Thursday, March 26, 2009

Danielewski v. Ware

House of Leaves consists of more than simply moving one’s eyes along lines of text, turning pages and mentally interpreting what one reads. According to my Lit textbook from my high school AP lit class, this is referred to as ergodic literature. Ergodic literature refers to texts that require a reader to make a different or greater than normal effort. This is usually because they are non-linear in some way, which theoreticians relate to the possibilities of hypertext. An ergodic text re-interprets the idea of 'plot', plays with layout or typography, requires the reader to find a 'key' to unlock the meanings of the text or introduces an unreliable narrator or digression.

The construction of Danielewski’s narrative is similar to that of Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan in that both authors are trying to control the rate in which their story is consumed. Both storytellers are applying the concepts of filmmaking to their storytelling only they are using an entirely different medium to do so. Directors can stretch a sequence of shots as long as they want or curtail it to be as short as they want. They can take a conversation between two people and make the actors place long bouts of silence between comments, or have them fluidly speak with no pauses. The concept of time in this way has never really been introduced into the art of novels. Whether graphic or not, this insistence on the reader consuming the story at a rate which the teller sets is a highly unique form.

House of Leaves contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference books that do not exist. Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways. Danielewski succeeds in making you feel certain ways, affected not simply by the content of the story but by the placement of the words on the page, or lack there of. Thus, the reader feels not simply sadness, love, grief, remorse, doubt, etc. But they feel a more complex expression such as uncomfortable love such as in the part on page 12 when he talks about Karen’s response to Navidson’s return home. “Strangely enough, by the time Karen reaches Navidson in the foyer, she has quite effectively masked all her eagerness to see him. Her indifference is highly instructive. In that peculiar contradiction that serves as connective tissue in so many relationships, it is possible to see that she loves Navidson almost as much as she has no room for him.” From there the reader jumps to some seemingly non-connected story about a boy fighting in a bar in Texas.

For me, the leap from something that I have never verbalized but most definitely feel in my own relationship to something so bizarrely nonlinear twists the initially tapped into feeling which was original already, into something very hard to describe or even label.

In Ware’s story, there are a lot of flash backs, and also tidbits of information that need to be gathered in the frames that lack narration. This is similar to Danielewski’s ergodic style in that War is forcing the reader to slow their consumption of the story. His frames are so intricately drawn, the details are so minute, that the frames with no words actually take longer to read than the ones with words and on the frames with words, you can read and look, but then you must simply look. Reading Jimmy Corrigan is almost like watching a foreign film, you need to be watching the complex action but also reading the subtitles to fully understand the story. For example in the beginning, when you’re not used to the way in which the story is told, the part where Jimmy is eating Cap’n Crunch and Superman is leaving his mom’s room, the frames immediately following are almost like one of those puzzles you find on the Denny’s kids menus where you have to find what’s different. You have to look at each from for a few seconds to realize they are the passing of time. That game of discovering what’s different is Ware’s way of slowing the reader’s intake of the story down.

Danielewski’s use of the color blue for the word house is something that can be directly related to the form of Ware’s graphic novel. Ware's novel, is heavy with symbolism and visual storytelling, exploring and demonstrating the potential of the comics medium. Notable leitmotifs in Jimmy Corrigan include the robot, the bird, the peach, the miniature horse, and the flawed Super-man figure. In Danielewski’s novel, there are literary symbols but (as I have not finished the book yet, I have yet to discover what they are, though I’m going to guess that the configuration of the text is also symbolic). So far, the use of the color blue every time the word house appears, reminds the reader what the Navidson Report is all about. It also helps the reader to recall the description of the short film from the beginning of the novel, maintaining the image consistently, something that is pretty hard to do with no graphics. Ware’s leitmotifs do the same.

Both books can be considered mockeries of academia. In Ware’s case his extremely complex narrative and precise illustration is proof to academia that comics are not the ghetto of literature, and that a great American novel can be in picture form. Danielewski’s novel is basically describing a satire of academic criticism in the way that the Navidson Report is analyzed and delved into almost to an unnecessary degree.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your introduction is interesting, although it's worth noting that you're not really advancing an argument here, at least not one that I can detect.

Your second paragraph makes a great observation, although I do think you are simplifying things too much. Ware may or may not be borrowing techniques from film; we should remember that many similar techniques are integral to the very nature of comics, and that time in comics flows in a very particular way (as we discussed at length in class). It's worth asking how well/thoroughly Danielewski is able to control the flow of time - different parts of the text work in very different ways.

Each of your following paragraphs is basically an attempt to begin a new argument. These arguments are all interesting, but they are also all only a slight beginning. Take, for instance, your brief analysis of how time flows in Ware - what you are ignoring (or taking out of context) is that all comics work this way to an extent - as we discussed at length in class when we connected George Herriman to Ware. Or, for another example, your very brief analysis of D. as satirizing academic criticism. This is, of course, true - it's also true that very large parts of the book *are* academic criticism. Like most complex satire (e.g., Don Quixote, as we discussed in class) the book is very deeply engaged with the very things it is satirizing.

In other words, you have a set of good beginnings here, but it would have been better to take one and push it farther.