Narrative and Technology
29 March 2012
Heidegger (literally) in House of Leaves
There is no doubt that House of Leaves is far from an easy read. Many passages are confusing due to many reasons: fictional sources, real sources, translations, dense text, and seemingly ill fitting text to name a few. One passage that I struggled with in particular was one in which Heidegger was cited:
In anxiety one feels uncanny. Here the peculiar indefiniteness of that which Dasein finds itself alongside in anxiety, comes proximally to expression: the “nothing and nowhere”. But here “uncanniness” also means “not-being-at- home.” [das Nicht-zuhause-sein]. In our first indication of the phenomenal character of Dasein’s basic state and in our clarification of the existential meaning of “Being-in” as distinguished from the categorical signification of ‘insideness’, Being-in was defined as “residing alongside...”, Being-familiar with...” This character of Being-in was then brought to view more concretely through the everyday publicness of the “they”, which brings tranquilized
self-assurance--’ Being-at-home’, with all its obviousness--into the average everydayness of Daesin. On the other hand, as Daesin falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the ‘world’. Everyday familiarity collapses. Daesin has been individualized, but individualized as Being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into the existential ‘mode’ of the “not-at-home”. Nothing else is meant by our talk about ‘uncanniness’. (Danielewski, 25)
I’m not sure if I found it difficult because of previous experiences with Heidegger’s run on sentences, the fact that because it was originally printed in German intimidates me, or because Johnny’s reaction to the translation was that of misunderstanding, so much so that he proclaims that this proves “the existence of crack back in the early twentieth century” (Danielewski, 25).
Heidegger is densely written but by no means is the writing completely incomprehensible. This passage analyzes the word “uncanny” in depth. Contextually, Heidegger’s passage is included because uncanny is the best word to describe the “strange space violation.” In order to delve into what it is that the passage means, we can break it up and examine the phrases in quotations separately.
The first of which is “nothing and nowhere.” I interpreted nothing and nowhere to be something that is unable to be compared to anything else, probably because it’s something that has never existed before and there are no means of comparison. Thinking of the house and it’s ever growing inner dimensions, this analyzation of the definition for uncanniness makes sense.
The second quotation we see that immediately follows “nothing and nowhere,” is “not being at home.” Uncanniness in this context indicates that not being at home could mean an uncomfortable experience, one that feels unfamiliar or strange.
We then a contrasting quotation, “Being-in.” Being-in is defined as “being-familiar” or “residing alongside.” The first definition is self explanatory. The latter however requires more in-depth thinking. Residing alongside, thinking outside of literal terms, “being-in” could refer to being a part of something, feeling accepted. Reading further into the passage we see that being-in an “everyday publicness” context brings “tranquilized self-assurance,” which I took to mean feeling comfortable and accepted. Being a part of the whole.
However as we read further into the passage, we see that the ideas get more muddled. The passage goes on to describe the fall of Daesin. Dasein, from my research translates to “being” as in a human being or at the very least something that exists in reality. The fall of Dasein, results in anxiety and as a result, Dasein is less absorbed in the ‘world.’ I am uncertain as to why world is in single quotations here, perhaps it’s meant to distinguish the physical world and Dasein’s perception of the world. I am unsure. We then go on to read that “Dasein has been individualized, but individualized as Being-in-the-world.”
Rereading this sentence isn’t giving any added clarity, at least not as it stands alone. The next sentence “Being-in enters into the existential ‘mode’ of the “not-at-home” sheds some insight, but is almost as dense as the sentence that proceeds it. Deep analyzation consisting of reading and rereading the passage, especially these two sentences indicated that these two sentences are the kicker. They are the main idea of the whole passage. Dasein has been individualized, “being-in” can simultaneously exist with the idea of “not-at-home,” which up until this point seemed impossible.
My best guess as to why this passage is included in House of Leaves comes from reading about fifty pages after this reading. We see Navy struggling with his feelings about his house. When the camera crew comes in, there is instant head butting between Navy and Holloway. Navy is distraught because he can’t go into the hallway because of the promise he made to Karen, but at the same time his lust for danger pulls him towards the hallway and he envies Holloway because he can go inside.
It can be argued that Navy experiences the opposing feelings of “being-in” and “not-at-home” simultaneously. “Being-in” because it’s his house, and he literally resides along side this closet. However it can be argued that he also feels “not-at-home” because of the strange space that seems to be growing larger, causing him and Karen to drift farther apart, and the house starts to feel less and less like a home.
Beyond analyzation of Navidson and his family, this passage could have also been included to indicate the intelligence level of Johnny. He quickly dismisses the text because of it’s difficult nature, but admits to having resonating feelings from the text. He even goes as far to say, “I didn’t feel like myself” (Danielewski, 25).
Whatever the case may be, Heidegger’s appearance in Zampano’s story of the Navidson family sparks thought and feeling, regardless of whether we decide to interpret the feeling correctly or at all.