Thursday, April 23, 2009

House of Dada

Mark Z. Danielewski’s composition of multiple narratives in his novel House of Leaves is inclusive of blind film critic Zampanò’s scattered texts, Johnny Truant’s transcription and organization of Zampanò’s texts, as well as his own narratives, and The Navidson Records. These works all come together in one work titled House of Leaves, Danielewski’s novel. The resulting text is a cohesive staggering work of text that is organized in what often results in overlapping narratives strewn together in atypical forms of storytelling. What is striking in House of Leaves is the resulting body of text which takes on an atypical format of what is considered a novel. The book cannot be read straight through as a “normal” narrative is read due to the form in which portions of the text take on—sometimes upside down, spaced apart, mirrored, and sometimes with footnote symbols in a latter section of the book with the footnote itself taking seed in an earlier part of the book. In this manner, Danielewski’s novel, House of Leaves, serves as a prime candidate to explore Dadist beliefs, ideas, and practices. Danielewski’s compilation of text in the form of an untraditional body of work directly reflects the goals of the Dadaists to produce a body of work seeded in anti-art making.

Though still making works of art, Dadaists claimed that they were producing anti-art. This term meant that the intentions of the works were to reject some or all aspects of art-making. In a broader sense, the Dadaists rejected traditional aesthetics in an aim to produce works that countered traditional art making. Anti-art was achieved in the Dadaist movement in many forms. One form took shape in the idea that everyday objects are art in the same respect that a Michaelangelo painting is a work of art. These objects are called readymades, as the artists did not have to actually have to make art, as art was already existent in the object itself. An example of this idea can be seen in Marcel Duchamp’s work Fountain (1917), in which the artist simply found and displayed a urinal, calling it an artwork. Another form that anti-art took on was that of collage. Collage was used in both word and image forms. Hannah Hoch is most noted for her use of collaging image fragments of women and machinery, exploring the ideals placed upon women.

By combining Danielewski’s untraditional novel House of Leaves and the Dadaist’s untraditional ways of making art, I decided to combine the two. Going through the Danielewski’s text, I located the word house on each of the 529 pages and investigated what words were behind house on the overleaf. Writing these words down as I continued my process, I birthed a new list of words, names, and phrases which were once part of the novel in its entirety. By removing these words from their original context in the novel and placing them within a new context on a piece of paper, I made a new work. It can be said that the words that I wrote down are readymades—I simply found them and gave them new meaning by grouping them together.

The way I did this was taken from a Dada game called “The Exquisite Corpse.” This game was played by a group of people, the first writing down a single word on a sheet of paper. This first word would be seen by the next person in the group who would then write down a word to continue the forming sentence. This second person would then write down a word, folding the top of the paper to cover the first word that was written. Only the second person’s word would be visible. This process would continue all the way down through the group of people until the last person had written a word. The result was a sentence formulated from the multiple consciousnesses of the group. The game got its name from the sentence created from the first time it was played, which was, “The old corpse drinks the new wine.”

The original list I made contains symbols as well as words. I used symbols to signify empty space and nothingness when, during my process of word finding, house only contained a blank space behind it. The symbol I used is [ ]. I felt that the brackets enclosed the emptiness in a manner that the house in Danielewski’s novel encompassed the nothingness inside of it. As a note to myself, I also used other symbols that I placed beside the [ ]s to indicate how house was spelled. Below is a list:

[ ] _ -- house
[ ] | -- HOUSE
[ ] |_ -- House
[ ] / -- HOUSE
[ ] (German) – Haus

I attribute the list as a whole to the Navidson Records as the Navidson Records takes place and revolves around and in the happenings of the house, as the list is comprised solely of words that are contrived from the word house. From this list, I went through and found sentences and sentence fragments that naturally emerged from the order in which they appeared within House of Leaves. Below is a list of the sentences.

Photographers shape the disappearing of brother Tom.
Seattle unsettling, disturbing undertook this [ ] _ clean for idiots and flux.
In fact, beast [ ]_ drilled Eve who the classifieds, through a restless view, nightlight former owners.
Eventually bully herself with a severe scale as Six accompanies. Feng Shui peanut butter replies.
Our tones groans amusement.
I’m taking hours. You’re [ ]_ to kiss blinding light.
D.C. builds shadows.
I was the Holloway daydream body.
Goodman Brown’s [pause] screenplay [ ] _ [ ] _ [ ] _ which is Dark.
The ax she dislodges too late.

A second list of words I came up with by cutting out individual words and symbols from the original list. I then put these in a hat and pulled them out individually to make a new list. This list I attribute to being the work of Zampanò. Zampanò’s work is the original document discussing The Navidson Records. This work, when found by Johhny, is strewn about Zampanò’s apartment, which Johnny later puts together and organizes in his own way. Though from the same original list, the sentences are different. They are as listed below.

[ ]_ unsettling, disturbing [ ]_ dreamed of brother Tom.
Bister-Frieden-Josephson mortifies proud otters.
Rewinding, however, remains immediately himself.
Navidson himself initially estimated Goodman Brown’s Sexual Personae.
Zampanò chose being unblind.
Some letters and everything undertook this fundamental despair.

The third list I made by removing all of the [ ] and it’s variants and putting the remaining words and phrases into a hat. This list I attribute to Johnny’s bastardization of Zampanò’s text. The sentences are as follows:

I’d mark the classified after Karen.
Being blind more than always professors a paper.
To take metal led to a Ketchup pulverizing moments.
Together supertankers and unexpected Sexual Personae begins rewinding peanut butter.
For idiots, nothing necessary fatigues The Reston.
Tom saw her so knowingly undertook this blinding light.

My final step with the words was cutting the remaining phrases into individual words, so all that I had was a pile of individual words. There is no list. I took these words and divided them into different envelopes that I had marked with “nouns,” “verbs,” “prepositions,” and so on. I then formed sentences by drawing these words out individually. This group of words I attribute to being purely Dada, yet it encompasses Zampanò’s and Johnny’s text as well as the Navidson Records, and House of Leaves as a whole. The sentences I created are as follows.

Feng Shui moved together various remains and Karen’s daydream of Bister-Frieden-Josephson.
Rewinding Catholic Schlafrockfetzen described restlessness and disappearing paper.
January will go about unpacking peanut butter despite the unsettling atmosphere.
Everyone in there immediately [k]new, however, they canceled another American suicide.
Home accompanies painful despair and blinding idiots.
Necessary knowledge started being the impossible but ever-present doorway to shadows.
When Mino’s Ketchup dislodges our Sexual beast, we’ll [pause].
Paramedics initially underestimated some tearing in the Architectural Scowls of Danielewski.

One Dadaist work to consider during this process is Marcel Duchamp’s experimental short film titled Anemic Cinema (1926). The black and white film is comprised of what Duchamp calls rotorliefs as well as puns, in French. Rotorliefs is the term that Duchamp gave to his animated drawings, which when placed on a spinning phonograph create the illusion of spinning circles. Though concentric, these circles move at different speeds when on the phonograph, creating an effect akin to a spinning vortex. To the viewer, the spinning circles create a hypnotic trance. The vortexes eventually fade into blackness, with puns, in French, appearing on the viewing plane, creating a similar hypnotic effect. The puns, translated into English and in order as they appear in Anemic Cinema, are as follows:

Baths in coarse tea for beauty marks without too much Ben-Gay.
The child who suckles is a hot-flesh blower and doesn’t like hot-house cauliflower.
If I give you a penny will you give me a pair of scissors?
One demands domestic mosquitoes (half-stock) for the nitrogen cure on the Azur.
Incest or family passion, with too many drawn blows.
Let us dodge the bruises of Eskimos in exquisite words.
Have you already put the marrow of the sword in the stove of the beloved?
Among our articles of lazy hardware, we recommend the faucet.
The aspirant lives in Javel and me I lived in a spiral-shaped abode.

Through the process as a whole, I in essence became Zampanò, Johnny, and ultimately Danielewski through arranging and rearranging texts. I also became a Dadaist, perhaps Marcel Duchamp himself. Through this Dadaist-inspired inspection of House of Leaves, the similarities found were too obvious to pass up and let go to chance. Like House of Leaves in terms of everything being connected and Anemic Cinema as going in circles and creating seemingly meaningless sentences, one thread made my comparison of Dadaism and Danielewski possible: house.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This is a fun, witty project, rooted in a great idea, which you followed through in detail.

I liked the first list by far the best, although all of them were perfectly interesting; the peculiar thing about the first list was just how eerie all of them were, and how applicable many of them were. Neat.

Your introduction was clumsy, with several sentences fragments and a general lack of clarity. Your writing was much better through the rest of the paper, although your failure to cite your specific sources was irritating and very un-academic.

Your failure to cite actually bring up my only real dissatisfaction with the project. You end rather abruptly - on the interesting but incomplete assertion that you have become Z/J/D himself in the process of playing your Dadaist games. I'm interested in the proposition; the implication to me seems to be that not only do you take Dada very seriously (maybe particularly in its emphasis on premade objects, or whatever the right term is?), but that you think the book itself has a deep affinity with Dada (in this way, acting perhaps as an expansion of or response to Erika's paper...), or anyway that it could be understood that way. In other words, I think there is a whole range of implicit assumptions and implications here, which could have been productively made explicit.

I liked your inclusion of photographs. That was one of a number of nice touches through this piece.

It's good work, entertaining, eerie, and very fitting in a number of ways. I'm happy with it, but it does feel somewhat incomplete to me (it would have been awesome to have had some substantial part of this as a draft - that might have helped you get some of the implicit material out).