Sunday, March 25, 2012

Questions on Danielewski/Marcuse

Again - try to ask questions more than trying to offer finished interpretations, at least as a starting point.


Kira Scammell said...

Last night I started reading House of Leaves. Last night I had one of the most horrific nightmares about a house that didn't seem to like guests. Coincidence? That was really freaking weird and now I'm kind of creeped out.

Serious post to come, just thought I would share since the preface goes on about nightmares.

Amy Friedenberger said...

I'm going to try and kick this off.

To address Kira quickly, though, every time I would bust out "House of Leaves" onto a table, people would gasp and say, "oh my god, I've heard horrifying things about that book." Every time. A friend of mine said she loved the book, but she's into disturbing topics. The only other person I was able to find that had read "House of Leaves" said that after she finished reading the book, she had nightmares for a good solid week.

Back to my initial question in from the reading so far:

When I first read David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," I initially hated the footnotes and endnotes because they seemed to be so superfluous. But then you learn to appreciate them because they are intentional and serve a structural purpose in way to fracture the text without making it disorienting in order to provide additional insights.

The interesting thing about Danielewski's footnotes are that a person is writing footnotes to Zampano's footnotes to as kind of like margin notes. I'm curious to know the purpose of these footnotes, some of which are like citations (does Danielewski expect me to look up that publication and see how it relates to "House of Leaves"?) and some are inserts of fiction.

I can honestly say that this is the most painful book to read. It's not that I'm not intrigued by it, but it's so intensive that I need to sit in absolute silence, away from any distractions, and glue myself to the novel. And even then, I can feel by brain struggling to comprehend the passages and understand what Danielewski is trying to achieve with this 700 page monstrosity.

Brandon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon said...

I must say that House of Leaves is one of the oddest books I have ever read, and that if the entire thing is a satire of literary criticism as I suspect, I can't help but thing the book is bait for people who love to overanalyze things.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to Zampanó's analyses of various aspects of a film that doesn't exist, then many of Johnny's footnotes tend to dismiss them in an idiot savant manner along the lines of Beavis and Butthead. Like when Zampanó makes an argument based on Heidegger, Johnny says something like "What the hell does a former Nazi philosopher have anything to do with the properties of the house?"

If the book is bait though, it is particular good bait, as even if it is somehow entirely meaningless it has a kind of mystique that draws the reader in from the beginning. In the same way, some of the symbolism (like the endlessness of the house) may also be meaningless, like the cutting of the eye at the beginning of Buñuel and Dalis' "Un Chien Andalou", which they avowed was utterly without meaning.

Caia Caldwell said...

I literally don't know where to start with House of Leaves. The complexity of the story and the format of the book leave me completely ove-welmed. I'm questioning the entire book, so focusing on one question seems like a difficult task.

One little detail that is driving me absolutely crazy is how the word "house" is always highlighted in blue. I'm sure is has some symbolic/creepy purpose, but honestly I'm going a little nuts every time I see it in a page. I really just want to find one little still black "house" that the editors missed, but I know I never will. Damn you "find" & "replace."

Kira- I know exactly where you're coming from. I feel like nightmares from this book are in my future. I also find reading it slightly addicting—it's difficult to put down as much as I never want to see it again.

Ok, finally on to a question. I guess my questions centers around this Beast stalking Johnny. The readers are left to believe that this Creature is the reason Zampano died. I am questioning whether such an Animal is real, or rather just the manifestations of the human mind. In other words, whether the Beast is physical, or psychological. Is this a horror story about a Creature stalking the unlucky? Or a horror story about the madness of the human mind?

Patrick Kilduff said...

When first jumping into house of leaves, you can tell that you are getting into something very dark, mysterious, and rather depressing. What I would like to ask is what is with all of the interesting aspects to this book, the footnotes, the different fonts, the colored letters, mainly the blue "house". If find it interesting to add to a novel like this. Is it merely to add a mysterious element to the story, or does it have a higher, more important meaning? I really like how the story is shaping up so far, and although it is a rather difficult to follow at times, I am finding myself more and more intrigued as I plunge deeper and deeper into this novel.

Margaret Julian said...

I tend not to really like footnoted stories like this. Most of the time I find that they don't add much to the story. However it is clear that the footnotes in this story are a whole story unto themselves and maybe the most interesting part. Watching the Johnny Truant unravel is really provoking. I was thinking the whole time about the way Frankenstein is a story written through the filter of a few people. The layers in Frankenstein offer room to interpret the characters because they are viewed through several lenses. Obviously the retelling and footnoting adds a whole new level to this story as well but I wasn't sure if we were supposed to assume that there is some play with the story because of this or that Truant (who's name is really interesting as well) is giving us this story verbatim and just offering his commentary on it? Or if the author is another prism through which this passed that causes some kind of conflict?
I read the story with the footnotes as I went and wondered if anyone else took a different approach or if reading the story then the footnotes of Truant would offer a new way to see thing?

Kira Scammell said...

Upon reading house of leaves, I'm wondering what the purpose of this novel is at all. The preface seems to indicate that regardless of whether these sources are real, whether the story is even real, it doesn't matter. Something, the growl, is out there. And those who know about it, through the Navidson Record get that eerie feeling, that feeling that they're not alone. The fear that can transform a hallway or closet into a living nightmare.
Is the book meant to blend the line between fiction and reality? Is it meant for us as readers to analyze the source of our own fears? If you give something enough power, can it come to life and scratch you, make you dump purple ink everywhere, bolt your windows shut, and use a mini fridge as a book shelf?

Dana Edmunds said...

Zampano talks about the mythical and scientific reasoning behind Echo (as a Greek symbol and a physical event in which reality reacts with space. What is the significance of explaining in Echo's story that she was torn "to pisces" rather than pieces? And why does Zampano link her to Prometheus or "a female mercury" on page 44?

This book is written to be a labyrinth, to mirror what ends up being a vast maze inside the house, and the enigma or riddle that Johnny is trying to solve by piecing together Zampano's writing, but the mathematics of sound acoustics, the discussion of the logos of God (page 45) and the mythical origins of scientific concepts, and the fact that Zampano was blind (a prophet), points to the real question here being what are all these unreliable voices trying to say about the nature of their (our) reality/realities? Is the universe fragmented and alienating like the structure of the book, or is there a greater logic to the language and the architecture of the house?

Ben Fellows said...

House of Leaves is a book I have had an interest in since early on in high school, when a few friends of mine were passing it around, so I can say I'm glad I have finally found time to read it.

I, too, experienced nightmares after the first night of reading House of Leaves. Also, Like Amy said, I need to find a completely quiet place to read this book (a particularly good spot is in the lounges underneath the escalators in Posvar, lots of white noise), which only heightens the intense parts, such as the one where Johnny tells the reader to put to book down and run away as fast as you can, not leaving enough time even to scream.

Something I found interesting about House of Leaves is how often the book likes to blend objects from reality in with completely fake ones. For instance, I'm convinced upwards of 90% of the citations in the footnotes are fake, the only real ones being those that refer to famous poems or historic pieces of writing. This makes me wonder what the significance is, making the reader glance down to see the reference to a fictitious source. In reality, Danielewski need not cite this sources which originate from his imagination. What would reading this book without considering ANY of the footnotes be like? It is certainly impossible to read House of Leaves the way the author intended by doing so, considering how vital Truant is to the story. Perhaps I will explore this option this summer. As one of the prompts for this week's essay suggests, there are MANY sections that are absolutely confusing. I found myself rereading them multiple times, figuring I had just passed my eyes over important parts, not actually processing them. Is the purpose of this to make the reader connect with the book more, with a feeling of being lost?

Scott Sauter said...

The passage I found most intriguing thus far in House of Leaves came at the end of the preface. "You'll stand aside as some great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious" (xxiii Danielewski). If the movie in question is fictitious, yet still causes such trauma to those undertaking the task of dissecting it, should the reader view this passage as a statement addressing the impact of fiction, written, film, or otherwise on society as a whole? Is it saying that fiction should be seen as akin to truth, given that both are equally capable of enacting such emotionally damage?

Pat Kelly said...

So far I have found "House of Leaves" to be an extremely creative and intriguing work, particularly the passages where Johnny jumps into the narrative. His ramblings and frustrations with Zampano's collected works serve as a window into his troubled mental state, and the reader is often given what seems to be Johnny's own inner-monologue, verbatim, on the page.

"House of Leaves" is honestly one of the more bizarre works I have ever read, and every page of it seems to be packed with an aura of apprehension and paranoia. Whether focused on Zampano's words, Johnny's, or those of "The Editors," I find myself shifting my eyes all over the massive pages, at a sometimes maniacal pace in order to keep up with the scattered flow of the narration.

I find myself struggling with many questions as a result of this book, and many of them have already been mentioned here. Most obviously, I wonder most often about the sanity of almost all of the protagonists involved. I feel like the author designed this purposefully to mess with the reader a little bit, as one can never truly be sure how authentic most of the content actually is. We know going into it that most of what Zampano is writing about is completely made-up, and are completely aware of Johnny's slowly deteriorating mental state.

Somehow, I feel like the end of this book will leave me with more questions than answers.

Julia Carpey said...

To say that House of Leaves is somewhat disturbing at this point would not only be an understatement but a huge redundancy. I think everybody's covered, thus far, the spectrum of reactions I had when reading the first section of this book...everything from intrigue to disgust to being horrified. Yet I can't put it down. It's like a train wreck; you don't want to keep reading, you know you should put it down for your own sanity, but you can't help but keep flipping the pages. It's addicting. Cleverly written and creatively constructed. It's not simply a piece of writing, it truly is a piece of art.

RJ said...

One thing I'm really interested in is the different ways the characters write in House of Leaves. The weirdest is Johnny Truant (which is so obviously a made up punk rock name I can't decide if we're even supposed to think of him as real from the very start).

When I first opened the book and read Truant's introduction I sighed heavily and sort of expected that kind of writing throughout the whole thing - sort ofm tedious "clever asides" and bad jokes in order to seem young and hip or whatever which I associate with Young Adult novels. However when the first of Truant's stream-of-consciousness passages hit - I think it was the one about Thumper? I can't remember - and then the later panic attack sections, I started to think about it more deeply.

I have this image of Truant as someone who's trying to show off and be clever in most of his writing, but isn't really as smart as he thinks he is - hence the Young Adult prose style - but nonetheless has these massive overwhelming bursts of whatever - recognition, intense emotion, knowledge, poetry - which allow him to sort of vomit up those stream-of-consciousness passages.

The conflict here really puts me on edge with regard to who Johnny IS in the plot of the novel, so I wonder if I'm off track or Danielewski is doing this on purpose (since the Zampano sections kind of clearly show that he isn't just a straight up bad writer).