Starbucks in the Middle East

It’s interesting how many McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks signs we see in the Iraqi streets in Shooting War.  This focus on American food outlets says something about economic globalization and “international integration” in the Middle East.  I won’t delve into this much, but a quick note on the attitudes towards globalization the Middle East: although some Middle Eastern intellectuals welcome the idea and note the benefits of economic globalization for its offering better job opportunities, others have expressed negative attitudes toward globalization in general, and cultural globalization in particular.  It’s been considered an equivalent to “Westernization” and also as a form of imperialism, since the ideas, cultures and institutions that are being spread around the globe are largely originated in the western part of the world.

Starbucks has large presence in Shooting War (after all, it is the “Frappucino” note that saves the day). The story opens with an explosion inside Starbucks in Brooklyn city by a Syrian named Al-Taheri.  Golden seems to have made a deliberate choice of making Starbucks the target of the bombing, considering the demonstrations against Starbucks coffee company held in some Middle Eastern countries.

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I remember a few summers ago in Beirut, I was walking back to my hotel as I bumped into an Iraqi/Kurdish girl that I’ve gotten to know during my stay.  When she saw what was a tall Caramel Frappacino in my hand she was infuriated and went on a long rant about Starbucks supporting Israel and donating a part of its profit to US troops in Iraq, and explained that by merely buying this Frappucino I was contributing in the killing of innocent civilians.  That was when I learned about the campaign against Starbucks that called for boycotting its products. It was a reaction to what Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz had said to a crowd of American Jews on Seattle’s Capitol Hill that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fueled by anti-Semitism:

“What is going on in the Middle East is not an isolated part of the world. The rise of anti-Semitism is at an all time high since the 1930’s,” “The Palestinians aren’t doing their job they’re not stopping terrorism.”

This was the response of Yousef Al-Yousef, chairman of Global Peace:

“We are concerned that his [Schultz’s] statements exude Islamophobia and only seek to maintain the myth that the Palestinian struggle is against the Jewish people as opposed to being against an illegal occupation of land and an onslaught of aggression.”

http://www.muslimtents.com/aminahsworld/boycott_starbucks.htm

After sales dropped in Arab countries because of its pro-Israel rep, all six outlets in Israel were closed in April of 2003, while it continued to operate in other Middle Eastern countries. Starbucks spokesperson states that the decision was due to “operational challenges” and was not for political reasons.  This is the link to the full Starbucks article:

http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/pressdesc.asp?id=976

More real than magic?

Sorry for the late post- haven’t been feeling well at all today…

The issue I have with magical realism is that because the reader is aware that anything is possible and accepted as real, there is nothing surprising about the text. In People of Paper, we encounter characters made out of paper, characters who resurrect after dying, and a convoy of mechanical tortoises. Like House of Leaves, the text is ergodic and requires more than a linear reading to comprehend the points made therein. The characters take turns narrating the story and the pages are split according to who is narrating. Leafing quickly through the novel, the reader witnesses long paragraphs of text totally blacked-out, crossed-out lines, and even “holes” cut in the middle of paragraphs (which are there to carefully mask the name of Plascencia’s ex- lover). Nothing too new—I’ve seen this similar style in House of Leaves before.

The only weird thing about this book, in my opinion, is that the author features himself as one of the characters. All the characters in the novel are on separate journeys to mend their paper cuts and broken hearts. They are all aware of Saturn’s presence in their lives; and they blame him for their complications—which mirrors the image of humans blaming a God for their miseries in real life; thereby alluding to the metanarrative of free-will and deterministic fate. Anyway, the characters of El Monte towards the end of the novel are warring against the author’s obtrusive narrative voice, or what Frederico calls “the war on omniscient narration (a.k.a. the war against the commodification of sadness).” Readers learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). They attempt to get rid of Saturn (aka Plascencia) by using thei compounding voices and increasing the number of columns on the page to literally try to force Saturn—and conjunctively, the concept of authorial control—out of the novel. Plascencia’s use of both graphic and dramatic intensity simultaneously makes the book definitively postmodern. As this war goes on throughout the pages of the book, the reader witnesses the destructive effect of Saturn’s world intertwining with the other characters because Saturn’s inability to have control over his own life leads to chaos in each of the characters’ lives. To me, the book then becomes an allegory for the repercussions of fighting against a confused God who is responsible for human life. In this sense, I believe the novel deals with reality more than it does with magic as it seems at first glance…

Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction

Sorry this is late.

For the most part I liked the Flores article we read for class this week. It did a great job of saying what magical realism is and how that fit into the context of Spanish American Fiction. I found the article informative because I’ve known the term “magical realism” but never really knew its exact definition. Some parts of the article were frustrating however. I didn’t recognize a lot of the authors she mentioned which made it hard to relate the evidence she used in the essay to her actual argument, and some of the quoted Spanish passages were beyond my reading comprehension of Spanish. Also, this article was written in 1955–predating postmodernism–so I started thinking about how it relates to the broader scope of our postmodern theory lessons, which it doesn’t touch on for obvios reasons.

First, there’s the obvios linear path: Flores’ essay helps us understand elements in The People of Paper, the book we read this week for class. The People of Paper features postmodern elements like multiple narratives and so “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction” relates in that way.

However, there is one point Flores makes in her essay that I believe includes some of the elements in postmodern fiction. Flores writes that a crucual element to magical realism is the magical element “was accepted by the other chracters as an almost normal event” (191). I believe this is one way that magical realism can fall into postmodernism. Many postmodern writers attempt to reveal the narratives that societies follow without realizing they follow them. Magical realism is a technique that allows some of these narrative threads to be revealed. By changing society’s norms to the point where something like people made of paper is accepted by the characters in the novel and also the reader of the novel, we can get a better glimpse at the norms that define society in genereal. One example in the People of Paper is that the multiple narratives present the differing view points of what is really happening in “reality” while accepting the magical parts as true. In this way, we are given differing perspectives of the real and forced to ask questions not about whether people made of paper are real but how reality is manifest to each individual observer.

Postmodern Magical Realism

The essay by Flores was really shocking to me in its own unquestioned assumption of authority, scathing critique, and, well, stereotyping. Is this just a ’50’s thing?? It was hard to get past for me. The history of magical realism and its evolution as a reaction to realism is useful, however, in putting magical realism into a larger context among genres, and in putting The People of Paper in a larger context of magical realist works. When Flores states that “The practitioners of magical realism cling to reality as if to prevent ‘literature’ from getting in their way, as if to prevent their myth from flying off, as in fairy tales, to supernatural realms” (191), it seems as if it is only a matter of prose style that separates magical realism from both literary dreck and other genres such as urban fantasy. (Although in the case of urban fantasy, the markers of elves and fairies would probably force it to be categorized as such, even if it were written in the most bleak and spare realist style.)

Recently, my friend got into an impromptu conversation with another girl about what qualifies a work as magical realism. My friend was frustrated that she could not explain to the girl that no, Harry Potter did not qualify as magical realism. I suggested to her that if the characters defined something as magic, then the text wasn’t magical realism, which seemed to work as a guideline for me. However, reading Flores and his more stylistic definition, I wonder how he would differentiate between magical realism and fantasy – or science fiction, which is often written in a more realist style but can still contain unexplained prophesying like Baby Nostradamus’. Apart from the typical content markers of science fiction and fantasy (space ships, wizards, etc.), one of the things that sets them apart from magical realism is their attempt at explanation of the impossible (through magic and science). Flores highlights how Kafka and Camus and other magical realist writers never explain the impossible premise of their tales, but simply move on with the realistic implications of that premise.

Apart from these signs of magical realism, The People of Paper’s postmodernist markers of multivocality, heteroglossia, intrusion of the author, foregrounding the narrative construction, and playful spirit are all present in the style. I found this multivocality much easier to read than House of Leaves’, and especially the ending, with Little Merced and Frederico de la Fe walking off the page (with Baby Nostradamus’ assurances that he knew all the characters’ lives outside the bounds of the novel) made me feel more invested in their characterization. It was odd but when the author revealed himself halfway through I began to feel frustrated, as if the fate of the characters somehow didn’t matter anymore because their construction was *foregrounded*. (Of course all fiction is constructed, but I guess I like to pretend?) However the end seemed to revert to Plascencia as an unreliable narrator with an incomplete view, paradoxically declaring victory only to be distracted by thoughts of his lost love and giving characters the power to walk off his page. As an aside, Saturn and Frederico’s view of men spurred to great achievements only because they suffered the pain of a lost love reminded me of what Russ said about the Whileawayans’ lifelong achievements motivated by the childhood pain of being separated from their mothers.

Escaping Their Thoughts

     When I first began reading The People of Paper, I had no idea what the book would turn out to be about.  While I was reading the prologue, I was envisioning a trailer of a quirky computer-animated film based on this book.  It turns out this book is not a childproof story, as the title, cover and prologue may have indicated to me; it is in fact a story full of paper cuts, scars and emotional suffering.  The novel opens up in heartbreak and feelings of loss and abandonment that afflicts almost all the major characters.  Self-inflicted pain is a subsequent and recurrent motif in the book that is initiated as a mode of escapism by most of these miserable characters. While I was searching for a topic for my research paper, I came across a few texts that talk about psychological detachment and disassociation as a way of protecting oneself from a horrific experience/reality, and I started to pick up on how the characters in People of Paper are severely traumatized.  Even some of the minor characters that we only get a glimpse of, such as Sandra and Merced, show signs of emotional torment through nightmares and addictions.  These characters are willing to endure physical pain in replacement of the emotional, and this act of constriction or numbing is a way of resisting their individual traumatic narratives.  Each night, Federico de la Fe sticks his hand into his stove “until it hurt so much that he could not feel his sadness” (20).  For him, fire cured his itch, his bed-wetting, and his sadness.

      In the light of this reading, the war against Saturn is another method of resisting the trauma narrative, as members of the EMF attempt to conceal their thoughts and memories by hiding under lead that is too dense of a metal that “not even the most powerful x-ray in the universe could penetrate” (26).  They will be able to escape these thoughts if they manage to hide them from Saturn who is responsible for writing about their experiences and is therefore the cause of their emotional suffering.  Consequently, the “fight for emancipation” is initiated and the EMF members cover their houses with lead.  It’s interesting to see that the repression of their psychological and emotional pains always must come with a price as the lead causes their stomachaches and subsequent vomiting.  Figuratively, their escape from their grief through silence, again, causes them physical pain. 

     Another method of escaping emotional pain by avoiding being on Saturn’s radar is achieved by baby Nostradamus and Little Merced.  Baby Nostradamus teaches Little Merced mental strategies to consciously block her thoughts from Saturn and she is able to acquire that power and gradually progress through practice.  I think several aspects of the book remind us all a little of House of Leaves, especially the layout and the use of metanarratives, but have you noticed the many random dots in the book? For my midterm project, I talked about the appearances of various forms of dots in House of Leaves and suggested that they represented absence, silence, emotional void etc. and I find it quite daunting that the big dots that appear at the end of the book are one form of Little Merced’s silenced thoughts.    

Movements

I’d first like to just say that I think Yamashita’s use of music in her novel is beautiful. The book is written sort of like a song – with different characters working their way in and out of the text like instruments. I know it sounds really cheesy, but that’s the first thing that struck me. Small themes brought up in the beginning of the novel lead to great catastrophes or large events later on. Then, of course, there is the conductor who directs traffic. This, in and of itself, is a lovely image that lends itself to the text’s lyricism.

The movement of traffic is one thing that I think Adams explained nicely in her article. I like how she compared the freeway vein and impossible circuit of Pynchon’s California to Yamashita’s more musical and, in strange ways, hopeful freeway. I also like how she emphasized that Yamashita’s novel suggests the freeway is less crucial to the vital functions of a city. One infrastructure stalling doesn’t guarantee apocalypse. In the same way, the characters that survive are historically connected rather than flailing, and if they fail, that failure won’t necessarily destroy them. Adams makes some great points comparing the texts. I don’t think she’s disparaging Pynchon either – she’s more just calling attention to thematic and stylistic differences. In some ways I think the differences are just that (thematic and stylistic), and not necessarily bookends for an entire literary period. I feel like there’s a point where constantly arguing back and forth about whether something is postmodern just bogs it down and detracts from what we can get from the writing.

One thing I find strange was the emphasis placed on California, as if it’s this entirely different world and the center of everything. Maybe it is. At one point Yamashita mentions Joan Didion, and I kept thinking of her California freeway essay (and other CA essays) as I read the Adams article – how she made a game of the freeway, how she studied the freeway system, and felt completely connected to it. If California is this big a deal in the grand scheme of whatever postmodernism is, I sort of feel less connected to it than to Pynchon’s random red herrings and Cold War references.

There were a few other things I was wondering about. One was dialect – how did this strike other people? Adams mentions it in her article. At first I was wary of it because there are so many different conversational things happening, and for some reason I kept getting pulled from the story and thinking about screenplay dialogue. I’m not really sure why. But I see Adams’ point – that the use of dialect emphasizes a convergence of “underrepresented” people – I just wonder how accurate a representation it is.

The magical realism is also pretty stunning. In a weird way, it reminds me of Beloved – I guess just because it’s there, in this otherwise realistic piece. Perhaps the unreal elements sweeping into daily life emphasize the unreality or strangeness of real daily life.

Immigration and the Making of a Transnational Hybrid Identity

Even though Yamashita identifies herself as an “Asian-American” writer, her literary work Tropic of Orange defies any specific cultural and geographical associations implied in that categorization. More than any other novel this semester, Tropic of Orange effectively portrays characters that have a truly transnational cultural identity. In one of the more engaging parts of the novel, Arcangel moves the Tropic of Cancer to the north, over the border between Mexico and the United States. This shifting of national boundaries obviously disturbs our understanding of the various political and cultural borders separating continents and countries, but even more interestingly, it challenges our notions of what constitutes a certain cultural identity. As a result of this “shifting geography”—which in reality just represents the shifting of populations—the identities of the characters have become hybrids of all the different cultures to which they have been exposed.

Yamashita is making the point in Tropic of Orange that the United States, whose inhabitants embody the transnational hybrid identity more than any other country in the world, does not offer its population (especially its immigrant population) justice when it comes to the social services that are available to them and how many political and economic choices they have. In the novel, Yamashita repeatedly brings up the issue of immigration. When Bobby recalls Rafaela’s immigration from Mexico, he considers other immigrants who try to cross the border: “Places ‘long the border everybody knows, every woman don’t get raped, she don’t pass. The price she pays. Next up from the women, it’s the poor Indian types. They don’t know the language, don’t know the ropes. It’s gonna be the border rats robbing them. Cross the river. Make a run for it down Zapata Canyon. Lose their money. Their shoes. The clothing off their bodies. Maybe nobody gonna see these folks again. Bunch come floating up the river. It’s a fourteen mile zone…On the other side the migra arrests 1,000 per night…It’s high technology with a revolving door. If you lucky, Border Patrol chases you down. Puts you in a wagon and dumps you back. But maybe you gonna be one of them gets shot” (201-202). When people successfully cross the physical border, they then have to cross other barriers, including melding into the American culture and learning the English language: “ ‘Do you have a green card? Do you have a social security card? Do you have any money? When you get there, you will be unprotected. If you get sick, no one can give you care. If you have children, no one will teach them’…’Is it a crime to be poor? Can it be illegal to be a human being?’ (211).” In “The Ends of America,” Adams rightfully notes that the issues raised in Tropic of Orangemost notably “the human and environmental consequences of transformations taking place at America’s borders”—are easily recognized by students because they are so pertinent to the current contemporary moment.

In an interview, Karen Yamashita explains that while she used the metaphor of land that shifts in Tropic of Orange, it is really the people who have moved: “The geography has changed because humans have created this transition. I suppose it’s fantastic and more radical to talk about the land moving, in terms of the artistic or visual effects of the book. But the real message is that people are moving. And that has changed the landscape entirely, because they’ve taken their culture and their landscape with them.” (By the way, this interview was very useful for me to understand Yamashita’s motivations for writing this novelà http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v2i2/YAMASHI.HTM). I can personally identify with this topic—maybe that’s why it’s so interesting to me. As an Egyptian-American I consider myself a hybrid of both cultures, belonging to both entirely, but not to either at the same time. It’s a very postmodern thought—that most American immigrants cannot identify themselves as belonging to only one culture. Similarly, even people who have not immigrated have a hybrid identity, shaped by transnational cultural movement of Americanization that has spread all over the globe.

Re-creating Reality

Although the narrative was much easier to follow reading it for the second time, I remain very confused about exactly what Beloved herself is. The text from Beloved’s own point of view exacerbated rather than cleared up my confusion, as, apart from the interesting form that Davis comments on, I could not understand the content, or the point. Davis mentions that Beloved’s sections reference the slave narratives of the middle passage, and I didn’t catch that at all when I read it, but now I see the references. If there are references, does Beloved then become the spirit of African American history? Is she the mythical “presence” that Morrison is quoted as saying African Americans possess?

Even the other characters in the novel seem confused about what she is. Once another character identifies her as probably a girl that had escaped being imprisoned by a whiteman. When she vanishes from the porch, some characters see her as fat, some as thin, and later a boy reports seeing a woman with fish for hair in the woods. Morrison herself says she blended Beloved from the murdered historical child and a woman in a photograph murdered by a jealous lover.

With all these different interpretations of her, it’s no wonder Beloved has trouble keeping herself together. Beloved mentions trying to keep herself intact, each part of herself, as if the integrity of her form was a function of her concentration, and if she let herself drift for a moment, she would all fall apart. This vulnerability to self-fragmentation is seen in Sethe as well, and it reminded me of the conscious re-creating of one’s reality the travelers in the hallways of House of Leaves had to do. Beloved’s own narrative is also fragmented, and she seems to see Sethe’s face as both the face she lost on the middle passage and her own face.

What is this ambiguity accomplishing? What is Morrison communicating that she felt Beloved would be the best medium for? And why do Davis (and apparently I) care so much about Morrison’s intent? I am fond of the imagery of Davis’s “wheel,” ever changing and adapting and never repeating – perhaps these are also the characteristics of the water from which Beloved came. Beloved herself is always changing, her form varying both over time and with the viewer. Yet in the end, no one can remember her and she seems to diminish in form to a kind of nature spirit, hiding in the forest. What does this development signify? Davis mentioned a theory that Sethe’s proactive reeactment of the past broke the hold of the past (in the form of Beloved) on her, making Beloved vanish and allowing Sethe to come to terms with her past in a way that still allowed her to live in the present.

In the normal ideal of a sane person in our society, the sane person clearly separates memory and imagination and the present, and also remembers all important events in their life. The characters in this novel clearly do not always fit that ideal, and even at the end when Sethe has been “liberated” from the past, she and others can not really remember Beloved, even though she played such a large role in their lives. Does this leave them functioning but insane? Does this ending shed some light on the way we construct our societal ideal of a functioning productive member of society?

Ownership and Fragmentation

In “Postmodern Blackness,” Davis explains memory as a hybrid version of history and time. She describes the cyclical occurrence of memory in Beloved, characters’ lack of control over changing the past, and the visually fragmented narrative that calls attention to lapses in memory. I like her reading of the text, regardless of whether Beloved is classified as postmodern. I also think many other factors are at work in Beloved, including internal conflict caused by lack of ownership, especially over oneself.

Most of the conflict arising throughout the novel seems to be directly connected to slavery or the aftermath of slavery. Unlike her relatives, who had been warned not to love their children as their own, Sethe becomes strongly attached to hers after leaving Sweet Home, so much so that she’d rather murder them than give them up. By the end she withdraws completely from the outside world because she feels that nothing outside her house belongs to her. Paul D also faces this dilemma, not only trying to hate beautiful things in the world because he feels they’re not for him, but also moving from room to room in Sethe’s house, ultimately relocating to the church.

Denver feels a sense of ownership over Beloved in the beginning, and Beloved, who at first has possession of the house she haunts, later takes possession of Sethe and her sanity. I wonder if the characters in Beloved exhibit tendencies toward claiming what’s theirs because they don’t really know what is theirs. Many have been forced to think that they don’t even own themselves, or that they aren’t even human. 

Paul D, for example, remembers overhearing his dollar worth, and the pain and humiliation of wearing a bit. Sethe is compared to an animal several times – Paul D tells her she has four feet; the students classify her human and animal features; and later, in her horrifying stolen milk memory, a scene of both sexual assault and degradation, she is treated like an abused barnyard animal.

The process of using people as commodities or animals turns their lives into disjointed fragments. The haunted house is more human than those living inside. People are displaced. Nobody lives with their whole family, nobody knows quite where they came from, or the accuracy of the history described to them. No one is whole or in the right spot. Many of the characters don’t even know their real names. When Sethe, Beloved, and Denver finally experience a sense of unity at the end: “Beloved / You are my sister / You are my daughter / You are my face; you are me,” (255) it quickly dissolves to a breaking away from reality. Denver gets excluded from Sethe and Beloved, and Sethe and Beloved exclude themselves from the outside world entirely, spiraling into an ownership and retribution battle which affects their health and sanity.

I think the fragmented narrative literally represents the lack of wholeness many of the characters experience. At the end, Sethe lies under a quilt, appropriately, and wonders if Paul D will bathe her in sections. There is this feeling of helping one another become whole at the end, as he looks at Sethe’s split back and thinks of what Sixo said about the Thirty Mile Woman: “She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order” (321).

Transitioning from Danielewski to Russ

So, I’m relaxing over spring break, recovering from the marathon that was Danielewski’s House of Leaves (thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless), and I start in on Joanna Russ’ The Female Man.  After having finished the novel (shall we call it a novel?) a week later, I reflect.  At times I thought the book was brilliant; the subversion of the science fiction, manipulating the genre to fit what she was trying to address on the feminist ‘front’, was outstanding.  The Faulknerian use of stream of consciousness and first-person narration is also commendable.  But then there were parts of the novel that became burdensome for me; in other words, at a certain point, I felt like the book’s entire discussion (the question of a woman’s role/freedom/right [I hesitate to provide a label for fear of a Jael-like counterattack] in the world) became repetitive; and I would guess if you go searching for criticism against The Female Man you might find a similar complaint somewhere…

…but really you don’t have to look any further than the book itself:

Shrill . . . vituperative . . . no concern for the future of society . . . maunderings of antiquated feminism . . . selfish femlib . . . need a good lay . . . this shapeless book . . . of course a calm and objective discussion is beyond . . . twisted, neurotic . . . some truth buried in a largely hysterical . . . [and so on and so forth]. (140-41)

Within the book, Joanna Russ has provided the reader with criticism for the book: The Female Man is its own worst critic.  What does this tell us about Joanna Russ and her intentions?  Is she mocking these critical voices; drawing attention to the very biases that they reinforce?  Is this critical inclusion a form of self-deprecation of her novel?  Is it a little bit of both?

Whatever answers we might conclude to these questions, this section of the book got me thinking about Danielewski.  Of course, after three weeks of House of Leaves, we are all familiar with Danielewski’s tactics, his self-proclaimed preemptive strike against any form of literary criticism, or any attempt to disassemble the book.  I’m not necessarily suggesting that Joanna Russ was trying to actively prevent criticism like Danielewski is, but she is certainly anticipating responses towards the book.

With House of Leaves already in the discussion, I also thought of another interesting comparison between the two authors.  With the construction of numerous levels of ‘authorship’ (i.e. Zampano and Johnny Truant), Danielewski effectively ‘distances’ himself from the text.  Conversely, Joanna Russ eliminates any separation between her and The Female Man by identifying herself in the book as both character and author, crossing the conventional line between author and text.  I wonder what this accomplishes for the book.  As the ‘1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world’, what can we say about The Female Man Joanna and the author Joanna?  I’m thinking it’s important to remember that  she is only one of the four female ‘representations’ in the book.

…As you can tell, this book has left me with more questions than it has provided answers.

Side-note:

With all the references to the moon,  it will be hard not to think of The Female Man whenever I listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.  Now, I keep thinking of ‘Us and Them’ in terms of Jael’s version of Earth with warring male and female societies.  Try it; it just about fits…

Harlequin romances equilvalent to Mills & Boon?

That might be the funniest thing about this article.

I read an earlier essay version of this chapter in a feminist criticism anthology for a class last semester, so it was interesting to see how Haraway changed her approach from the essay to the chapter.

I think one of the challenges to reading this chapter is getting a handle on Haraway’s envisioning of cyborgs. Haraway writes: “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism: in short, we are hybrids” (Haraway 150). I don’t think that Haraway is talking about literal cyborgization (although that’s becoming more a reality, in particular I’m thinking of the new prosthetic limbs developed by military medical researchers that are controlled by electrical pulses in the remaining muscle tissue) but more about the way we function and utilize machines. However, I think Haraway’s essay needs to come with a few more caveats. It seems to me that Haraway’s envisioning of the cybernetic/cyborg future is an extremely limited one in terms of really only applying to certain societies, namely Western/technologically integrated ones. I think it is an overgeneralization to claim that there is a universal cyborgization of global society.

That being said, Haraway has some fascinating things to say about “women’s work.” She points out the global changes in employment/industrial trends and how the global workforce is becoming increasingly “feminized.” I think this is useful to discuss in counterpoint to Russ’ book because of the conflict between Janet’s idea of work (on Whileaway everything is of necessity women’s work) to the ideas about employment expressed by Jeannine and Joanna.

What I found rather ironic was the juxtaposition of Haraway’s assertion that “there is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds us” (Haraway 155) and her argument that earlier feminists’ eagerness to create a universalizing feminism was actually totalizing contrasted with the dedication in Russ’ book: “this book is dedicated to Anne, to Mary, and to the other one and three-quarters billions of us.” Still, I would argue that even if the drive to create a universal or “global” feminism (for which, of course, Western educated and largely white middle/upper middle class women would serve as the spokespersons) is in fact imperialist, it was mostly born out of political necessity-a movement that lent itself to getting coopted by other groups for other means and ultimately capitalized upon.

But going back to The Female Man, one thing I’m very interested in discussing is why Russ structures the book the way she does? This sort of narrative-slippage and constant digression seems rather typical of the postmodernist literary aesthetic now, but I imagine that it was rather revolutionary (or at least less expected) at the time of its publication. So why would Russ structure the book as what seems to be a series of argument and exchanges between the four characters rather than a linear narrative?

But does it come with Bluetooth?
But does it come with Bluetooth?

Photographic Technology’s Twist on Reality and Credibility

I am going to take a break from my reading to post on what I have read so far, and then get right back into it.  I just finished one of the sections where there are very few words on each page, and I must say that I was turning those pages so quickly that my dogs got startled.  Really, I was reminded of those little flip-books with pictures that if you flip through quickly enough produce a cartoon.  That page-turning effect especially kicked in for me when reading pages 182 to 245, when Navidson’s group meets with Jed and Wax.  I even found myself getting outright angry at Truant for having the audacity to interrupt the story.

Speaking of Truant, please don’t give anything away but it seems to me he will have “disappeared” by the end of the book, according to Ashley’s letter on p. 151 (in my black-and-white book).  She writes, “I’m sorry to hear he disappeared.  Do you know what happened to him?” and I, the reader, am thinking, “No, you jerk.  I didn’t even know he was missing!”  But now she’s got me wondering: will Truant disappear into this empty, ever-changing space?  Does the space represent our consciousness and sanity, and will he “disappear” like his mother did?  I am determind to find out.  (Perhaps I will know by tomorrow.)

On to another point.  Many of us, at some point or another, have considered the credibility of this text.  (Somehow, the term “text” seems so much more complex when applied to House of Leaves than when applied to any other book.)  I was struck by the following 1990 Andy Grundberg quotation, and I began to consider the implications of film being at the heart of this text:  “In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be well aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated” (141).  I began wondering whether this was a “real” statement or a Danielewski original, and when I did some research, I found the following 1990 New York Times article: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE7DC163CF931A2575BC0A966958260

Grundberg’s article is fascinating, and though Danielewski does not include the following excerpt from the article, I think it is particularly relevant in the conversation of credibility and reality which is essential when considering this text.  “In the future, it seems almost certain, photographs will appear less like facts and more like factoids – as a kind of unsettled and unsettling hybrid imagery based not so much on observable reality and actual events as on the imagination. This shift, which to a large extent has already occurred within the rarefied precincts of the art world, will fundamentally alter not only conventional ideas about the nature of photography but also many cherished conceptions about reality itself” (Grundberg).  Yes, reality must be questioned, and the presentation of reality, thus the credibility, of this text is just so complex. 

I think it is very important that in this particular story the focus most basely comes down to a FILM, or photographed images strung together.  Grundberg discusses the “video” specifically in the last section of his article:

“If photographs can no longer be perceived as unalloyed facts peeled from the surface of the real world, what will replace them? The temptation is to say video images, since electronic image making increasingly bears the primary responsibility for supplying society with pictures. But the prospect that video will inherit photography’s former truth-bearing function is limited by its even greater susceptibility to computer manipulation.

Some have speculated that an enterprising computer wizard could, for instance, create a visual data bank of all of former President Ronald Reagan’s speeches and then, using a montage of the recorded images and sounds at his disposal, make the President’s video image speak entirely new sentences – literally put words in his mouth. At a time when governments can deny the reality of unmanipulated television pictures, as China has done in the case of last year’s Tiananmen Square uprising, the notion of a fabricated video reality seems especially frightening” (Grundberg).

Nineteen years ago, “fabricated video reality” was a far-off, almost imaginary concept; today it is “our reality.”  Essentially, reality adjusts based on what technology produces for us at any given time in our human history, and therein (forgive me for sounding like Ray Bradbury, but I am a big fan) lies the “rub.”  Obviously, this novel is not real, nor are the characters, the stories, and especially this “film.”  But then again, there can be no definite reality, as Grundberg predicted, rightfully so, in 1990.  What he calls “computer manipulation” can “literally put words in [people’s] mouth[s]”, and yet, how is that so different from the various methods used to communicate one hundred or two hundred years ago? 

Maybe the difference is that we still, unwittingly, believe in technology’s reality.  We believe what we see and read online is real, especially when we have pictures to “prove it.”  Even the websites which discriminate between urban legends and reality, like www.snopes.com, could be (and probably do sometimes) distort reality.

If, therefore, one of the messages we can take away from House of Leaves is that nothing is “real” and no one is “credible,” then I would argue that, in one sense, PostModernism is a continuation of Modernism.  The Modernists were a disillusioned bunch, and my thoughts here point to that same disillusionment, at least at this point in my reading, in Danielewski’s text.

When one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing.

In the humanities and sciences, the role of the analogy has always been an important one.   Integral to religion, mathematics, literature, and the Law, is it any surprise that the good folks at Educational Testing Service (ETS) spend a great deal of time and effort composing the analogy section of the GREs?  If anything, most of postbaccalaureate education seems to be the fine act of making and understanding relations/hips.  Of course, it has been said by those recently privy to the experience:  ETS takes it to a new level.  Perhaps they have Mark Z. Danielewski on retainer.

Mark Z. Danielewski  relies heavily on analogies to provide meaning and structure within the text.  This is neither a new or innovative device in and of itself.  What I’m struck by is not how many connections seem to be present in the text (through the benefit of the footnotes, appendices, etc.)  but how many of those connections are incredibly complex or just slightly irregular.  Though he cites Derrida (111-113), Danielewski seems to move beyond simple binary oppositions.  His pairings play with ideas that aren’t quite opposites or synonyms.  Sometimes they may be from the genus, but their relationship is distinct and often tenuous.  This produces a fun house effect in some places, pause for thought in others, and still others simply fall flat.

Though they may not be central to the text as a whole (but then again it may, wait and see), I keep returning to the appearance of riddles and jokes in the text.   Chapter IV discusses the issue at length, even going so far to quote from a fictional source.  “Riddles:   they either delight or torment… It’s beneficial to consider the origins of ‘riddle.’  The Old English rœdelse means ‘opinion, conjure’ which is related to the Old English rœdon ‘to interpret’ in turn belong to the same etymological history of ‘read.'” (33).   Riddles require reasoning and interpreting, and (not unlike the analogy section of the GRE) may be ultimately unknowable.  Riddles become the object of tension, jokes the release of that tension.  But that is not to say that jokes are diametrically opposed to riddles.  Jokes may also delight or torment.  In the cold hallways of the house, Tom begins telling joke after joke to alleviate the tension of being alone or potentially alone in the company of a Monster.  The punch lines of his jokes rely on making connections between two different things; like riddles, they require reason and deduction to make that jump.  Tom may entertain himself with these stories, but what does it signify that he addresses them to “Mr. Monster”?  Does it mean anything that there may be a creature present without the ability to reason in the same sense Tom can?  In that circumstance, do his jokes become riddles?  What does it mean if this Monster can get his jokes?

When one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing.   What is it[1]


[1] Answer: A Riddle

2 A Monster

On authorship and Labyrinths: In Response… (Zampano who did you lose?)

…to some of the previous posts:

Reading some of this week’s posts I see that other people are also questioning authorship in HoL as well as the labyrinth-like structure of the text itself. I can’t say I have definitive answers, but here are some of my thoughts on these matters.

I believe that as far as House of Leaves is concerned, “The greatest trick [Danielewski] pulls is convincing the [reader] he doesn’t exist.” Danielewski does an amazing job of creating a work of fiction that seems to be the work of Zampano (does anyone else have issues accenting the ‘o’ in his name?) and Johnny Truant. I like the idea that the reliability of the narrator “doesn’t really matter” as has been said in class, but while browsing through the pages of the book over the weekend I found something very interesting. This Easter egg is not “within the text” so to speak, but is a part of the novel–found on the page of photos directly after the cover. The stained, ink-marked piece of paper on the center of the page is a partial note about the book (This, I now realize, is also in the appendix in full–but I found the one after the cover first, so I’m going to keep that. Sorry, folks, just started looking over the appendices now). It reads

“Note # [indecipherable text] Chapter XII: Perhaps I will alter the whole thing. Kill both children. Murder is a better word. Chad scrambling to escape, almost making it to the front door where Karen waits, until a corner in the foyer suddenly leaps forward and hews the boy in half. At the same time Navidson, by the kitchen, reaches for daisy…arrive a fraction a second too late, his fingers…’ding air, his eyes scratching after Daisy as she…to her death. Let both parents experience that …’eir narcissism find a new object to wither by…’em in infanticide. Drown them in blood.” A note written in red ink below this type-written passage reads “…top primary sense, to wound, tear, pull to pisces.”  Note: The line reads pisces, lowercase, not pieces. (DNE)

This sheds a new light on the authorship. Clearly somebody is creating this tale if they have the power to change the ending. But all the passage–like so many others–really does it create more questions. Is this Danielewski’s note? If so, then Truant could indeed be reliable. The same could be said if it is a Zampano note: Truant could still be reliable, but Zampano’s work would further be established as mostly fiction. Is it Pelafina’s note? As we have seen by reading the appendices, she is deeply troubled. Something in her letters hints that she may have had exposure to this work herself, after all, she appears to be in the state that Johnny himself is heading towards.

I am beginning to believe that the question of authorship is answered in the way Danielewski creates a book where readers constantly question the validity of the text. The text–or the body of materials that constitute the novel–are not concerned with fact or fiction. They cause whoever is in possession of them to devolve into a state of isolation and eventual insanity. Can’t the same be said for us, the readers and critics of this novel? There is nothing for us to do but continue reading as the book deconstructs itself. Does this not lead us to frustration and insanity? As many people have mentioned in their posts, HoL consumes us. We want more time–need more time–to consume the book even as it consumes us. The same thing is happening in the text. Johnny isn’t sure whether he is working with genuine documents–he even says the film doesn’t exist and the footnotes are often fabrications–but he can’t put it down. Neither can we. This is the text messing with us. Hints of this can be found in the fonts used for each character:

Zampano uses Times–he is the reporter who did immense research on the Navidson record and reports it in academic and journalistic style. Truant uses Courier. He is the messenger who brings Zampano’s research to the reader. Pelafina’s font is Dante, which conjurs images of hell, perhaps as a result of coming into contact with the very materials that appear to be sending Johnny on a path towards insanity. The editors–perhaps the only reliable writers in the text–use Bookman because they are literally book men.

These fonts are ultimately the work of House of Leaves’ ultimate author, Danielewski, who places specific hints in the text for the readers. It is clear that this is a work of fiction, but the text seems to be confused by its own state of existence. Sometimes we question its credibility and other times accept what the book’s authors write as credible. This is a text that deconstructs itself before I can even fully formulate my own deconstructing criticism and the use of fonts and subtle hints lead me to question the authenticity and reliability of the text, seemingly around every corner. This shows that the text is fighting this struggle itself–trying to exist even as all signs say it should not. I believe the point Danielewski is tying to make is that credibility and authenticity are not always that important or especially clear cut. After all, Johnny reads Zampano’s text knowing that it is largely a fabrication but still finds himself becoming consumed by the work. So do we, the readers, consume the text–fully aware of its status as fiction–and find ourselves consumed. Here we can see elements of postmodern fiction blurring the lines of authorship, transcending the boundaries of fiction and reality and leaving us saying only, “who cares.”

Another element I will touch on briefly are the mentions of the labyrinth. I was hoping to spend more time writing about this, but I am already well over 500 words, so a note will suffice. I agree that the book is much like a labyrinth that we must negotiate. But my question is this: While a normal labyrinth has many dead-ends, with blocked passages connected to the one that actually leads somewhere, is every passage in House of Leaves really a dead-end? Is the text like this on purpose? Serving as a maze with no entrance and no exit–one that answers any questions we may want to address before we can address them? One that traps characters and readers alike in a state of fear, locked away with a monster we can’t see but know is there? You guys tell me.

This is a comic by XKCD that is fitting for our reading of house of leaves:

An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration
An xkcd cartoon using an IHOP menu and heavy HoL inspiration

Reading House of Leaves against itself

The great paradox of House of Leaves is that the house in the book remains “virtually inviolate to interpretation” (60), while the book itself goes to great lengths to anticipate every conceivable interpretation of itself.

Therefore many of my interpretative approaches toward the text tend either to getting entirely outside the novel (e.g. the mapping project) or to reading the book very literally against itself. In the myriad of made-up and real intertextual references, for example, can we find some surprising framework that casts the novel in a new light?

I’m very interested in the recurring presence of anxieties and phobias in the novel. Karen Green, we find out, has a history of claustrophobia, and one footnote even references her “results on the Sheehan Clinician Rated Anxiety Scale as well as Sheehan Phobia Scale” (59, f69). These are, it turns, out, real clinical diagnostic tools. I’m toying with the idea that we could take something like these real-world rubrics and somehow use them as a lenses to look at House of Leaves. Below is a summary of the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS), which psychologists often have patients use to self-report their social anxieties. Does something like this have any interpretative potential, or is it just a false lead?

[scribd id=12694609 key=key-1efh2rnfipbnh0f8vuuv]

“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.

The Art of Simulation

I decided to compose my blog post this week after having read the introduction to Danielewski’s House of Leaves and before continuing through the rest of the book:

So what  are we to make of Danielewski’s introduction?  I’m not exactly sure, but neither is Mr. Johnny Truant.

First, we have what appears to be a frame narrative of sorts (or perhaps this is merely an introduction; I don’t know if the book returns to the point of view of Johnny Truant). Nevertheless, we have a narrator addressing the writing that follows him.

So what does this supposed framing establish?  Very little…

I’m kidding of course…or am I?  If one thing is for certain of the words of Truant, it is that nothing is for certain (or real for that matter?)…

Now, surely we have all encountered the frame narrative used in it’s classical form one time or another: William Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, One Thousand and One Nights, or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Perhaps what all these frames have in common is their establishment of incentive for the reader.  What do I mean?  In each of these examples, the reader is given a reason to enter through the frame and into the heart of the text:  Chaucer’s prologue establishes the pilgrimage, its travelers/storytellers, and a reason to read through their various stories: to find out who gets the free dinner!  In One Thousand and One Nights, the reader is encouraged to find out if Scheherazade’s storytelling can save the day!

But in the introduction to House of Leaves, the reader is left to question: Does any of this matter?  Why should we read on if The Navidson Record is fake?  But in rebuttle, Johnny Truant asks the reader: should it matter if it doesn’t matter?

“See, the irony is it makes no difference that the documentary at the heart of this book is fiction.  Zampano knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t real doesn’t matter here.  The consequences are the same.” (Danielewski xx)

Johnny Truant, Zampano (and more generally Danielewski) are calling into question the relevancy of reality, of Truth:

“They say truth stands the test of time.  I can think of no greater comfort than knowing this document failed such a test.” (xix)

As readers, we buy into the ‘reality’ of a story.  Heart of Darkness is a piece of fiction; its frame narrative is a piece of fiction that ‘sets up’ another piece of fiction…and yet we accept the ‘reality’ of the characters.  At times, we sympathize with Marlow, but we also criticize his actions.  We are confused, fascinated, and appalled by Kurtz.  We root for the cannibals…(just me? okay).  We do all of these things as if Marlow, Kurtz, and the cannibals were actually ‘real’.

Through this introduction, Danielewski questions the simulation that is art, and our role in this simulation as readers. Should I continue through the rest of House of Leaves?  Should I continue to read what I know is ‘fake’?  Of course, because the “consequences are the same.”  The difference between Heart of Darkness and House of Leaves?  The latter is self-aware of its role as fiction, as simulation.  This is not to say that Joseph Conrad and his readers (or any author/reader for that matter) are unable to distinguish between their lives and the literature they read; but rather, it’s writers like Danielewski and Luigi Pirandello, or directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Robert Altman who are willing to play with these conventions and incorporate these self-reflexive elements.

Postmodern Horror?

One of the things the first strikes me about this novel is its connections to the horror genre (I vaguely recall hearing or reading about this novel a number of years ago and thinking that it was a work of horror).  The title House of Leaves is reminiscent of the titles and settings of other great works of horror fiction: The Haunting of Hill House, House of Frankenstein, the house on the hill in “Salem’s Lot, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.  The creepy, old house that some unsuspecting family moves into is an undeniable cliche of the genre.  The novel certainly plays up the ominousness and foreboding from the very beginning.  Much like the voice-over/introduction to The Texas Chain-saw Massacre, the story of how Truant acquired Zampano’s writings blurs the line between fact and fiction, grounded reality and infinite dreams and nightmares.  All horror relies upon creating a space in the audience’s mind where anything can happen.

While Truant’s introduction and his footnotes contribute to the tone and tension of the work, as a horror novel, the narrative lacks immediacy.  Scary stories usually depend upon the reader being drawn into a situation of terror with one of the characters.  Danielewski undermines the immediacy though by switching between the Davidson plot and the Truant plot.  He also noticeably softens the horror by ending chapter four with Karen screaming and then beginning chapter five with a long, tiresome explanation about the mythology and science of echoes.  It is as though the author wants the story to walk a line between being horror and being something else.

And if this is a horror novel of a sort, what is the horror, the boogeyman?  I suspect that it has something to do with house, not because it is haunted, but because the house is a symbol for the American Dream as is the family that inhabits the house.  There is something wrong with the ideal life of a couple living in a perfect home with two kids and a dog (and a cat in this novel).  There is something terribly romanticized in the way that Davidson describes his new home, life, and project.  

“Maybe because of my past they’re expecting something different, but I just thought it would be nice to see how people move into a place and start to inhabit it.  Settle in, maybe put down some roots, interact, hopefully understand each other a little better.  Personally, I just want to create a cozy outpost for me and my family.  A place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set” (9).

The whole situation seems too optimistic to me.  For a guy who won a Pulitzer for a photograph of a dying girl in Sudan, he seems oddly oblivious to the possibilities of obstacles to be met and imperfect conclusions.  

The blending of reality and fiction within the novel and the preoccupation with the family is reminiscent of the sado-masochistic games that the older couple plays in Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  Neither of the families in these works are complete; there is always a space that needs to be filled whether it be with an absent child (Albee’s play), an absence of communication between husband and wife (Davidson and Karen seem to communicate a lot through cameras), or actual rooms that appear out of impossibility.  I think it is interesting to note that both Truant and Zampano are single, without family, and in the eyes of the American Dream, incomplete.

I suspect that in this horror story the boogeyman is not a fantastic monster, but the reality that the American Dream is tainted, uncontainable, or unattainable.