“While enthusiasts and detractors will continue to empty entire dictionaries attempting to describe or deride it, “authenticity” still remains the word most likely to stir a debate. In fact, this leading obsession—to validate or invalidate the reels and tapes—invariably brings up a collateral and more general concern: whether or not, with the advent of digital technology, image as forsaken its once unimpeachable hold on the truth.”
It is certainly neither ironic nor accidental that the above statement comprises the very first sentences of House of Leaves. Obviously enough, the idea of “authenticity” or “credibility” is a reoccurring and almost redundant theme in this book, as the reader soon discovers that he is constantly questioning the truthfulness to the words being read.
House of Leaves begins with Zampano’s narrative as it investigates the credibility of the Navidson Record by presenting the opinions of critics and experts, all analyzing the veracity of this film. This all may be very interesting to the reader, had we not already been informed by Johnny that the Navidson Record is undeniably, without a doubt, completely fabricated. By immediately educating the reader of this fact, Danielewski cleverly places the reader in the intended state of mind: we are instantly skeptical of everything we are about to read.
This is not a book about a drug-addicted man obsessively piecing together a dismantled narrative, nor is it about the horrors of a mysterious house. House of Leaves consistently tackles the theme of perception, and intentionally (and repeatedly) draws the reader back to this idea. House of Leaves is deliberately designed to be a piece of interactive fiction, as every single component of this book is meticulously placed for a specific purpose. The reader becomes actively involved in the telling of the story, and as a result, has the ability to take control of how the book is read and how the events should be interpreted. This book deliberately questions the authenticity of images in film while simultaneously designed to operate as a film; therefore, by combining the two, Danielewski has drawn attention to the lack of credibility in House of Leaves.
Many aspects in House of Leaves relates to films, images, and photographs, including the physical book itself. On the inside cover, before the chance is given to read a single word, a pause sign is displayed. The action of turning the page to begin the novel is the very first indication that the reader has not just begun to read a book, they have pressed the hypothetical play button and have become involved in an interactive film. A pause sign is found on the inside back cover as well, symbolizing the end of the experience.
Progressing further into the novel proves this first sign of foreshadowing to be appropriate. The reader repeatedly finds himself treating the book as a physical object, as he must rotate, flip, and navigate through the story in unconventional ways. In this way the reader is in control of the events unfolding in the narrative and can manipulate the speed in which they occur. Similar to the feelings in which a motion picture film provides its viewer, Danielewski’s use of color, space, font, and placement provides the reader with a multi-sensorial experience not typically found in books. Actions and emotions in House of Leaves are presented in a way that transforms simple words on a page to vivid sights, sounds, and sentiments.
One might refer, perhaps, to the interpretation of the dark labyrinth where much of the narrative takes place. An abundance of blank space surrounds small patches of words, allowing the reader to experience the vastness and impossible size of the house in which they travel, and using space to suggest time. Page 216 begins the description of slamming doors, allowing the reader to determine the speed of such and to provide the sound for the action as he turns the excess of pages. Johnny often talks directly to the reader, drawing us in to experience the fear and loneliness that saturates his life. This ability to thoroughly involve the readers into the plot is intentionally done, as a result we are put in a vulnerable position in which we are now ready to absorb the lessons that Danielewski presents.
When the reader has become aware that he is actively engaged in the middle of a twisted plot, the question of the authenticity of what he is experiencing is certain to come into question. William J. Mitchell states, “If we cannot find grounds to conclude that a given image is a true record of a real scene or event, we can take the opposite tack and attempt to demonstrate that it could not be a true record. We can look for inconsistencies—play a sophisticated game of ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’”(Mitchell, 31). Should we take Mitchell’s advice, readers of House of Leaves is supplied with an abundance of reasons why this book should not be trusted (as the book is basically presented as a series of images). Danielewski, or Zampano, or Johnny for that matter, consistently go out of their way in attempt to support the embedded material with credible facts and support. Hundreds, of scholars are cited, most of whom are completely fictitious. It’s almost like a test presented by these many authors: can the reader look past this façade of extreme detail and intelligence and see House of Leaves for what is really is: a highly descriptive book that focuses on the question of authenticity.
Now that it is apparent that House of Leaves purposefully operates as a film, and that the credibility of this book is highly compromised, the connection between the two must be investigated. As stated in the first sentence of Zampano’s narrative, “authenticity” is the word most likely to stir a debate. By presenting this controversial word in the first sentence of the book, the reader is coaxed to investigate, and debate, the meaning and its relationship to this particular work. To state the obvious, it certainly helps that House of Leaves is entirely built around the events comprising a documentary film.