Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fear and Loathing in House of Leaves

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man”

Time and time again Danielewski’s incessant references to obscure people infuriate and intrigue readers who seek to understand his complex work the House of Leaves. If one thing is clear however, Danielewski does not add these many outside sources for nothing. When writing something as complicated as House of Leaves it was necessary to leave a trail of bread crumbs for readers to follow in order to take find there way through the House, the section “What some have thought” is no exception. Among the many prominent people listed is the infamous journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose premier piece is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Danielewski included Thompson’s take on House of Leaves, because Thompson’s unique view of drugs and the drug culture, as evidenced in Fear and Loathing, allows readers to better understand personas of many of the many characters within House of Leaves, and better characterize the nature of the Navidson record and the house itself.

First very generally, what is the common perception of drug addicts that the majority of Danielewski’s audience would have? Obviously drug addicts are so depraved because they have some dark trauma in their past, scaring their psyche which Johnny seems to be archetypical of. They are torn up inside so they use drugs to dull the pain, or repress their feelings, but Danielewski is not exactly one to embrace common ideologies. This is why he points to Thompson and his Fear and Loathing, it paints a very different picture of drug use. Raoul Duke unapologetically uses drugs throughout the entirety of his time in Vegas, not to hide some deep pain but instead to expand his mind, and free his emotions. He seeks the American dream: “ …our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country.” He used the drugs in force himself to realize the American dream and what it meant for someone who saw the 60’s come and go.

When someone says drug use, immediately a swath of negative connotations arise. Danielewski puts forward the appearance that he believes the same; in the introduction drug’s are paired with nightmares, though not blamed for them, Johnny blamed his drug use for the initial onset of terror, and even within the Navidson Record Tom is seen as weak and even pathetic for his addictions. All this aside however as is often the case Danielewski’s form may give a better insight into his content and the true meaning of drugs within House of Leaves, then the actual text does.

Drug use is not disguised in House of Leaves in fact its one of the few things that’s out in the open. It’s put right at the forefront. Johnny Truant begins his introduction, on the very first page of text, with a listing of his supply: “For a while there I tried every pill imaginable. Anything to curb the fear. Excedrin PMs, Melatonin, L-tryptophan, Valium, Vicodin, quite a few members of the barbital family. A pretty extensive list, frequently mixed, often matched, with shots of bourbon, a few long rasping bong hits, sometimes even the vaporous confidence-trip of cocaine.” This parallels almost exactly the introduction to Fear and Loathing as Raoul Duke explains what he had in store for his week: “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers downers, screamers, laughers…and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls…Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.” Both cases show through the form of the author their sheer inability to keep them a secret. The difference lies in the intent Johnny appears to be using his drugs to “curb the fear”, while Duke is using his drugs to explore the American dream. Clearly if drugs are given such a prominent place in both works, it can be expected that they are essential to the plot and a deeper understanding of their purpose and function will lead to a deeper understanding of the function behind both stories.

Which user has the right idea when it comes to drug use? Johnny’s attempt at using drugs to repress his fears fails, miserably. Duke uses them for the right reason, he uses them to allow all his emotions out, sometimes it ends in terrible fear and anxiety, with hallucinated monsters, and weeklong black outs, but his feelings are anything but repressed. Fear and Loathing’s approach to drugs is the true meaning of drug use in House of Leaves, Johnny does not crave drugs for their repressive qualities. He needs them for the freeing effects they have. Taken in moderation before he became addicted to the Navidson Record, they served as a legitimate release. Johnny’s very first footnote explains how hung over he was after a long night at the bar picking up girls. He was not attempting to repress anything from his childhood with booze, he instead was using it to help free him from what happened. The alcohol gives him the swagger he needs to tell a story that explains his scars, giving him some small freedom from his past, locked in fantasy. He is not using drugs in some back alley; he is doing them very out in the open surrounded with people. Booze however does not have the necessary strength to free Johnny’s emotions completely. He’s only able to explain his past through some fabricated story.

Duke and his accomplice Dr. Gonzo took drugs to escape the men they were. In fact several times throughout Fear and Loathing the drugs had such a powerful hold on Duke that despite how hard he tried to “maintain” they still managed to free his deepest fears, and hidden anxieties. The drugs, once imbibed, were absolutely unstoppable in freeing the beast within Duke and Gonzo. Before Johnny came into contact with the Navidson record he too used drugs to have a good time, the Navidson Record was a new kind of drug for Johnny something far stronger then anything he had experienced before.

Strength is an issue with drugs, as Duke explains out of all the chemicals in his arsenal ether scared him the most: “The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.” Here Duke expresses his knowledge and fear about the ether, but in the same breath exclaims the utter futility of escaping it. Once again the drugs are irrepressible, this time even before it’s entered his system he knows it is inevitable. Just like Johnny seeking the Navidson Record at 3am in a dead mans apartment, he may not consciously know it, but he would be “into that rotten stuff pretty soon.”

Johnny is the man in the depths of an ether binge, from the second he comes into contact with the Navidson record. The Navidson Record is his ultimate high, it completely erases any repression blocking out his childhood memories. It is his newest, and strongest drug. Completely addicting, Johnny’s hooked from the outset. It takes him completely by surprise slowly removing everything man like about him, stripping him down freeing his innermost demons, whether he wants them out or not. The Navidson Record takes a toll on Johnny far worse then any drug could, both physically and mentally. Even his boss who was an ex-heroine addict comments on how terrible Johnny looks, telling him to get off the smack. He is sick because he does not want to think about his tortured past but the Navidson Record is the same as any drug within Fear and Loathing and House of Leaves, it is irrereprisbile, and will release the beast within. He does not want to remember Raymond, or his mother, but the Record, defies his mental blocks.

Things to be added/removed i plan on narrowing the focus to just the navidson record and its effect on johnny if that doesnt turn out to be enough ill add a bit about the house and how it acts as a drug just like the navidson record. also need to add sources and page numbers. focus my arguement but itll get better every day


Amanda Kern said...

Hey so to continue from class, though I dont' have much to you said just narrow the focus a little, I feel like you know exactly what you're trying to say though. And I think a few sources would definitely add to the content, maybe books on the scientific effects of some of the drugs you talk about. Other than that you have a good start..

Adam Johns said...

Great introductory quote.

Your first paragraph bugs me - you make various generalizations before bothering to state your argument, which has promise, but is vaguely formulated.

The second paragraph is chaotic and not particularly well written, but it's a *much* better explanation of what you're up to here. It could stand being phrased more actively: this is *your* argument, not a lab report where you're imagining a passive vessel of a scientist doing the work.

You get more precise as you go; I was genuinely interested in your analysis of the lists of drugs in the two books. The idea that you keep coming back to is that D is critiqueing (yet also repeating) certain mainstream attitudes about drugs - probably you'd benefit from a thesis along the lines of "D uses HST to say X about the relationship between drugs and the American dream." After all, HOL is very much (as we've discussed) about the American Dream...

I'm interested in your idea of Johny as the man on an ether binge. It's a fascinating idea - actually, all of your ideas are good, and although your focus isn't apparent at the beginning, you have a couple good ones to pick from by the end.

My big observation at this point is that you aren't yet interested in providing or defending any of your claims about HOL: you aren't using the text to *show* us that D is doing very different things with drugs and the ideologies circulating around them than we might expect.

One sentence: express your argument about Danielewski, HST, and ideologies of drug (ab)use in a sentence, then start proving that you're right.