Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Final Project- analyzing quotes in House of Leaves

For my final project, I want to analyze the quotes in the beginning of each chapter of the House of Leaves and explain their relationship with the chapters that follow them. Since reading the book, I’ve noticed that each quote either foreshadows what might happen, or somehow ties into the chapter. Some are more difficult to analyze than others, and some are pretty straightforward and obvious.
The quote that particularly interested me, was the one about animals at the beginning of chapter six.
“[Animals] lack a symbolic identity and the self-consciousness that goes with it. They merely act and move reflexively as they are driven by their instincts. If they pause at all, it is only a physical pause; inside they are anonymous, and even their faces have no name. They live in a world without time, pulsating, as it were, in a state of dumb being…The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days- that’s something else.” -Ernest Becker
Animals are driven by instinct, while humans, although also driven by instinct, have knowledge and common sense that animals lack. Truant realizes this and seems to envy animals. They don’t dwell on issues or analyze life and death because they do not have the capacity to do so. Truant, for nearly two full pages, rambles without stopping, about Zampano’s cats, the Pekinese that he can’t discuss, the man with the beard and “hands harder than horn”, who he also does not want to discuss, and Thumper. He, unlike animals, is constantly thinking about his past, which have a great effect on who he is and how he lives his life.
Truant talks, or should I say rambles on, about how Zampano and the cats in the courtyard interacted. “They live and they disappear.” This is exactly what happened after Zampano’s death. The cats were always around him, rubbing up against his leg, while he spoke to them. Zampano probably envied them, according to Truant, just as he does. Zampano was never married and had no family or friends, so he spent his time talking to the cats. Cats have “very little to remind them of themselves or their past or even their tomorrows”, which is why Truant, and most likely Zampano, envy them. Once he died however, the cats disappeared. They have no concept of death, like humans do, and therefore, were not even aware of his death.
Truant also mentions the Pekinese and the man with the beard, who he avoids talking about. (He does however talk about this man in a later chapter.) This man clearly haunts him and still plays a part of his current life even though he is from the past. While animals have no perception of time, people do, and Truant seems to wish that he didn’t have this concept.
There is even a very strange relationship between the house and Mallory and Hillary that the author does not go into. Neither Truant nor Navidson go into detail about the dog and cat, which leaves the reader with many questions regarding this. “Zampano also fails to comment on the inability of animals to wander those corridors.” Maybe it is simply insignificant, but it could be for other reasons that I am unaware of. Maybe since animals do have good instincts, their instinct is to stay away from the darkness and strangeness of the house.


erika mcclintock said...

I think some of the signifigance of the animal's inability to wander through the hallways of the house links directly to the quote that you cite- anyone who walks thru those hallways needs to have "symbolic identity and the self-consciousness that goes with it." The house responds and reacts to the human occupants because they possess those traits. At least I think you can make that argument. Or maybe I should say that that is the argument that Johnny is attempting to make- since he is the one who chose the quote to begin with...

Interesting stuff- lots of material to choose from. I look forward to reading more...

Adam Johns said...

Good points from Erika.

This is a compelling quote, and even your opening discussion of it shows that it could easily sustain an entire paper. Most of what you have so far is simply an explanation of the quote, I think, or a contextualization of it, both of which are absolutely necessary.

In order to generate a clear thesis, it would help to ask questions about the quote, even push back against it a little bit. Some examples:

1) Who is Becker? Is the quote legitimate? How does an understanding of who Becker is help put the quote into further context?

2) Is the quote right, either in an abstract, big-picture sense or in the context of the book? Is it true, for instance, that animals "live in a world without time"?

3) How is Danielewski presenting himself in relationship to Becker? Keep in mind the fascinating fact that Navidson's pictures _always_ feature people - there is a disconnect from "nature," particularly from animals, here.

4) What do you think of the fact that the cats disappear after Z's death? Does that make sense to you?

I do like your beginning, and I very much like the quote you picked. I'm trying to provide examples of how you can push harder, to really discover something _new_ to say about the book.