Option 1: A difficult passage.
House of Leaves: On the Curious Subjects of Cats & Sight & Darkness
On page 77 in The House of Leaves, Johnny Truant goes on, what appears to be, a senseless rant. The first part of his ramblings seem to deal Zampano, and how the cats he talked to seemed to give him solace in his life, at least for the moment. These “Felis catus” (which technically means “kitten”) are “only cats, quadruped mice-devouring mote-chasing shades…with very little to remind them of themselves or their past or even their tomorrows…(pg. 77). He then talks about the felines in relation to predators, and how there are “visible wings flung upon that great black sail or rods and cones.”
Rods and cones are what make up the retina of the eye, allowing sight, and the cones specifically allowing color vision. Interestingly, the number of rods and cones depends on whether the creature is nocturnal or not. The subject of cats, darkness, and sight continues throughout the rant, with finally Johnny realizing “I’m in a whimsical (inconsequential) frame of mind right now, talking (scribbling) aimlessly and strangely about cats…” (pg. 77). Yet this section is puzzling. What sort of deeper meaning can be gained by this passage?
Just to be clear, I am not at all sure of any of these inferences. They are just musings. With that said, throughout the piece ‘darkness’ and ‘sight’ have been constant themes. From the motion cameras ‘seeing’ the house, to Navidson who has made a career out of taking pictures of one sight or another, it has been a large part of the story. Yet, for most, seeing is classified with the truth—in essence, we believe what we see. Take the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
As Johnny says, “so thrust by shadow albeit momentary, pupil pulling wider, wider, still, and darker, receiving all of it…” (pg. 77). To me, this is about seeing those ‘shadows’ lurking in the darkness. Johnny is afraid of turning around and seeing the Beast, because then he will know that it is true.
The darkness is everywhere. The endless hallway leading to large rooms that are perpetually dark and cold. Even when the explorers drop a flare into the depths, the light barely makes dent in the impenetrable darkness. If sight represents a truth, then the darkness would represent fear. The dark house thrives on fear.
As for the cats, perhaps they are immune to the powers of the Fear —the powers of the house. Maybe that’s why Zampano felt protected when he was with the felines. Mallory (Navidson’s cat) is unaffected by the hallway, and runs straight through the house. As the book puts it “ ‘strange how the house wouldn’t support the presence of animals’ “(pg. 75). Cats are nocturnal predators, creatures that hunt mice and small vermin at night. The Creature/The House does not want them. They are free to slink about and have “tales from some great story we will never see but one day just might imagine” (pg. 77).
The difficulty of this passage is breaking down the phrases into readable chunks of text. There are few actual sentences—the text is continuous, broken up by exclamation points, hyphens, commas, and the occasional semi-colon. Periods only appears at the beginning of the rant, and then again at the end. In the middle of the passage it feels as if Johnny is not even pausing to breathe, but pushing on, spewing out word after word. The lack of paragraph breaks also adds to this sense of urgency and madness. The block page of text is intimidating to the reader, and I myself have to take a deep breath before I plunge myself into the writing. All of these difficulties are for the reader to notice and acknowledge. Instead of Johnny telling us he is going mad with fear, the reader can feel it.
In a way, this page is like the house. Both are difficult to comprehend, hard to scrutinize, and don’t follow conventional rules. They are complex entities, with a layering of opaque meaning.