Friday, December 7, 2007

Fonts + the Internet

For this of you who could not read my proposal, my project idea is to analyze the use of fonts in House of Leaves and investigate how each of the different fonts correlates to its respective narrator. Without the use of fonts, House of Leaves would be an entirely different piece of literature and Danielewski uses various fonts in an artistic, yet purposeful fashion. After some beginning research, I have two theories on the purpose of these fonts:

(1) Danielewski delegated fonts to each narrator and the history of the font can be derived to say something about that specific character
(2) All of the fonts come from a shared history and are being used to hide the fact that there is only one narrator(Johnny)

The simple problem I have been running into is identifying some of the fonts in the novel. I and my roommate (computer science major) have successfully identified some of the fonts, and had trouble with some of the others. If anyone disagrees with some of these identifications, please tell me, I could very well be wrong.

In 1991, Apple released True Type, the first program with scalable font. The fonts included in this program were Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Courier. Later, in 1992, TrueType came to Windows 3.1, but this time with Arial replacing Helvetica. Interestingly enough, I am typing in Arial currently with Times and Courier as other options. Helvetica, although it is one of the most common fonts, is curiously not included in the selection. Helvetica is held in much higher regard than the other fonts in concerns of aesthetics.

Interestingly enough, each one of the narrators in House of Leaves uses one of these four fonts. Some may argue that Danielewski made this decision for practical purposes rather than narrative purposes. These four fonts are in fact web friendly fonts and House of Leaves was an internet sensation before it ever hit the bookstores. In fact, it is a very logical presumption that the Danielewski's publishers would have been much more wary to invest in all these different fonts if it were not all the internet buzz that surrounded the story.

Despite this evidence suggesting that the choice of fonts was pragmatic, there is a strong case to the contrary.

Zampano's narrative is written in Times New Roman, a font normally originally created for newspaper columnists. Interestingly enough, Zampano is more of a blind reporter than anything else. Eugene Ionesco once said, "The critic should describe, not prescribe," and this is exactly what Zampano does. His narrative is less of a critique and more a collection of other critiques describing the Navidson record. The descriptions become so plentisome that the reader is often lost in pieces of literature distantly related to The Navidson Record.

Later in the novel, specifically Chapter XI, Zampano's narrative is designed like that of a newspaper columnist. His work is split into columns approximately 4.5 cm wide. This width is common in many newspapers and it again shows that Danielewski had more in mind when desiganting font types.

Johnny uses the font Courier, a font that lacks beauty but is consistently used in computer programming, specifically in Unix. The fact that Johhny uses a more techincal font is appropriate. One can imagine him, a child of the modern age, using his computer to add his own comments onto Zampano's narrative. His narrative seems to reflect the change writing that took place with the advent of computers. While it is clear that some editing and careful word choice were used in Zampano's narrative, from the beginning Johnny's text is sloppy. He uses contractions, flow of consciousness, and very raw language. Johnny is a new age writer whose use of the computer as a writing tool is obvious from the text.

Danielewski assigned Karen with a font that is ubiquitous and beautiful - Helvetica. In the documentary Helvetica, graphic designer Wim Crouvel talks about how he dreaming of making "a typeface suitable for the digitizer." For Crouvel, these typeface had to work for a digitizer, but it also had to be piece of art. Eventually this piece of art would be known as Helvetica. Karen, who is in fact a gorgeous model, uses the font in her narrative.

Throughout the interviews, Karen speaks with mostly artists, writers, and architects. Karen speaks with people who would appreciate the beauty of the font and coincidentally notice her beauty as well. After receiving numerous passes and receiving little relevant information, Karen's transcript ends.

Well there is one difficult variation I am working with. The fourth font I have identified is not Arial, but it appears to be a derivative of Arial. Of its exact history I do not know, but I have found some relevant information. The name of the fourth font is Bookman, a font released in the year 2000. This font is used by the editors. Is this a coincidence? I think not. House of Leaves was released in 2000. Danielewski chose Bookman to make the story look fresh, like it had just been edited by a group of lousy, modern editors. This makes House of Leaves appear more like a legitimate critique with multiple authors, instead of something Danielewski compiled himself.

I plan on expanding on each of these relations between narrators and their respective fonts. Hoepfully I can support one of my two hypotheses by the end of it.

Tom's font --> Can't figure out what it is

"I am always suspicious of collective truths..." - Ionesco


Adam Johns said...

I need to post a comment, to acknowledge that I've read this and that I approve what you're doing.

That's all, really. You're doing a great job, it all sounds good to me, and I'm interested in the details. If you do run into problems or problematic identification, I'd urge you to

1) Hunt down a designer who might know
2) have a look around the forums dedicated to HOL
3) Or simply go through why it's a problem, and what the significance of that problem is.

Good stuff.

Mike K said...

I was going to say much the same thing as Adam. When you first pitched the idea, I thought you were dead in the water from lack of material. It sounds like you really know what you're doing, and if Adam doesn't share that knowledge, then it's an A paper :)

Seriously though, I'd add a little more than conjecture on why you think the things you're saying. Why do you think Johnny is a computer user? Why should Karen get a pretty font? Use the text to back up your claims (and add some easy padding pages to your paper). Cite cite cite.

Adam Johns said...

Good suggestions from Mike - he's one step ahead of me on this one.