Exploring the Real through Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Heidegger
How do you know what is real? Is real necessarily the truth? You would assume that architecture is real, that it can’t be manipulated. These are incredibly broad and vague questions, but Martin Heidegger and Mark Danielewski try to bring it down to an idea of exploration that is key to seeking the real. Heidegger and Danielewski both, through writing, pursue trying to reveal the real. By the 20th century, philosophers and authors proclaimed that the real is not rational, but more importantly, that it is not presentable. They are arguing essentially that the real has disappeared. With Heidegger, it is trying to make the reader grasp and understanding of a concept, while with Danielewski it through a complex house; however, both are trying to have readers see beyond something by presenting it through words.
In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger writes, “Only the true brings us into a free relationship with that which concerns us from its essence. Accordingly, the correct instrumental definition of technology still does not show us technology’s essence. In order that we may arrive at this, or at least come close to it, we must seek the true by way of the correct.” Heidegger suggests that in order to understand technology and the real, we just reveal it. People cannot simply talk about the essence of technology. They have to look deeper than that.
In Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the reader follows the story about a The Navidson Record, a documentary that may or may not exist. Regardless, the story is a haunting story about a family in a house that does not present outwardly to be real. Will Navidson and Karen Green notice the mysterious hallway that emerges in their home. Naturally, Will wants to explore the home, and he recruits a team of men to venture into the hallway, and what emerges is a maze of pathways that they navigate with glowing gel and string (Danielewski 74). This parallel’s Heidegger’s insistence that people pursue technology beyond what it appears to be.
Once the group explores the hallway, it leads into a vast area that has more to offer than what the house on the outside offers. “We’ve come a long way. Let’s see if there’s anything down here,” Holloway says as the group advances further down the hallway, which eventually leads them to the deep, spiral staircase (Danielewski 118). Heidegger writes, “Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the realm of revealing, i.e., of truth.” With the spread of digital and electronic form of technology for production, the question of meaning in relation to the real has been questioned. So we resort to elements that are real, such as a house, but as Danielewski poses, the real has disappeared because the house was not as it appeared.
By the end of Heidegger and Danielewski, you ask yourself: So what is real and how do we know it is real?