Thursday, March 27, 2008

Formal Blog - House of Leaves -Difficult Passage

So far, House of Leaves is full of many eerie passages that leave me with a feeling of discomfort and a feeling that something is just not quite right. However, one of the passages that left me with a feeling of annoyance and confusion is on page 112,

"This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center."

One explanation that I can come up with to explain this passage is that the center of a specific structure is based on the center of whatever holds or contains that structure. The center of a specific structure is dependent upon the center of the world that encompasses the structure. In addition, that means that the center of the world around the structure contains the center of the structure itself. However, the center of the structure is not the center of the world around it, because that world has to have a center of its own, that is unique and distinguishes it as the center of that world, separate from the center of the structure. This explanation, reads just as contradictory as the passage above, but how does one explain something that is contradictory without the use of contradictions?

Applying my explanation to the plot of The Navidson Record will hopefully supply some clarity to the contradictions. Will Navidson is trying to do something which is contradictory within itself, as he is trying to capture and illuminate darkness itself. In capturing darkness, the only thing one can see is darkness. Usually capturing refers to making something more noticeable, drawing attention to a specific element, making it known, or uncovering something. How can one uncover or draw attention to something like darkness? The use of sight will not allow one to gather much information, so one must rely on other elements such as sound, specifically the echoes that are discussed prior to the passage at hand. The author wants to prepare the reader for the many use of contradictions throughout the rest of the book, by getting him used to thinking in a non-conventional way. He also wants the reader to begin to see the world not only through sight, but sound and how interacts with space to send messages.

Another way that this can be applied to The Navidson Record is through an analysis of the hallway compared to the house itself. The structure of the hallway is based on the structure of the house, but the hallway's dimensions and design doesn't conform to that of the house (at least for the humans). The hallway has walls that move, ceilings that are hundreds of feet off the ground, an endless descending staircase as well as endless darkness. The house as a whole has a distinct rigorous structure that doesn't possess any of these characteristics. So how does a house with a distinct structure contain a hallway that has moving walls, etc? The only way to answer this would be to use the explanation that the center of the hallway is both within the hallway and outside of the hallway, belonging to the house. However, because the house has its own distinct center somewhere else, the hallway has its distinct center as well. It is a part of the house, but at the same time it is a structure on its own; it conforms to its own center, while being a part of the house's center at the same time. The center of the hallway, just so happens to be one that is flexible and not fixed, allowing the walls and space to change and seem infinite. So the center of the hallway is not really a center, because it isn't fixed in one spot in the middle of the structure. Instead it exists in and all around the structure. The fact that the center exists everywhere within the structure and everywhere outside of the structure allows the hallway to move and take any shape or form. No matter what form the hallway takes it is based on some type of "center."

As mentioned before, the difficulty in this passage is a tool used by the author in order to change the reader's perception and the way one looks at the physical world as being so finite, and having definite characteristics. One must question his definition of a "center" and the meaning of space, dimensions, and time in order to understand The Navidson Record and Will Navidson's mission to uncover and understand that which cannot be seen. Focusing on the form of the passage, the last statement is what shows the purpose of the difficulty. It reads, "The center is not the center." The author makes the reader stop and think about this last sentence, and then go back and re-read the entire passage. The reader is forced to either continue on reading confused, or come to terms with what this passage means and its implications. Presumably, after reading that last statement one will want to stop and make sense out of it and continue reading the book with a new perspective. From now on, nothing is certain, anything is possible and nothing will be the way it is expected to be.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This is a compelling discussion of the role of contradiction in the novel (the initial contradiction "This is not for you" is contradictory because precisely this insult is supposed to make us want to turn the page).

I agree with, and endorse, everything here, and don't have anything particular to add, to the extent that we can take this passage seriously (which we should). Let me also add, though, that we can take your passage as absurd, rather than contradictory; HOL is a very serious book, but it's also a parody of contemporary philosophy, film criticism, etc. Maybe that's the biggest contradiction of all -- the book tries to make it possible for us to take it as horror and humor, philosophy and send-up of philosophy at the same time.