“Representation as itself a simulacrum” Baudrillard

I had some trouble understanding Jean Baudrillard’s article and what he means by Simulacra.  It’s one of those articles that I start off thinking “I got it!” and then the more I read I realize that I don’t get it.  But I noticed he explains in his description of the representations of reality, “no more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coexistensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation.” For some reason that reminded me of the 500+ photos that I have saved on my memory card.  The memory card can be seen as a “miniature” of different realities, photos of my family, my friends and myself in different occasions that can be “reproduced,” duplicated, and even shared with others.  These digital pictures are now even substituting the tangible ones that we used to keep framed around the house and that are compared with the “map” Baudrillard mentions that was once used to represent reality. His explanation also made me think of Plato’s theory on art being an imitation of life that is thrice removed from reality.  Baudrillard suggests a new dimension to the whole notion of art and imitation, and mostly focuses on an absence of reality that proliferates a new and different, I am hesitant to call, reality.

As to House of Leaves, I was curious to know if there was a certain method for reading this book or whether it’s best to go along with the shifts in narratives and the interruptions.  I personally can’t stand elaborate footnotes because of the distractions they create when I’m reading and I tend to ignore them and maybe go back to some of them at the end of a chapter.  With this book, I felt an obligation towards these footnotes, even though I know they are mostly made up information, and I also decided to read both narratives along side because I thought it would give me the necessary “feel” of the layering and the fragmentation in the book.  As if the book wasn’t fragmented enough, I tried reading parts of Baudrillard’s article along with the book.  Maybe not a smart move but I was initially put off by the article’s difficulty and decided to take that approach.  Going back to the point I mentioned, I noticed the same idea somewhat “echoed” by Zampano in chapter 5.  His “odd murmuring” about the significance of echoes in a way resonates, I think, with what Baudrillard was saying about what he calls simulacra.  Zampano explains the mythological history of Echo and concludes that Echo’s repetitions were colored “with faint traces of sorrow or accusation never present in the original” (41).  In a way it could be taken as an example of one of Baudrillard’s “successive phases of the image” which is that it “masks and perverts a basic reality” that will eventually lead to it baring no relation to any reality and would have “its own pure simulacrum.”  Zampano explains that Echo’s voice then “possesses a quality not present in the original, revealing how a nymph can return a different and more meaningful story, in spite of telling the same story” (42). 

Real Echoes

I was intrigued by the passage in The House of Leaves that defined and related the history of echoes. Echo’s voice “has life. It possesses a quality not present in the original, revealing how a nymph can return a different and more meaningful story, in spite of telling the same story” (42). Of course the series of echoes is found in the construction of the text itself, Zampono’s voice filtered through at least two other voices, and Truant even admits to changing Zampono’s “heater” into “water heater,” in order to make Truant’s echo of Zampono’s story more meaningful to Truant. The echo therefore is real and has meaning in its own right, independent from the original sound. This independent meaning of the representation parallels Baudrillard’s phases of the images, where a simulacrum can exist with no relation to reality, and the invented character of Navidson, who would perhaps fit in at number three of the image phases. Of course it’s silly for literature students to debate whether or not fiction/lies/simulacra have meaning, but by inviting the reader to imagine the book as a true story, Danielewski makes the reader more actively involved and invested in the story. Baudrillard suggests that simulation is dangerous because it implies that everything is a simulation. The reader, confronted with such a skillful simulation of a critical discussion about a film, will then somewhat question the existence of the “real” critics and films s/he reads or has read about.

The main episode where echoes play a large role is when Navidson, lost in the passageway, keeps calling out to find his way through space, and his daughter’s response to his calls is a kind of echo that (it would appear) saves his life. Navidson’s adventure in the passageways echoes the imagery Zampano uses to describe (what Truant thinks is) his own experience with echoes: a word “flung down empty hallways long past midnight” (48). The only evidence of the beast in the passageways with Navidson is aural as well, the growling noises reverberating in the silence. Even the beast itself seems to only echo the awareness of it. Lude hasn’t detected anything wrong with reality. Zampono’s foreboding final emphasis on how Daisy’s “Always” echoes “hallways” seems to give great weight to echoes, but to what end? (73) Is the beast the reality that everyone’s simulacra are working to hide? Or is it the truth that there is no reality?

Truant also seems happier with Thumper’s “image feeling permanently fixed within me” than really getting to know the real girl with the tattoo (54). Something strange is going on with his repeated “can’t write the word”s, and also his “Known some call is air am” is a kind of textual echo of the Latin, purposefully leading the reader on an involved quest for its meaning (72).

Layers of echoes

Several posts have been about Danielewski’s lack of presence– dare I call it his silence?–  in the novel.  I was certainly struck by this as well.   However, Danielewski’s voice, like so much of the postmodern literature that we have studied, is buried under layers of intertextuality–editors, Truant, Zampano, Navidson, Karen, etc. The only way we “hear” Danielewski’s voice is through layers of fictitious characters.  While we occasionally hear Navidson, he is presented through a film clip, or through a critic’s interpretation, or through Zampano.  Even Zampano’s voice, which is primarily heard through footnotes, is being interpreted through Truant. And Truant’s voice (or absence like Susanna pointed out) is also qualified by the editors.  All of these layers of distance and absence are important to simulation of reality.  I don’t feel like I quite understand Baudrillard’s successive phases of the image (or even if they can be successive), but the bit about the Moebius strip splitting in two and always calling into question the real by the imaginary seemed to fit in this case.  Isn’t Danielewski using the imaginary, the intertextuality, to define exactly who he is?

Another layer (real or imagined) was the lengthy and sometimes tangential comments about echoes in chapter v.  The very nature of an echo is imaginary, even mythic as the opening to the chapter suggests.  The echo isn’t the actual voice, but the mimicking of a voice– calling to mind the very strategy that Danielewski is using in crafting his book.   Many moments of the echoes arise in this chapter, mainly in regard to the hallways.  “In the living room, Navidson discovers echoes emanating from a dark doorless hallway which has appeared out of nowhere in the west wall” (57). These echoes are the voices of his children lost in the hallways.   

Not only do the echoes add a type of layering to the story that mimics the structure of the story, but they also add to the eerie tone. “Delay and fragmentation repetition create a sense of another inhabiting a necessarily deserted place” (46).  After the children’s shouts are heard throughout the living room, Karen “freezes on the threshold,” paralyzed by fear of the unimaginable.  This same sentiment is brought up a few chapters later when Navidson is lost in the hallway at 3:19 am.  Instead of the echoes being created by the hallways,”suddenly immutable silence” takes its place (67).  After hearing the growl, Navidson makes vain attempts to call out to his wife and brother, but his shouts are met again by silence.  Couldn’t this absence of words be relate to the echoing of words?  Each is missing some sort of reality of words.  Is Danielewski trying to do as Baudrillard suggests and define something according to its binary?  

By way of a tangent, it’s interesting to note that “Simulacra and Simulations” is the article being read by the character Neo early in the film “The Matrix.”  The movie contains multiple other references to the essay, including the phrase (uttered by Morpheus upon his revealing the wasteland that is the ‘real world’ of the future earth) “the desert of the real”– a direct quote from the essay.

Layers and Reliability

I believe I mentioned in class that one of my students had the most bizarre reaction when I mentioned that I was going to be reading The House of Leaves. One day, when I told her I was going to start reading the book that night, she cried, “Oh no! Don’t read it at night! Read it during the day when you’re sure of yourself and the world around you!” Her reaction made me laugh, but when I did go to start reading the book later that evening I must admit that I was a bit hesitant. J Maybe it was the warnings of my student that got me, but I did find the style to be rather ominous. I kept waiting for the horror I might discover on the next page. Although I still feel that Danielewski has successfully created an eerie, foreboding mood, I’ve overcome that initial hesitation and I am very much intrigued by the style of the book!


Several people have commented on the many layers of the book. I find this layering just fascinating! We’re reading a book told from the point of view of a narrator (a “frame narrator”?) who is piecing together a book from scraps of writings about a film which, as others have mentioned, is also fragmented. Then there is the layer of false support and commentary found in the footnotes. Additionally, Truant’s compilation also offers him a chance to reflect in journal-like writings. Just like the house in the novel, these layers seem never-ending.


In addition to the layers of the novel, I’m also interested in the names Danielewski chose. Susanna discussed the significance of Truant’s name. I’m also intrigued by Truant’s friend, Lude. Lude is rather lewd, but, then again, so is Truant. However, by going through Zampano’s writing, Truant begins to think on a deeper level, to some level going beyond the lewd lifestyle of smoking pot, getting drunk, and having sex with multiple (and random) partners. However, Lude (or the lewd lifestyle) keeps interrupting his thoughts (50).


As others have mentioned, Truant’s lifestyle has other implications…he can be seen as an unreliable narrator. Sara mentioned that Truant’s errors make him unreliable. I had a very different view, though. I actually see Truant has a rather reliable narrator because he is presented as very “real”. Truant’s voice is very conversational. He apologizes for how he is expressing his thoughts, he uses clichés (which we’re all guilty of), and he does make mistakes. Also, Truant demonstrates an understanding that time distorts memory. Within the first few pages of his introduction he admits that a particular memory “isn’t entirely accurate” but states that he is trying to be (xvi). Sure, we might not be getting an accurate account of this fictional tale, but I believe that Truant is presented as a rather real, believable character trying to make sense of what he has stumbled upon.


Speaking of real…I was relieved to learn that I was not the only one who struggled with Baudrillard’s essay on the real and the simulated. (I honestly struggled a bit with Foucault’s, too.) I think there have been some interesting comments about the connection between Baudrillard’s piece and The House of Leaves. I particularly liked Susanna’s observation that “Zampano’s reality becomes Truant’s reality”. From what I could gather, Baudrillard seems to make the argument that, due to representation and simulation, the real and the imagined become intertwined, and the imagined (or, in our case, the seemingly impossible) becomes another sort of reality. This thought really came back to me when I was reading Truant’s introduction and he states, “Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t doesn’t matter here. The consequences are the same” (xx). I feel this statement really connects to the idea of constructed realities. At this point in the novel we’re also seeing Truant dealing with consequences from what is not truly real but has become real to him through his connection to Zampano and his work. (Did that make sense? J)


I look forward to discussing the novel and the articles in class tomorrow!

~Jennifer Kathryn Fulton

Simulation and Medicine

            I enjoyed reading the “The Divine Irreference of Images” section of Baudrillard’s essay.  The essay is so dense on a philosophical level that I had a hard time putting it into terms I could understand.  When he begins talking about simulation in relation to the medical field, I immediately made some connections that helped me deduce his meaning.  He talks about the simulation being both true and false: “The simulator cannot be treated objectively either as ill, or as not ill” (168).  This made me think of hypochondriacs and how they work well as a subject of simulation.  The hypochondriac simulates a disease to the point that they believe they are really sick.  Because of this, they are both healthy and not healthy.  Just as Baudrillard points out, the medical profession does not know how to handle such people: “What can medicine do with something which floats on either side of illness, on either side of health, or with the reduplication of illness in a discourse that is no longer true or false?” (168).

                Baudrillard’s idea of simulating an illness to the point that it becomes unclear whether the person is sick or healthy, or some form of both, made me recall a time I played hooky from school.  I hated elementary school and often simulated an illness to get out of going.  I usually concocted fake vomit to pour in the toilet or a fake fever from a light bulb.  In reality, I felt fine and spent the day home from school with no symptoms.  One time something very different happened.  I woke up and pretended that I couldn’t talk and that I had a sore throat.  I slipped up a couple of times in front of my little sister, but my performance was good enough to get me out of school and into the Dr.’s office.  I knew that after the Dr. did my throat culture I’d have to go back to school, so I really started laying it on thick: “Ouch, it hurts!”  To my wonderment, my throat culture came back positive for strep throat.  Was I sick or was I healthy?  I could no longer tell the difference between my simulation and my reality.

             House of Leaves begins with a list of medications Johnny has tried to use against his insomnia.  He has become too afriad to sleep.  This fear seems to have less to do with the actual events that happen in Zapano’s book and more to do with the implications of this book.  The implications deal with the power of simulation. I think that Johnny’s fear stems from Bauldrillard’s idea of neither “real” nor “fake.”  Zapano’s book is a simulation of a movie, which is a simulation of a reality that does not exist.  Johnny tries to peal back all of the layers of simulation to reveal the inner reality.  However, his investigation finds that there is no proof that the Navidson Record ever existed.  He is then left with only the simulation, which has begun to integrate itself into his reality.

Layering Signifiers, Space, and “Reality” in House of Leaves

Before I get into my fragmented points about signifiers, space, and “reality” (vs. simulation) in House of Leaves, I wanted to add to Sara’s point about absence in the book.  I noticed that the “narrator,” if we can call him that, is named “Truant” which can be used (in the noun form) to mean “one who is absent without permission” or “one who shirks off responsibility” (www.dictionary.com).  Obviously, both definitions incite conversation (given Truant’s sometimes less-than-responsible behavior), but in terms of a conversation on absence, Truant serves as both the signifier and the signified: he conveys the message, and he himself is the message.  Truant tells Zampano’s story (which has Zampano telling Navidson’s story), so he serves as one signifer for another signifier.  Then, his name reflects the absence in the story he is telling; the message of absence is, ironically, present in the narrator’s name.

Along with several other posts, I was fascinated by the layering of this story; not only is the narrator telling Zampano’s story who’s telling Navidson’s story, but also, the story is a fragmented novel about a fragmented story about a fragmented film.  The layering of media, or signifiers, really strikes me as Postmodern.  Foucault explains in “Of Other Spaces” that a train “is something through which one goes,.. something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by” (24).  In the same sense, House of Leaves presents, what Foucault calls “the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect” (24).  The multi-layered signifiers demonstrate the relationship between each story, but interweave to create a fragmentary and, at the same time, mirrored experience.  Truant becomes so engrossed in Zampano’s story (at least by p. 79, we know something of this) that he, too, becomes somewhat agoraphobic and paranoid; Zampano’s reality becomes Truant’s reality.  (We can speak of “reality” next, in relation to Baudrillard’s article.)  Even before the transference between the living Truant and the dead Zampano, we have reason to believe that Zampano has experienced some of the same obsession with space and reality that Navidson had.  As far as I am in the book, I feel ill-equipped to go further with the analysis of transference and multi-layered signifiers, but let me try to assess Baudrillard’s argument on “simulation” and “reality.”

Baudrillard writes, “Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible” and this: “Simulation is infinitely more dangerous [than transgression and violence] since it always suggests, over and above its object, that law and order themselves might really be nothing than a simulation” (177).  When I read that, I immediately considered what we know of the suddenly-appearing hallway in Navidson’s film.  (I say “film” because I think we must always consider that “reality” is mediated by a signifier, and thus may not be reality at all.)  I wondered whether, at page 79, whether we are right to question the reality of the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already been terrified a few times by Danielewski’s story (let’s do give him a little credit since, really, it is his story, and not Navidson’s or Zampano’s or Truant’s), but it could be that we are really reading a “simulation” of reality.  This is, after all, someone’s film; dare we remember the “true” story that was The Blair Witch Project.  In any case, I think Baudrillard is relevant in reminding us, at this early stage of our reading, that there is no clear demarcation between what is real and what is imagined; in fact, there may be nothing that is “real” anymore.  Law and order have been lost in 1/4 of an inch, or whatever the measurement turns out to be.

And yet, the imagined space is terrifying.  We do not believe the “always” as little Daisy calls them could possibly open up and envelop Navidson as they do, and the “growl,” what is that?  A monster?  Come on now, Danielewski.  And yet, and yet, I am shakin’ in my boots.  The imagined has taken the place of the real, it has effectively inhabited multiple spaces through multiple signifiers, and it has done so in a positively disturbing way.

Book within a book within a book… and an attempt at Baudrillard

When I’m reading, say, Vonnegut or David Foster Wallace, I’m aware that I’m reading their words throughout the book, often stopping to think how they wrote a certain section or how they might’ve decided on structure or how ideas in the book might go along with the author’s personality or life, like how Vonnegut often writes of WWII or secular humanism, and how David Foster Wallace typically incorporates technology, morality, etc. However, when reading House of Leaves, which I finished this past week while at the conference in Chicago (I skipped a bunch of panels and spent much of the week in my hotel room with the book), I didn’t once think of Danielewski. He had managed to hide himself as author of House of Leaves within the layers of authorship in the book. Of course, I know that it is Danielewski writing about Truant who is writing about Zampano who is writing about Navidson, but in all of this, as I was reading it, the source–the original author–was lost. I’m wondering if this is what Baudrillard is referring to when he talks about the simulacrum replacing the original. I might be totally off here, since I didn’t fully understand Baudrillard’s piece, but it seemed that he was suggesting that the original is lost when the copies become reality, or something to that effect. On top of all the layers of authorship in House of Leaves, you also have the editors and the fake critical sources adding up to a sense of reality, since we generally see critical essays as analysis of something real–why, for instance, would someone analyze something not real, unless the entire analysis is a fabrication… does this make sense?

Whenever Prof. Sample asks if we experienced anything postmodern in our lives the previous week, I never had anything to say, not because I didn’t experience anything “postmodern” but because if I did, I didn’t realize it or didn’t understand it as postmodern. However, when I was in Chicago, I felt for the first time aware of many “postmodern” occurrances. For instance, when my fiance, Lucas, and I first got to our hotel room, we noticed that we had two double beds (which looked more like two twin beds), which was weird for us because we didn’t know what to do with this extra bed. At first we joked that one would be the “eating” bed and the other the “sleeping” bed, but eventually, we each sort of nonverbally claimed a bed. That first night, he was on “his” bed and I was on mine, and we were watching television. There was this show on and in the episode, this couple was forced to sleep on separate beds.  Lucas, as we were watching this couple in their beds on television, said something about how weird it was that we were sort of in the same predicament. But, what was weirder, was that the couple on television turned on their television and saw an old black-and-white television series with a couple in separate beds (back when couples couldn’t sleep in the same bed on tv). So, essentially, Lucas and I, in our separate beds, watched a couple on television in their separate beds as they in turn watched another television couple in their separate beds. My point to this anecdote is that I immediately thought of this class, but it wasn’t until now, when writing this blog, that I made the connection between that experience and the person writing about person writing about person issue (and book within a book within a book) in House of Leaves.

Going back to the authorial tone insofar as the editors and critical writers in the book, there were times when I became so engrossed in the Navidson Record that I gave serious consideration to the footnoted critics and almost forgot that these critics were made up and that the Navidson Record as source material wasn’t real. Again, I’m not sure if this is what Baudrillard is saying when he talks about simulacrum but it seems to make sense, at least in my understanding of the article. Or maybe this could be the simulation, the difference between “imaginary” and “real,” perhaps? But that would be the book itself, too, correct? I think, like the post before me, I seem to have more questions than answers when relating House of Leaves to the other readings for this week. Foucault and Baudrillard aside, I have questions just on House of Leaves–like, for instance, the aforementioned authorship. It had seemed, in the beginning of the book, to be as I stated before–Danielewski writing about Truant who is writing about Zampano who is writing about Navidson–but toward the end this authorship is questioned in two specific scenes; I won’t mention the details of these scenes for those who haven’t finished the book (but for those who have: the song that the band plays and what Navidson uses the matches for), but these two scenes completely threw me off on what I had presumed to be “real,” to use that term loosely, and I almost, briefly, considered rereading at least the first 100 pages or so of the book again. I don’t believe I’ve ever consumed this much writing in this short of time–I’m interested in what others have to say about it! And hopefully someone can clear up Baudrillard and Foucault for me. Funny how when reading these two articles, knowing that they were assigned with House of Leaves and looking for connections, it felt like I was reading the critical writers writing about the Navidson Record.

The Inside-Your-Outside Machine

House of Leaves has given me a lot to think about. Firstly, I see a kinship between the monstrous house and the book. The book is in a sense bigger inside than its outside, most obviously in the reams and reams of footnotes and the constant references to sources and people and art that exist outside of the book. It shares a lot of the aesthetic conceits we’ve seen in other postmodern works, namely, the cobbling together of difference voices and pieces of writing, the use of an interrupted format, the presentation of itself as a puzzle, and the voice of Truant that constantly jerks us out of the other narratives and brings us to Truant’s present, forcing us to share it with him, along with his difficulties regarding Zampano’s text. It reminds me of a hypertext article on the Internet, where every highlighted word brings you to another work, and theoretically that can proceed infinitely, from link to link to link without end.

The critical texts both deal with space, and as such remind us that we are dealing with a space that is breaking all of the rules. Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” argues that we are living in a particular age with a particular relationship to space that is not the same as the ages that proceeded it and hypothically will not be the same as the ages that come after. Foucault writes: “These are opposition that we regard as simple givens: for example between private space and public spave, between the space of leisure and that of work. All these are still nurtured by the hidden space of the sacred” (Foucault 23). Yet Navidson’s placement of the Hi-8 cameras throughout the house collapses these distinctions. We can take this a step further with the Internet and the idea of simultaneously living “private” lives while also living the same life simultaneously in the most public and anonymous way possible. (In fact I think that cyberspace might be the metaphor in examining these works).

I found Jean Baudrillard’s piece much harder to understand (in contrast I’ve always thought that Foucault has a singularly clear way of writing) but I was also fascinated by his description of religious and religious iconography as one way of looking at the idea of simulacra. Having attended a Baptist church for a number of years, I heard many sermons on why the Baptist cross is an empty cross as opposed to the occupied Catholic crucifix-the argument being that Jesus was not in fact on the cross anymore, and portraying him thus in a sense “weakened” him. Really a ridiculous argument after a fashion but it aligns perfectly with Baudrillard’s argument about the substitution of the simulacrum for the real. The argument about Disneyland didn’t resonate quite so much as I’ve never been there and therefore have to imagine it, but his point that it is “meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere” (Baudrillard 172). In a sense then, are the adults pretending to be adults pretending to indulge their childishness when in fact they are pretending to be what they are already? And how does the idea of the simulacra relate to House of Leaves?

While this article leaves me with more questions than answers, it’s particularly helpful to use this paradigm to look at economic and political systems. I think it has a particular relevance today, when we are learning exactly how ephemeral, even imaginary, our concept of wealth has become-the vanishing of imaginary dollars that may never have existed in the first place, or the concept of “value” that fluctuates wildly and is completely divorced from any tangible value in the first place.