Deconstructing House of leaves’ internal logic though Derrida.
“Little solace comes to those who grieve when thoughts keep drifting as walls keep shifting and this great blue world of ours seems a House of leaves moments before the wind.” ( )
“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”( )
House of leaves is a book embedded in layers upon layers of obscurity that cannot be completely explained. It embodies multiple layers overlapping narratives with infinite interpretations. Upon close examination, one is quick to realize that the complexity House of leaves presents within its very core challenges our expectations right from the start- “this is not for you”(). This convolution is the beauty of the book itself.
One can examine some of these intricacies philosophically through Derrida, one of the many cited sources in the book. Derrida was a prominent philosopher who coined the idiom Deconstructivism, a term (beyond lay-man definition) that failed even in Derrida hands to meet a satisfactory definition. However, it can be defined as (but not limited to) “the process through which a subject or text undergoing examination appears to shift and complicate in meaning when read in the light of the assumptions and absences.”(1) This definition is the foundation on which House of leaves is built. Danielewski’s use of Derrida’s text, Structure Sign and Play we are offered as readers an insight to possible ways of raking through (Deconstructing) some of the structural layers in House of leaves.
The basis of Deconstruction is the investigation of the underlying meaning offered by a text. Understanding this innate meaning requires that the text is viewed as presentation of limitless multiplicities. Derrida states that “deconstruction cannot limit itself or proceed immediately to neutralization: it must, by means of double gesture, double science, a double writing practice an overturning of the classical opposition and general displacement of the system. It is on that condition alone that deconstruction will provide the means of intervening in the field of oppositions it criticizes.”( )
As Derrida suggests deconstruction is an ‘event’ within a text that when investigated offers an understanding of the structural internal logic of the text. ( ) Many such events occur throughout the book. These events are loosely compartmentalized here into two fundamental subtexts: Logocentrism and mythology. In the book, these are devices used individually as evidence of the cornerstones on which House of leaves rests.
The term Logocentrism stems from the word logos translated as word. In a broader context, Logocentrism refers to the idea that there is a central unchanging meaning, which also means that the context in which it is used shares the same center. Derrida criticizes this idea because the center is nonexistent, it is a preconceived notion that is thought to be the foundational support to every textual composition and is sought after as the hinge that holds everything within the text in place. He states:
“The function of this center [is] not only to orient, balance and organize the structure…but above all to make sure that the unorganizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call the play of the structure…. the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself…. Thus it has always been thought that the center which by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while governing the structure escapes it structurally… 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.”
Furthermore, it is a preconception that within every studied text or subject there has to be a center, and deconstruction ought to hub around this central idea. Derrida also argues that the deconstructor must look within the text itself as “there is nothing outside the text”( ). In a more critical view of Logocentrism, it can be put forth as a philosophical principle of reason or thought as expressed in language.
Language in this context according to Derrida is not only an intricate aspect of deconstruction but the construction of the text that is to undergo such deconstruction “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique”. Language is an instrument used to extend our understanding of the un-understandable. Literarily, language becomes intensive because of the infinite possibilities of it translation. Danielewski language is a bricolage engineered to convey the complexity and nonconformity of House of leaves.
The absence of a fixed locus is not accidental; this is an intentional construction of Danielewski. He craftily shifts every element in the novel as a challenge to the average reader trained expectations. We are taken through a fictional account of a movie by a blind man in a house that is architecturally impractical narrated by Johnny a drug addict. Even amongst the characters there is no central figure, “how can I know where to go when I don’t know where we are? I mean, really, where is that place in relation to here, to us, to everything? Where?” This is also evidenced by the compass that Karen bought that offers not cardninal poles.
One could argue that the House itself is the center however a rebuttal can be made that the sporadic spiral shift of the House causes it to lose that property, “they’ve found the stair case in the center which is over two hundred feet in diameter and spirals down into nothing… it’s so deep, man, it almost dreamlike”. This is the dreamlike quality that runs through the text and it characters making it even harder to make such an argument.
Another argument can be made that God is the center, examining the gospel of John an association can be drawn between the house representing God and the leaves the word. Logos can be translated as God and according to the gospel of john “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God.” From this point of view, just like the House God is everywhere, everything, lacking a center in every meaning of the word another reason for the continual shift.
In his book, Derrida cited the work of anthropologist Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss discusses in Raw and the cooked the function and structural study of mythology in textual analysis. A myth, according to Levi-Strauss, is both historically and ahistorical but above all it is timeless, it's langue. He argues that myths are implored in texts to convey underlying translations of the text itself. “As the myth themselves are based on secondary codes(the primary codes being those that provide the substance of language), the present work is put forward as a tentative draft of a tertiary code which is intended to ensure the reciprocal translatability of several myth.”( ) One can deduce that “this is why it would not be wrong to consider this book [HOL] itself as a myth: it is as it were the myth of mythology…. Myths are anonymous.”( )
Levi-Strauss in the book Raw and the cooked, cited by Derrida discussed the Bororo myth which he referred to as the key myth. This is a story of the origins of wind and rain ( ) this conveys the idea that a myth cannot be understood in isolation but as a part of the entire contextwithin which it is used. ( ) Derrida states
1. the Bororo myth, which he employs in the book as the “reference myth” does not merit this name and this treatment…this myth deserves more than a referential privilege: “in fact, the Bororo myth, which I shall refer to from now on as the key myth, is, as I shall try to show simply a transformation to a greater or lesser extent, of other myths originating either in the same society or in neighboring or remote societies. I could, therefore, have legitimately taken as my starting point any one representative myth of the group. From this point of view, the key myth is interesting not because it is typical, but rather because of its irregular position within the group
2. There is no unity or absolute source of the myth. The focus or the source of the myth always shadows and virtualties which are elusive, unactualizable, and nonexistent in the first place. Everything begins with structure, configuration, or relationship. The discourse on the acentric structure that myth itself is cannot itself have an absolute subject or an absolute center.
**this is another rough draft. i have not cited my sources. please any feedback will be helpful.