Week #3 – Fragmented realities in The House of Leaves

Even though I’ve only read what amounts to 4% of the book (I’m on page 31), I feel like I already have a ton of concepts to work with-and a ton of things I don’t quite understand.

First, the “reality” (or maybe “realities”) of the book is hard to pinpoint because it’s mediated through so many different elements.  From what I’ve read so far, I think what we’re supposed to think of as the “true” reality of the novel includes Johnny Truant’s life (as laid out in the introduction and his courier font notes) and the lives of those around him (Lude, dead Zampanò, the tattoo parlor employees, Thumper, etc.).  Inside that frame is Zampanò’s mess of notes and scribbles, which Truant compiles into the book (which I think we’re supposed to consider fiction?).  Inside the book, is what sounds like academic criticism of The Navidson Record, complete with footnotes by the author and suspiciously tangential notes by Truant.  The Navidson Record is a documentary filmed by photographer Will Navidson.  In the documentary, Will Navidson records his family’s move to a new house, including the strange transformations the house underwent while the family went away for a wedding-but there’s controversy over whether any of that is real.  Framing this entire crazy structure is the fact that the author on the cover is Mark Danielewski, even though the title lists Zampanò.

The effect of all these layers of mediated storytelling is a feeling of discomfort that reminds me of the Heidegger passage on page 25 about the uncanny.  The uncanny is the feeling of “not-being-at-home,” where “everyday familiarity collapses.”  This novel messes with the way people usually read novels.  There is no clear, linear narrative.  Instead we’re forced to jump from body text to footnote to try to piece something together out of the fragmented text.  Because the text forces us to switch gears so much between narratives, the fictional realities often seem indistinguishable from the “true” reality.

The most immediate narrator-the one we’re supposed to trust the most since he inhabits the “true” reality-is notorious for wild, skillful, storytelling and there he is something clearly wrong with him psychologically.  The book is really haunting him, making him paranoid and affecting his breathing.  He’s unreliable, in other words.

My description of searching for a “true” reality seems pointless anyway, since I think the point Danielewski is trying to make is that we can’t find it because it doesn’t exist.  Or at least, we can’t really prove that it exists?  The realities in the book are simulacra.

One obvious question is:  Why is the word “house” always in blue?  Clearly, this is an important concept in the book (something related to the uncanny, perhaps, and the fact that the Navidson’s house is the main thematic focus), but I don’t think I understand how yet, being only 31 pages in.

Random connection I discovered recently (though maybe everyone knows this):  the musician Poe is Mark Danielewski’s sister.  Her album “Haunted” contains lots of songs that relate to her brother’s book.  He even reads a part of the book on one of her tracks.  There’s a song called something like “Five and a half minute hallway,” which relates to something that happens later on the book (I couldn’t tell you exactly what).

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One thought on “Week #3 – Fragmented realities in The House of Leaves”

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    Professor Sample says:

    Thanks for setting up very nicely the nested narrative framework of House of Leaves. This will be one of the first things we talk about in class. For now, I want highlight your point that the supposedly most “authentic” of the voices — Johnny Truant — seems to also be the most troubled and prone to fabrication.

    Not to give too much away, but this dynamic becomes even more complicated when we begin reading the appendices, where Johnny’s mother’s voice joins the fray.

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