disorienting reading

Mapping out a definite way to read House of Leaves has become a seemingly impossible task, and I’ve begun to think that Danielewski meant for it to be this way. For the first hundred or so pages I was find my way around the book just fine, reading from left to right, page to page, stopping at footnotes and flipping back to appendices whenever I was referred to them. However, many of the footnotes run on for whole pages, forcing you to go back and reread/relocate the place in the text where you left out. This going back and forth between footnotes and text, especially between appendices and text, where we are forced to flip all the way to the back of the book and sometimes stay there for near a hundred pages before going back to the text, seems to be a simulation of the constant back and forth, incongruous Explorations in the Navidson Records.

Danielewski creates a way for readers to physically feel disoriented along with the men on the Explorations, swanning our way through the book House of Leaves as they swan their way through the labyrinths in the house of the title. He also creates for readers a sort of spacial perception as we are many times forced to flip the book all the way around itself to read upside-down passages, and for many pages, there are only a couple of words per page amongst a white backdrop, undefined and empty.

I hate to make this comparison, since I hated the movie when it came out and I wouldn’t put myself through watching it again today to confirm my hatred of it, but House of Leaves seems sort of Blair Witch-esque to me. I don’t know it anyone else got that. It is a pretty unsavory piece of cinematic crap, but my comparison is only insofar as both achieving to make their audiences feel as lost and disoriented, probably among other feelings as well, as the characters in their plots.

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One thought on “disorienting reading”

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    Professor Sample says:

    The connections between House of Leaves and The Blair Witch Project often come up in discussions of the novel (and it’s all over the HoL forums too). Since BWP came out only a year before HoL, I often wonder what Danielewski thought about the movie.

    On one hand, the movie enacts the same cinema vérité style that Zampanò describes as the heart of The Navidson Record, and in a sense, validates MZD’s project. On the other hand, the movie must have seemed like a impetuous upstart to Danielewski, stealing the thunder from a labor of love that he had been working on for nearly a decade.

    In addition to the stylistic similarities (as similar as they can been when comparing literature to film), there is also the stealth marketing aspect that both texts share. When BWP came out, it was presented as “real,” and all sorts of fake websites were around that provided supporting documentary evidence (police reports, etc.) (Though the websites are gone, I imagine all this marketing material is part of the DVD “extras”).

    Likewise, when House of Leaves came out, many people really did debate its origins (Was it first released on internet newsgroups, and circulated underground?) The question is complicated with the addition, in our “second edition” of the novel, of email (Hailey’s letter, for example) and other references (which come much later in the novel) which seem to support this publication timeline.

    Is this Danielewski playing with us again, adding another set of mirrors in his house of mirrors, disorienting us with their infinite regressions? If so, what is he trying to say about mediation and authenticity?

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