Tuesday, November 11, 2008

House of Echo

House of Leaves is a book that contains several layers of narrative. Starting with the events that take place in Navidson’s house, these events then get interpreted into a film, The Navidson Record. The film is then analyzed and reinterpreted by Zampanó’s manuscript. Johnny who then edits the manuscript, adds his own footnotes and interpretations, and publishes it. Finally, we read it and make of it what we can. Each successive layer adds to and/or changes the layers that came before it. In this way the book begins to resemble an echo.

Zampanó discusses echoes in a physical sense and in a mythological sense. Mythologically, Echo was a nymph who, for differing reasons depending on the version of the story, has been reduced to nothing but her voice and cursed to only repeat the last words spoken to her. But she does not repeat perfectly, and how she returns your words makes a difference. This is similar to the various levels of narrative in the book. Each new representation of the events is altered slightly, skewed in one way or another that gives the new layer meaning that was not there before. Zampanó says of Echo, “To repeat: her 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) Notice that Zampanó says that Echo is telling a story, rather than just repeating words, just as Navidson is telling a story, just as Zampanó himself is telling a story, and just as Johnny is telling a story. And despite the fact that they are all telling essentially the same story, each of their layers has its own meaning.

Looking at the phenomenon of echo from a more scientific perspective, Zampanó discusses in brief how echoes work, or more accurately why echoes work. The basic idea is that sound travels away from the listener, bounces off something, and comes back to the listener. Zampanó makes three very important points about this process. The first is that a space must be relatively empty to keep the sound waves from dampening on other objects. The second is that the space must be at least fifty-six and a half feet across, otherwise the sound returns so quickly that the human ear cannot register the difference between the original sound and its echo. So a space must be large and empty to produce an echo. Finally, there must be something off of which to bounce. Thus an echo tells us something about the space that we are in, namely that it fits these three criteria. But based on the speed and clarity with which the echo returns, it can also tell us the size and possibly even the shape of the space.

If we look at the book, each layer of narrative is the origination of a new echo. The occurrence in the house is the origination of the initial sound. These events bounce off of Navidson and he responds, creating an echo in the form of the film. The film then bounces off of Zampanó and creates the manuscript. The manuscript bounces off of Johnny and creates the book. The book bounces off of us and we write blog posts. Each successive layer returns “a different and more meaningful story, in spite of telling the same story.” (42) The wording is different and the message is different, but the story is the same.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This is a fine response to the material on page 42, as well as related moments in the book, and a fine discussion of the importance of the concept of the echo in the book. I would have liked this to be more of an argument, though -- rather than just pointing out that the different layers are echoes (hardly a surprise!), you might have said more about what you think we should *do*, how we should read *differently*, with that concept firmly in mind.