next time, though: In the next post, I’ll be talking [very shortly, because my head still hurts] about the arguments re representation within House of Leaves. Bah, I’ll figure it out.]
I’ve been extremely busy the last couple of months (what with moving to another country and school) so I’m not currently reading House of Leaves (I promise to make up for it by reading the next book we pick and being a particularly productive poster then). However, when I read the novel last year I enjoyed the hints and references to Borges and I thought that if people who are still struggling with the novel knew of them, they’d enjoy it a bit more and hopefully find it less tedious. Throughout his work, Borges uses the same set of motifs or myths - among them are labyrinths, mirrors, the duplicity of self identity, dreams, infinity, books and libraries, blindness, etc. If you’ve been reading HoL, you’re probably starting to realize how heavily Danielewski drew inspiration from Borges. But his influence isn’t limited to the themes, Borges also employed footnotes and tricky paratext as well as a writing style that tricks the reader into thinking they’re reading a nonfictional text not a story. It’s really hard to explain the many ways in which Borges innovated narrative language and technique and there’s no better way to do than by showing you two of his short stories:
Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote is the first short story Borges wrote in his new style (fun fact: most people who read it when it was first published thought it was a review of an actual book, not a story, did it manage to trick you too?), while The Library of Babel is one of this most well known stories and probably the one that resembles HoL most. I hope you’ll be able to pull yourselves away from HoL (and from work/school) for five minutes and read both because they’re just wonderful. I’m sorry if my assumption that a lot of people didn’t know about Borges’ work hurt anybody’s feelings (if you’re a Borges fan, give me a shout out in my ask box and we’ll fangirl over him together). My purpose in life is to make sure everybody enjoys his texts so I think my behavior is not entirely inexcusable.
I am already boring, but the last thing I want to add is that I’m a n00bish art lover so I often illustrate for myself the books I read with paintings (what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?). I’ve rarely read a book that matches a set of paintings as well as HoL matches Mark Rothko’s chapel paintings. The huge black canvases that remind the viewer of the dark uncertainty of inner as well as outer space feel exactly like illustrations of the Navidson saga. Check out a book on Rothko’s paintings next time you’re in a library and/or watch BBC’s wonderful documentary Power of Art: Rothko, you won’t regret it.
So, we’ve been having an influx of members, even though it’s not so evident, based on the frequency of member posting. I thought it was best to make a post to ask who among you are still reading with us.
I’m on a generally slow path, reading about 10% or so of the book. So far, I really like it, I just haven’t found the time to really sit down and absorb it (as it is the type of book you need to be prepared to spend large amounts of time reading, as opposed to sneaking bits and pieces throughout your day). Sasha has finished it, and loves it a lot.
So, I was just wondering who else is still reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s “The House of Leaves” with us. We need to know, so that we can determine if we can impose an extension or something. Just a ‘yes’ (I am reading) or ‘no’ (I gave up on it/didn’t like it) would be fine.
Thank you for your time. :)
Strangely enough, by the time Karen reaches Navidson in the foyer, she has quite effectively masked all her eagerness to see him. Her indifference is highly instructive. In that peculiar contradiction that serves as connective tissue in so many relationships, it is possible to see that she loves Navidson almost as much as she has no room for him.
Hello, all. I’ve read this book, and think it’s Teh Awesomez. I’ve done a dissection-worship / groan-squeal over at my book blog, but I am reposting them here because, well, the book is Teh Awesomez. So. Here:
I have been both relentlessly interested and [innately] skeptical of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Since April, I’ve been drawn to this book in the bookstore, picking it up, testing its weight. I’d hug it to my chest as I wandered the store. And then I’d set it back down, telling myself it was too stylistic and experimental for my tastes, that it would only annoy me. I may have a high tolerance for stylistic experimentation, but not for bullshit. But every time I’d return to that bookstore, I’d pick it back up again. Same process.
But I’ve bought it. This being a Read Hard! Book, I finally had an excuse. I went home with it the day I received my paycheck; I believe this is the same book I’ve fondled all these months.
I was still apprehensive. Once I tore off the protective plastic, I randomly flipped through the pages and was welcome with varied typefaces, lines that ran diagonally, footnotes, colored cross-outs, three appendices, an index. Among others. How was I going to read this book? I don’t even understand what it plans to offer me. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to be.
I read the introduction by some guy named Johnny Truant, and intro that tells of this story’s origins: it’s the fragmented life’s work of a now-dead graphomaniac named Zampanò, a manuscript found in the deceased’s apartment. This intro by Truant also held several warnings to the reader, among them:
… you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or for worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.
And then the nightmares will begin.
Okay. The thing is, this is only page xxiii of this book and, as with Johnny Truant, I had slowly began to feel its heaviness, sensed something horrifying in its proportions, it’s silence, its stillness. In other words, I was seriously creeped out. So much so that a chunk of me was already screaming, “Good gawd, this is all real! And you can’t look away!” I actually spent minutes having an argument with myself, re the book’s veracity. It’s fiction, okay? Of course it’s fiction.
Why do I keep questioning its fiction-ness? Why do I periodically insist that this couldn’t be anything but? Of course it’s fiction.
It’s the form, of course, how this thing is initially presented. Johnny Truant as our guide into Zampanò’s world. Zampanò leading us through the supposedly non-hoax The Navidson Record. Zampanò’s use of form: this is a dissertation, albeit none of the sources, as far as I know, indicate that Zampanò has an intimate knowledge of the events within The Navidson Record. And there are footnotes. In SashaLand, footnotes wield supreme authority. Footnotes mean real.
The question, basically, is not whether the book House of Leaves is real, or whether Johnny Truant is. I know this is a book written by one Mark Z. Danielewski, and I know Johnny Truant is a character in that book. [What’s exponentially awesome about this book is that there are virtually no traces of Danielewski—not his voice, not his authorial hand, nada.]
The debate is in the book’s locus: On one level, is the house on Ash Lane Tree real? Were there really Navidsons? On another level, is Zampanò’s text and narrative real? That is, is it a fact within this novel’s mythos? [For example, or a poor analogy: The little mermaid did turn into sea foam, and yet there’s a tiny whisper telling us Alice simply fully dreamed Wonderland.] But, of course, even Johnny Truant points out mistakes and inconsistencies, and a few times, testimonies from people who knew Zampanò that it’s all fictive narrative. But still, but still!
Ah, the questions. This is what happens when a book takes itself seriously, and a reader over-intellectualizes the bejeebies out of it.
Women have curious ways of hurting someone else. They hurt themselves instead; or else they do it so the guy doesn’t even know he’s been hurt until much later. Then he finds out. Then his dick falls off.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (page 282)
Finally finished reading the book. You should totally finish it. I loved it.
How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next - if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions - you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.
It is quite hard to sit with this book. I read most of your posts and nodded my head because the content didn’t seem to live up to the blurb and those awesome lines in the beginning where Atwood strings the words ‘shipwrecks’ ‘romance’ ‘jungles’ ‘tropical islands’ ‘mountains’ ‘space’ together. I’m not too fond of her characters and I find myself unable to follow the story completely but I’m reading on because Atwood is famous for literary surprises. She ties stories together at the end but even before reaching that point, I’m just reading for the writing.
I read parts of this book out loud and discovered that there’s a distinct voice and rhythm. She’s really a talented writer. Also, somewhere in the 200’s and 300’s are snippets about Buddhism, quotes from Tennyson and allusions to Oscar Wilde. So yeah, I’m keeping my thumb locked on this lowly 100th page.
Also, how do you feel about world-making in relation to affairs? I think this is why I have a soft spot for this book. The language of affairs is a language of make-believe here it is: the story of two people who built their own world in order to fit into an already existing one. Plus the epigraphs which a lot of people think are too much for any book to start with seem perfect for this one. The Polish journalist, Kapuscinski plus the writing on an urn from Carthage and Sheila Watson’s words seem to highlight the whole world-making/destroying thing. Hmm, what do you think?
“Laura will have money, when she’s twenty-one,” I said.
“Not enough,” said Winifred.
“Maybe it will be enough for Laura. Maybe she just wants to lead her own life,” I said.
“Her own life!” said Winifred. “Just think what she’d do with it!”