Monday, November 10, 2008

Unnecessary Complexity in Literature

For awhile now, I've been becoming more and more frustrated with modern literature. Books like Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves are prime examples of why I have become frustrated. Withing the covers of these books is undoubtedly a great story or depiction of certain events. However, is it really necessary to have the reader be so confused while reading the story? Any book that needs a set of directions, in my opinion, is a book that shouldn't be read. I know that there are many people, including Professor Johns that would disagree with me. I'd like to look at a few examples within House of Leaves that demonstrate an unnecessary complexity that takes away from their stories.

The first example is the use of colored texts within the book. The word "house" is printed in blue anytime it is seen throughout the story. We are never told why this is, instead, we are left in the dark to use our imagination to decide what the blue text represents. To some, this adds to the book, however I'd like to argue that it distracts the reader from what is important. Conversely, the word "minotaur" is printed in red anytime we see it, so it adds even more to the distraction of the reader. Red and blue are colors generally accepted to mean opposites of each other. Hot vs cold, water vs fire, and dark vs light. Sure, these colors probably have some symbolic meaning that is directly related with the story, but since the book needs a set of directions to read in itself, the reader will almost positively not be able to link the relation.

I do think it's important for books to allow to reader to use critical thinking and even their imagination to better engage them into the words the author is portraying. However, I do think there is a line that shouldn't be crossed when it comes to complexity of literature. When a book becomes so hard to understand, that a reader (even when using the provided set of directions) can't maneuver their way through a book, the line has been crossed.

I could go on for pages and pages about the speculations of what the color usage with "house" and "minotaur" means, but it's pointless. There is so much more within House of Leaves, that this idiotic rant about color usage in a book that is also printed in black and white is fruitless. The move towards insanity and the actual symbol of the house, rather than the color it is printed in, is so much more important to focus on.

Great literature is all in the eye of the beholder. Just like any other critical thinking or viewing material, it's all opinionated when it comes to thinking something is great or not. Lyotard stated that to really tap into intelligence, pain through thinking must occur. Well, with books like House of Leaves and Jimmy Corrigan, this pain will definitely be apparent. Maybe I will eventually understand why this complexity is necessary for these types of books. Until then, I will continue to think that the distractions caused by the author with be more detrimental to the book rather than beneficial.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Rather than making an argument in favor of complexity - which could go on for weeks, and which might not do anything for you anyway - let me touch briefly on the premise of your piece. You're arguing that difficulty and complexity take away "from their stories" or from "what is important."

This begs the question: what, then, is important here? What *really* matters in HOL, and how does the red/blue thing take away from it? I come away from this understanding that you don't think that HOL is much fun - but I *don't* understand how you think it could be better, because I don't understand what you think the complexity is distracting us *from*. You might, for instance, argue that HOL would be better off told as a simple horror story, Stephen King style - if what you valued was the element of horror. But I have no idea what you value here, or what you think is important.