this might be a rant

House of Leaves is a trashbag full of puzzles, riddles, and codes, bits of information, all begging to be sniffed out and put together by extremely curious minds set in the heads of people with not much else to do or think about. It wants to take minds captive, make them dwell on seemingly important bits of information that feign being integral parts of the big puzzle that exists only to annoy, not to be solved. But its purpose cannot be known until all of the pieces that are found are put together, exposing all of the gaps and missing pieces that don’t even exist in the text in the first place. This is why Danielewski should be exiled.

Since starting House of Leaves, I have noticed numerous people carrying around the book, pages tagged throughout, and I have to say that this sight gets me just about as sad as I get when I see my younger brother and his friends playing computer games all day long. I’ve actually wondered if Danielewksi created this maze with the opening line “This book is not for you” because he knew it would be like creating a playground that he would be able to watch people playing on often (often, because to explore every in and out, every footnote, one would have to carry the book everywhere they went for months or maybe longer). My guess is he gets off watching people trying to solve all the puzzles, big and small, in House of Leaves that fit together to make a big nothing! Being a book is like a promise that all of a readers quanderings and explorations of a text will eventually pay off to reveal the true meaning and reason of the text, but I think that House of Leaves may be one of those that can’t be detangled rationally.

Lodge talks of many postmodernists texts as being laberynths without exits. “Endings, the ‘exits’ of fictions, are particularly significant in this connection. Instead of the closed ending of the traditional novel, in which mystery is explained and fortunes are settled, and instead of the open ending of the modernist novel, ‘satisfying but not final’ as Conrad said of Henry James, we get the multiple ending, the false ending, the mock ending or parody ending.” Lodges gives Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as an example; however, The Crying of Lot 49 is less than 200 pages and has no footnotes. And it is funny, unlike House of Leaves, or at least in my opinion, which is radical but stubborn, so even though I haven’t finished the book yet, I can say that it’s just plain unsavory for my taste and I probably wouldn’t even finish it if it wasn’t for class. Not even to tell other people that I had. I probably feel a lot like this girl I mentioned in class…

Nothing New Under the Sun?

The most startling thing about David Lodge’s essay, “Postmodernist Fiction,” was how old it was; it was published in 1977.  As I read it, I thought his insights were as apropos to House of Leaves as to John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, published in 1969. It was astonishing to me that this essay was written more than 30 years ago!  It also reminded me of the discussion we had in an earlier class where Professor Sample pointed out that every 15 years or so someone decides that the novel is finished and that there is nothing new to invent, but then something new always comes along in spite of the predictions.

My first “recognition” of a connection between Lodge’s essay and House of Leaves was when Lodge discussed the writing of Beckett, which, he noted, had reached a stage where first-person narrators were “increasingly isolated and deprived of sensory stimuli, desperately trying to make sense of their experience by recalling it” (255). This is exactly what seems to be going on with the various narrators, most notably Johnny Truant, in House of Leaves.  Also, the multiple footnotes and digressions into every permutation of literary criticism contained in House of Leaves seem to be reflected in Lodge’s observation that postmodernists tend to resist compulsive attempts of the human consciousness to interpret the world and operate from a point of view about the general absurdity of the human predicament (255).  There is a of absurdity in House of Leaves, and if nothing else, the novel lays bare (and thus defies) all attempts to interpret it by anticipating (and parodying) every possible style of literary criticism.

In terms of the various alternatives to the “metaphoric or metonymic” poles of language that Lodge says may be indicative of postmodernism (258), House of Leaves is a poster boy for them all: contradiction; permutation (i.e., “alternative narrative lines” [259] like Johnny’s “revised” list of Lude’s conquests); discontinuity (chopped up texts, including unusual layouts of the text); randomness; excess (the list of photographers beginning on page 64 of the novel and the even longer list of “houses” that begins on page 120, to name just two); and the desire to “short circuit,” that is, “to administer a shock to the reader and thus resist assimilation into conventional categories of the literary” (269). Ways of doing that, he suggests, include “combining in one work violently contrasting modes—the obviously fictive and the apparently factual; introducing the author and the question of authorship into the text; and exposing conventions in the act of using them” (269). That’s our House of Leaves, for sure.

Finally, one passage that struck me was Lodge’s discussion of a theory (Jakobson) about the nature of discourse, noting that “if you attempt to group topics according to some other principle, or absence of principle, the human mind will nevertheless persist in trying to make sense of the text thus produced by looking in it for relationships of similarity and/or contiguity; and insofar as a text succeeds in defeating such interpretation, it defeats itself” (258). Wait, isn’t that what we’re doing in our attempts to “map” themes or motfis within House of Leaves?  Is our mapping exercise a postmodern endeavor itself, or is it just a new twist on our traditional, hard-wired-in-our-heads basic human need to interpret and make sense of the novel?  It’s just a rhetorical question; obviously sitting in an English class and resisting attempts to interpret a text would soon prove to be unprofitable, not to mention no fun at all.