Saturday, March 31, 2012
The details of the argument are up to you.
Option #2: Do the musical option (relating to the album by Danielewski's sister) from last week's options.
Option #3: If you wish, you may do your project proposal this coming week instead of the following week. Note that the following description of final projects if both extensive and incomplete
Note: the default format for a final project is an essay. You don't need to do an essay! You can create a video game, comic book, interactive essay, mock blog, etc., etc. (people have done all of these in the past). But you should read and understand the "normal" requirements first, so you can explain why using some alternative form will allow you to do better/different work.
Final Project Proposals for Essays:
Write a proposal for your final project. This proposal might be a little shorter than our usual blog entries (it should still be more than a page long, however). It must include the following:
- A bibliography (see below for the number of sources) of your proposed sources, with a sentence or two each regarding how you plan to use those sources.
- A clear statement of your proposed argument, or a limited number of alternative arguments, or a clear question which is intended to lead to an argument. This should include the following:
- A clearly stated counterargument to your position stated in (2) above, or a discussion of why your question in (2) above is a reasonable way to generate an argument.
- A clear statement of why your reader should care about this argument. It might have small or large significance, but it should be clear why you think it's worth making.
- A clear statement of the role that Marcuse, Heidegger, or Haraway (or possibly Joy, if you can make a case for him) will play in your essay, including a discussion of at least one passage from the appropriate work.
- If you are revising an earlier draft (again, see below), a paragraph explaining, with specifics, what you plan to keep and what you plan to change, and why. If you are not revising an earlier draft, just explain your argument at greater length.
Final Project Guidelines:
Your final project should offer a serious contribution to the work of the class. It should show both that you understand our collective work, and that you have have your own direction or role within it. You should have a clear, interesting, and worthwhile argument, which you make using both external sources and texts which we read as a class. Ideally, you will draw on your own individual strengths and interests in this project (including, for instance, material from your own fields of study). You may either begin a project from scratch or revise one of your existing essays, including existing revisions. You should ideally do work which interests you, and which you feel contributes in some way to the class as a whole.
- Your essay must be at least 8 pages long, including at least 5 pages of new material (if you are revising). 8 pages is sufficient; I prefer that you not go above 12 pages, but this is preference, not a requirement.
- Your project must include at least 2 additional academic sources (generally, academic books and journal articles) beyond any that you might have used in an earlier revision. If you feel that you're best off with non-academic sources, please discuss that preference with me. You should, however, do as much research as your argument requires.
- Your project must include some close readings of particular passages from at least one literary figure we have read collectively. Some projects, though, will need more close reading than others. Some highly research-oriented projects may do relatively little; some may revolve primarily around close readings.
- Your project must make sustained use of either Marcuse, Heidegger, or Haraway. This does not mean that you need to agree with them, however. "Sustained use" does not mean that this critic needs to dominate your argument; they do, however, need to be part of the conversation, and you do need to show a good understanding of one of them.
- You should display a good understanding of all of your chosen texts, as well as of any relevant class discussions. I don't expect perfection, and I do expect differences of opinion, but I also expect you to know your material.
- Your project should make a single sustained argument from the first sentence to the last. This does not mean you cannot make use of any tangents, nor does it mean that you must continually remind us of where you are, at a particular moment in your project, within the larger argument. Your goals and direction should, nonetheless, by clear, even if they might sometimes become subtle.
- Think of this as your lasting contribution to the class, and your opportunity to teach something to
Final Project Proposals for Non-Essay Projects:
If you want to do something other than an essay, you should be ready to work harder, with an even clearer purpose, than those doing a conventional project.
Thus, I expect a 1-2 page description of your goals, of why you want to do something in the chosen form, of your argument (even creative projects, for this assignment, need to have something like an argument, at least), with a paragraph explaining in detail why you expect to do better, more ambitious work by avoiding the essay form.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Narrative and Technology
29 March 2012
Mark Danielewski and Chris Ware, although writing in similar prose, allows the reader two vastly different perspectives of their novels. Personally, I felt as though House of Leaves, although confusing independently, was vastly more comprehensible comparatively so to Jimmy Corrigan. It could have something to do with the fact that I disliked Ware’s graphic novel the most throughout this semester, yet even so I felt as though the writing style of Danielewski was only complimented by the style of prose. With that said, the similarities in Ware’s writing and Danielewski’s writing are glaring despite my distaste for Ware’s novel and adoration (yet still disturbances) for Danielewski’s novel.
First and foremost, we see in the very beginning a set of instructions for the novels. How to read it, what to expect, how to approach the countless hurdles and speed bumps we will be presented with throughout our reading. In Jimmy Corrigan this is seen on the inside of the front cover. It is organized chaos crammed into the first areas the readers eyes glance over past the cover and the author expects us to pay close attention to it if we’re going to comprehend the novel to the best of our ability. Yet when discussed in class, maybe one student read the inside cover rather than glancing over it prior to the class period. On the other hand, in Danielewski’s novel on the copyright page we see small boxes at the bottom explaining the development of the novel in different forms of print involving the most seemingly minuscule detail as to what color the text is at which periods in the novel. Furthermore, as we read the introduction by Truant, he displays for us how exactly to approach reading the novel before we are sucked in to the degree at which he is. This can all be seen as distracting, useless, and a waste of space and ink. I believe that had a friend not warned me to have exorbitant amount of patience with House of Leaves I would hate it for these very reasons just as much as I dislike Jimmy Corrigan. Yet, to the prepared and dedicated reader, these instructions, the preface of the prefaces, are exactly what can make the novel so enjoyable to the patient reader.
Another similarity between the two is seen in their consistency and linearity, or lack thereof. Jimmy Corrigan follows almost no linearity as he is constantly flashing back and forth between his fantasies, the stories he hears, his memories and his reality. It makes for an extremely confusing graphic novel and leaves the reader wondering which is the actual reality and which is the fantasies and the memories. Essentially, leaving the reader to question his or her trust in the author as well for allowing this heavy confusion to burden him or her throughout the novel and analyzations of it.
Similarly, in House of Leaves, the various footnotes, many of which Truant informs us in the introduction are fictitious, confuses the reader throughout the novel (or at the very least the first section thus far). It leaves the reader questioning where exactly in the analyzation and in the story we rest separate from the footnotes. Then, when we process the footnotes it leaves us questioning the consistency in validity in the novel with the footnotes. Add to the mix what was disclosed to us within the introduction of it being based off of completely fictitious sources yet being written as though it was purely genuine, and like the reader with Jimmy Corrigan, the reader here begins to question the trust he or she holds in the novel, in the characters, and most importantly in the author. In this pondering, the reader can in turn question the value of a novel which bases its clientele off of the lies it builds to attract the readers and followers in. Yet, is there really any controversy there if it is fully disclosed in the beginning that it is in fact 100% fiction. Unlike the article written in 1980 by Janet Cooke, Jimmy’s World, or even more recently, James Frey’s faux “memoir” A Million Little Pieces, Danielewski makes it a point to allow Truant (who I’m not even sure at this point whether he’s a real person or not) to make it clear for the reader that these events are in fact made up.
I’d say the biggest issue I’ve had thus far with Danielewski’s novel, which rings true for Ware’s graphic novel as well, is the issue of trust. It is a debate that I’m quite familiar with as we have it fairly regularly in the nonfiction English writing department (one of my majors). Yet, it doesn’t make it any less unsettling to confront it in these two places. It is part of the author’s job to build a trust with the reader in order to establish credibility in any future pieces of work. While many authors who commit one of the most taboo actions in writing by passing their work off as something it’s certainly not purely to build a following by creating an unrealistic reality for their readers and passing it off as real purely because it makes their reading more appealing and “sexy” to the reader, I’m not quite sure that Danielewski and Ware do that here. Ware certainly does not do that, because there is absolutely nothing appealing or “sexy” about Jimmy Corrigan’s characters nor world. And Danielewski’s is not appealing nor sexy either; yet it is interesting, and it makes the reader keep wondering what happens next, where the story is going and how much more of it we can take. So maybe as long as it is fully disclosed at the beginning of the novel, that it is not intended to be read seriously, that it is in fact meant to purely entertain, then what’s the harm?
Echoes of Echoes: In Where I Attempt to Add an Additional Echo to House of Leaves
House of Leaves weaves together various narratives conveyed through the story of the Navidsons experience in the house, as well as the commentary from Zampano and Truant conveyed through footnotes throughout a manuscript of an academic study of The Navidson Record. Throughout the novel, Mark Danielewski includes some analyses, one of which includes several pages examining the mythological and scientific histories of echo. The several-page passage is one of the first academic inserts in the novel, taking the reader aback. Daniewleski is incorporating the repetition of echoes throughout the novel as a structural presentation of the novel.
The novel has a repetition of echoes in the text as time is moving backward and forward so readers gain insight in the Navidsons. An echo is an invisible thing, and it’s not actually a voice, but a mimic of a voice. In middle of the echo discussion, Danielewski writes, “The apparent echoing of solitary words reminds us that acoustical echoing in empty places can be very common auditory emblem, redolent of gothic novels as it may be, of isolation and often unwilling solitude” (46). This echoing of words and events is the sort of tactic that Danielewski is trying to incorporate into this novel.
The readers are reading Truant’s echo of him reading Zampano’s echo, of Zampano echoing Navidson’s video citing various sources, and Navidson echoing the events of the house and the people inside through an unaccounted for film. So Zampano doesn’t know that Truant will be adding his own commentary that matches this passage’s theme of echoes. And Zampano’s passage is also an early reflection of his entire academic manuscript.
The passage about the mythological Echo presents how the different voices of the novel are conveyed. After explaining the mythological history of Echo, Danielewski writes, “Thus Echo suddenly assumes the role of god’s messenger, a female Mercury or perhaps even Prometheus, decked in talaria, with land in hand, descending on fortunate humanity” (44). Zampano’s voice is filtered through at least two other voices so far in the novel, and Truant says that he changes some of Zampano’s words, such as making “heater” into “water heater” to fit Truant’s fluid writing. Zampano writes in the Echo passage that echoes have “faint traces of sorrow or accusation never present in the original,” hinting that echoes can be altered as they are passed along over time (Danielewski 41).
Late in the novel, following the sudden emergence of a hallway that sends Karen into a panic attach, echoes emerge again. “In the living room, Navidson discovers echoes emanating from a dark doorless hallway which has appeared out of nowhere in the west wall” (Danielewski 57). We can take this as Navidson hearing the voices of past children lost in the walls of the dark hallway. The use of echoes also adds an eerie tone to the already eerie actions of the novel. In middle of the echo discussion, Danielewski writes, “The apparent echoing of solitary words reminds us that acoustical echoing in empty places can be very common auditory emblem, redolent of gothic novels as it may be, of isolation and often unwilling solitude” (46).
The Navidson family doesn’t really have control over the house, no matter what the inhabitants try to do to make sense of it, be in repeatedly measuring the length of the inside and outside of the house or installing a door over the long hallway that appears out of nowhere. “Delay and fragmentation repetition create a sense of another inhabiting a necessarily deserted place” (Danielewski 46). In the hallway, growling noises from an unknown person or creature creates echoes, but without a physical presence, the noises are some similarity to something we don’t want to see, so it’s a sort of a Truth without facing reality.
With this essay, I’ve now filtered from the Navidson’s experience, to the documentary, to Zampano’s manuscript, which has been commented on by Truant with stories commented on in the footnotes. How well this presents an accurate presentation of the Navidson family’s experience is unsure, because as Zampano noted,
March 29, 2012
On Page 75 and 76 both Zampano and Johnny Truant talk about the animals exiting the House because, the now growing room seems to reject them in some way. I was really astonished by this revelation and thought it was an interesting dimension in the book. Quickly I was assured it was interesting, and then both Zampano and Truant move on without so much as a guess into the reason why the house would not allow the animals inside the new room.
I find myself thinking that this passage could mean a lot of things. First of all, it was when I really started to think of the House as a living, and thinking thing. It obviously can reject or allow anyone into its secrets as it deems them fit. So if this isn’t frightening enough, I have a sneaking suspicion, that if the house can transport the animals into the backyard, that it can do other types of transportation as well. I have no idea what the long-term implications may be but it seems that aside from being just an interesting test of physics in the immediate sense it may be able to push the bounds of time and space to warp physics in a more radical way.
In another vein I think the book could be making some kind of comment on the way people perceive things versus the way a simpler creature may perceive things. The children do not at all seemed perturbed by the fact that their house is growing (at least not yet) at one point Zampano makes a cryptic comment about the kids ambivalence and how it would be there downfall but it is hard to see what will come of that just yet, so for now I can only interpret there lack of agitation as a lack of reaction and a similar way the animals seem unaffected. Clearly, though the children can enter the rooms and hallways and this separates them from Mallory and Hillary. This is obviously an incomplete assessment of the situation and I plan to note how this continues to affect the story.
As far as what this passage does for the novel as a whole; I think it is designed to frustrate the reader and bring attention to the issue at hand. Both Zampano and Truant’s exposition in the footnotes helps the reader riddle through some of the major plot issues but this deliberate lack of explanation is what makes it stand out most. I could not stop thinking about why these animals weren’t allowed into the room, I wanted an explanation and therefore tried to riddle one out for myself. This also made me much more aware of the animals than I had been previously. I paid much more attention to the domesticated critters than I normally would a house-pet.
The first aspect that I found fascinating was the significance that the word “house” has in this story. As a reader can see once looking at this story, every time that the word “house” is mentioned, it is written in a blue font. It is everywhere that you look, even on the cover. In the title “House of Leaves” the “house” is blue. Another interesting thing that I found was that on page 107, we see something written in what I believe to be Greek, maybe Latin, but nonetheless it reads: “Hic labor ille domus et inextricabilis error”. The “domus” is highlighted in blue, just like the house has been on every previous page. I did a little research and domus was a house that was occupied by the upper class and the wealthy in the Roman times. So, even in different languages, the “house” is still highlighted in blue. Now I believe that there is significance to this odd feature. When we read the introduction, Johnny is telling us about when he entered Zampano’s house, it was like there was not a soul living in the house, even when Zampano lived there. The doors where storm-proofed, windows boarded up, no real natural light coming in, and a very distinct smell that Johnny could not quite make out. Once Johnny started to read “The Navidson Record”, he started to feel and act the same way. He was a basically a shut-in inside of his own house. Yes, we do know that Zampano walked around the outside every now and then, but the effect that one’s house has on the reader sends the reader into a spiraling abyss of nothing, maybe self-loathing, maybe depression, maybe insanity. I do not have a direct answer for this yet, only speculation, but this blue writing has a significance that is key for the book.
The second aspect that I found while reading “House of Leaves” were the footnotes at the bottom of the pages in“The Navidson Record”. These footnotes are so extensive, and some of these footnotes have their own footnotes, it is so bizarre. I have never read anything like this before. Traditionally, footnotes are supposed to clarify confusions for the reader, but if you ask me it sometimes only makes this book harder to read. I believe that these footnotes are here for clarification yes, but I think it adds to the mysteriousness to the book. We see that Johnny adds his own footnotes to Zampano’s, one example found on page 45. We see such an interesting composition of a novel, even if clarification takes a back seat.
The last aspect of this story that I would like to comment on and clarify is the different fonts found throughout the story. In the introduction, it seems that Johnny is given a different font than in “The Navidson Record”. Quotes at the beginning of each section in “The Navidson Record” are italicized (which by the way makes this story even more complex, because it seems Zampano used quotes from famous authors, such as Mary Shelly or famous musicians like The Beatles, but to me this makes absolutely no sense, other than the fact that it might relate to the section, a kind of preparation for the reader). To me, the different fonts signify the different characters, and it gives us some clarity when we read the footnotes given to us by Zampano or Johnny, and if Johnny needs to give us some clarification in the middle of “The Navidson Record”.
Overall, “House of Leaves” is by far the most interesting book I have ever read, giving us a glimpse into the world of the insane, but also showing us a different structure of writing. The features that I discussed earlier along with many more make this story so fascinating and hard to put down.
Prompt #1—Difficult Passage
In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there are often passages that leave the reader perplexed. In these passages it becomes quite unclear what Danielewski is trying to portray, leaving the meaning up to the reader’s imagination and speculations. One such paragraph is within the Endnotes of Chapter VI, on pages 77-78. In this passage, Johnny Truant is “talking (scribbling?)” (Danielewski, 77) on and on about what appears to be completely nonsensical subjects, after stating that he is both drunk and high, and also waiting for a call from “Thumper” at 3:22 AM. With all of that said, one could argue there is no real meaning behind this nonsense, based on his state of mind, altered by sleep, drugs, and emotions. However, these only bring such talk out of him in a code, which leaves the reader to try to decipher it.
Although this whole babbling is composed in one full paragraph, it appears to be about mainly two ideas, cats and Zampanò, although these certainly are linked. Johnny Truant starts his babbling about Zampanò with
“Who Have I Met?—the frolic and the drift, as I go thinking now, tripping really, over the notion of eighty or more of Zampanò’s dusty cats (for no particular/relevant reason) which must implicitly mean that no, it cannot be raining cats and dogs, due to the dust, so much of it, on the ground, about the weeds, in the air, so therefore/ ergo/ thus (.•.): no dogs, no Pekinese, just the courtyard, Zampanò’s courtyard…” (Danielewski, 77-78).
It’s particularly interesting that Truant says that he is thinking about Zampanò’s cats “for no particular/relevant reason” after he has just gone on and on about cats immediately prior to this. It is in fact entirely relevant to what he was just talking about. His fascination with dust in this section is also interesting, seeming to match with those initial words “the frolic and the drift” as this is exactly what lingering dust does. Truant also rationalizes the lack of dogs due to the dust, which does not appear to make much sense whatsoever. All that I can figure out that has to do with dust and Pekinese is that a Pekinese is rather small, fluffy dog and that such a dog may act as a Swiffer to the dust (not a very poetic understanding).
“…on a mad lost-noon day, wild with years and pounce and sun, even if another day would find Zampanò elsewhere, far from the sun, this sun, flung face down on his ill-swept floor, without so much as a clue, “No trauma, just old age” the paramedics would say, though they could never explain—no one could—what they found near where he lay, four of them, six or seven inches long and half an inch deep…”(Danielewski, 78).
This section seems to restate how Zampanò was found, however Truant uses some interesting terms here, talking about the sun multiple times before seeming to refer to Zampanò himself as a sun “flung face down”. Truant starts off this section describing the courtyard as “wild with years and pounce and sun”. Now although this seems to refer to the courtyard, it could very well also be referring to Zampanò himself, the primary resident of the courtyard. The use of “this sun, flung face down on his ill-swept floor” creates not only the image of the deceased Zampanò, but also of a setting sun across a horizon. A setting sun implies the coming of darkness which I’m certain can be read in a variety of ways. Perhaps it represent the Truant’s inheritance of the dark trunk, with its dark (in another sense of the word) contents.
After this, Truant writes
“…splintering the wood, left by some terrible awe-full thing, signature in script of steel or claws, though not Santa, Zampanò died after Christmas after all, but no myth either, for I saw the impossible marks near the trunk, touched them, even caught some splinters in my fingertips, some of their unexpected sadness and mourning, which though dug out later with a safety pin, I swear still fester beneath my skin, reminding me in a peculiar way of him, just like other splinters I still carry, though these much deeper, having never been worked out by the body but quite the contrary worked into the body, by now long since buried, calcified and fused to my very bones…” (Danielewski, 78).
This is where there is a brief transition from nonsense into what is more clearly understood, although it is certainly deep in meaning, not quite nonsense. Truant has a play with words, referring to claws of “some terrible awe-full thing” and then instantly referring to Santa, as in Santa Claus. As a side note, it is interesting that he uses awful in the form of “awe-full”, perhaps to emphasize how terrible this thing really is. It would appear the purpose of the Santa reference is simply to link claws to Claus, to myth, to reality, emphasizing that these marks are caused by real claws, not Santa Claus. His babbling about the splinters leads to discussion about how the splinters have, after time, become a part of him. I infer this as Truant finding yet another way to connect himself to Zampanò, one which is far more physically personal than the coincidences he discovers throughout the book.
From here on, Truant seems to regain a grip on reality with his writing, although there are certainly a few parts still, that aren’t quite clear. He once again refers to the word “frolic,” this time stating that these splinters remove him from this frolic, and instead remind him of “much colder days, Where I Left Death, or thought I had…overcast in tones December gray” (Danielewski, 78). That line, “Where I Left Death” is very striking. He immediately follows this by referring to what appears to be his father (although he states he was this man’s boy, but he was not his father) and uses descriptions of his father that create an appearance of an animal-like beast, such as “…a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horns” (Danielewski, 78). After speaking of these “colder days” he states that he wishes to avoid talking about them, and does exactly that by mentioning one of Zampanò’s readers, describing her horrifying event with a monstrous shadow. This particular passage, although confusing, is rather revealing to me as well. Ever since reading the inside of the book, where it states that in this, the Full Color edition, the word “minotaur” is in red, I have been convinced that the growling and the beast that stalks the characters is a minotaur. After reading this paragraph, it would appear that Johnny’s minotaur is in fact his monster of a father. The descriptions of his beard as horse hide and hands as horns only help to confirm my suspicions, although with such a book one can never be certain.
As for the difficulty of this passage on pages 77-78, I believe it is present to accomplish a variety of things, on various levels. For one, with regard to Truant as an author, this passage delves into his slowly deteriorating mind, taking advantage of the state he is in, what with the toil the reading has taken on him, the drugs affecting him, and being hung-up on Thumper, waiting for her to call him in the dead of night. This passage is confusing partially due to all of these things, since it would be difficult to expect Johnny to write both clearly and conservatively in such a state. When I say conservatively, I mean in such a way that Johnny would hide things about himself, not leaving this coded passage at all. The purpose of this is to show the reader just how much Johnny’s mental condition is spiraling downward, even if it is not as present in his more sober remarks. Now as far as this passage goes with regard to Danielewski as an author, I can only understand this as a means to create similar feelings in the reader as those felt by Johnny, Zampanò, and the Navidsons. Danielewski forces to reader to be confused and lost, trying to puzzle the pieces together to find some sort of understanding. There is much effort to be expensed in trying to figure out these confusing passages, but I also believe there is high reward in understanding of the novel as a whole, such as my interpretation of Johnny’s father as the beast.
On page 48 of House of Leaves Johnny Truant tells one of his stories that I just cannot fathom the whole meaning behind it. Every few sentences at the beginning or at the end I feel like maybe I understand what he wanted to get across, however all in all, it seems like non sense.
He starts out just fine, thinking exactly what I am thinking about the previous passage on echoes, that for the most part yes it was the most confusing and wasteful thing ever. He then starts to talk about these “scars drawn long ago” (p.48). This is where I start to get confused; the best I can come up with is that these scares, are psychological damages that he has suffered over “two decades ago”. He talks about how “these scars [are] torn, ripped, bleeding” which leads me to believe that the recent events of him reading Zampanó’s literature and the creepy feelings he has been having since then, have reopened these long lost wounds. This would explain why reading Zampanó’s literature has had such affect upon him, for it has opened up some distant wounds. He then goes on to say how “they are first of all [Zampanó’s] scars”, which could mean that he is taking all the feelings of empathy that he has for this man and placing them on top of his already preexisting scars. This would create almost a stack effect for Truant, making his personal scars hurt more; however somewhat blurring the lines of what originally was his and what he has now taken on from Zampanó.
He eventually starts to ramble on about how this all began as a simple “failure” then progressed to the “Other loss, a horrible violence, before the coming of that great Whale, before the final drift”. This leads more to the idea that he might be suffering from more than just a bunch of addictions, however on a deeper level some sort of mental disability or illness. These scars start off as a failure, then compound upon each other. Violence can be a cause of many mental illnesses, especially when one represses past events which seems to have happened in Truant’s case. The next part of his rant I can throw to him being mentally unstable and just lost in his own words. He starts going on about death, logically because of the death of Zampanó. However when he describes it, he talks about things that “slip through fingers”. This could mean, he has shifted focus and is actually starting to think about how precious life actually is, no matter how one lives his life. But then he continues on about the “mutilations of birth”, which to be honest I have no clue where he is going at this point.
His psychosis picks up after Lude interjects into this ramble asking if Truant was okay (p.49). He starts to see “a strange glimmer everywhere” and “registering all possibilities of harm, every threat.” (p. 49). We can assume from this that he is having some sort of anxiety attack or just a mental break down again. Which judging from the hallway experience in a previous chapter, this assumption is not too far off.
Other than this analytical view of the words in the text, we can also look at why Danielewski decided to include this section and write it the way that he did. First off is the why did he include this section. I feel that he included this section as just basically a breather from this chapter. This chapter can seem extremely confusing, however since Danielewski threw in a more complicated and confusing footnote for the readers to grasp, it can make the other part of the reading more bearable. It brings a sense of, what they were talking about before seems rational now. This is because proportional to what Truant is saying, the rest of it is more rational. If he was trying to use this footnote as anything else actually adding to the story, he would have made it relevant. The only relevance he has added to this passage was at the very beginning when he talks about “the last bit ‘---perhaps your word ---‘” (p.48). Other than this Truant goes off on a complex rant intended on confusing the reader.
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.
the halting and rudimentary art of reading: this new technique is that of the
deliberate anachronism and the erroneous attribution. This technique, whose
applications are infinite, prompts us to go through the Odyssey as if it were
posterior to the Aeneid and the book Le jardin du Centaure of
Madame Henri Bachelier as if it were by Madame Henri Bachelier. This technique
fills the most placid works with adventure. To attribute the Imitatio
Christi to Louis Ferdinand Céline or to James Joyce, is this not a
sufficient renovation of its tenuous spiritual indications?"
"History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases—exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor —are brazenly pragmatic. The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard—quite foreign, after all—suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time. There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter—if not a paragraph or a name—in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote —Menard told me—was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst."
Quixote —all of it—as if Menard had conceived it? Some nights past, while
leafing through chapter XXVI—never essayed by him—I recognized our friend’s
style and something of his voice in this exceptional phrase: 'the river nymphs
and the dolorous and humid Echo.' This happy conjunction of a spiritual and a physical adjective brought to my mind a verse by Shakespeare which we discussed one afternoon:
'Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk . . .'"
It's hard for us to see what the short quote about the Turk, from Othello, has to do at all with the quote from the Quixote. It seems as if this nonsense connection is another of Borges' pranks: the second quote doesn't have anything to do with the first, it simply represents the fictional critic obfuscating what really reminded him of Menard, which was the figure of Echo, because the whole essay is built on expounding the virtues of Menard's project, and identifying it as a mere "echo" of the Quixote would be a disservice. So in this reference Danielewski calls our attention to an obscure literary reference to the concept of Echo, the subject of this chapter, as well as the concept of authors as echoes, and finally to the existence of an unreliable narrator. Of course the author-as-echo in House of Leaves has several layers: We have Zampano who, as the editors and one of his transcribers point out, devotes an unprofessional amount of space in his text to simply "echoing" the content of the Navidson Record, and we have Johnny Truant, who in a kind of "echo" is posthumously publishing Zampano's work with his name attached (and, even though Truant's commentary is so central to House of Leaves, we find here a strong connection between the two fictional authors which may help us work out their true identities within the larger world of the novel).
The concept of the unreliable narrator or disingenuous author is central to both House of Leaves and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." In Borges' story, it's well-known that Menard often composes texts which mean exactly the opposite of his true thoughts. Among his published works is "an invective against Paul Valéry, in the Papers for the Suppression of Reality of Jacques Reboul. (This invective, we might say parenthetically, is the exact opposite of his true opinion of Valéry. The latter understood it as such and their old friendship was not endangered.)" Later the author describes Menard's "resigned or ironical habit of propagating ideas which were the strict reverse of those he preferred." In House of Leaves, the character most often associated with outright lying and falsifying accounts is Johnny Truant: over and over again Truant describes his habit of attempting to pick up women in bars by concocting fables of adventure and romance, admits that he presented similar tall tales to his high school Disaffected Youth Counselor, and, as his mental state begins to worsen due to his obsession with Zampano's manuscript, has trouble relating actual events to the reader as his panicked fantasies seem to break through into his narratives. In this sense we are subtly encouraged to take even less stock in what Truant tells us in his commentary than he himself seems to suggest. And yet this effect doesn't stop with Truant: since Zampano, and even Danielewski himself, are so strongly tied with the character of Menard in Borges' story, they too are guilty by association of Menard's authorial dishonesty, and the entire book is cast in a strange light of uncertainty.
So Danielewski here uses a very small reference to cast even further intense doubt on the reliability of the text with which we are presented. This is in addition to the two other functions that the quote serves: to place House of Leaves in literary history and to comment upon the theme of echoes which is central to the chapter in which it occurs. What seems at first a minor literary reference in fact explodes into a vast network of meanings, subtexts, and associations.
Borges, Jorge Luis. "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/borges-quixote.html
(I can't get the paragraph breaks in this thing to format correctly, sorry if it's difficult to read.)
In the same way that Heidegger begins “On the Question Concerning Technology” with and introduction that explains how to read the text, Chris Ware and Mark Danielewski address their readers with a set of instructions that explain how to read their inconsistent and perhaps unreliable styles of writing. While Ware uses pictures and academic jargon to address the limitations of images and language, Danielewski uses fictitious academic references and layers of unreliable narrators (who comment on comments), to force us to question the reliability of any story. By only telling a one side of a whole story do these parallel plots join character narratives together, stitching together reality with fantasy on purpose to engage the reader in a more truthful reading, one filled with many layers and perspectives with which to navigate through language and images that may or may not be depictions of reality. Much of the narrative in these novels is not shown to readers, but detailed through the minds of our main characters, revealing the surface level representations of language. Essentially, these authors use frames or academic footnotes that illustrate the passing of time, allow for the formation of parallel stories that comment on each other, and force readers to question whether these forms depict the book’s reality or a characters wondering thoughts.
The passing of time in each novel is depends entirely on the perspective of the narrator, particularly when Jimmy Corrigan drifts into his fantasy, child-like daydreams, which go on for frames at a time that span from the length of a second, depicted as Jimmy sees motion lines coming from a moving object, or full seasons, indicated by a change in leaf color. Readers feel a similar effect in reading the long digressions that spin into depictions of both Johnny and Zampano as characters, as well as their reactions as they analyze this fake story. The passage of time in House of Leaves is controlled by each character’s distinct prose (so distinct that each must be distinguished in their own font), as well as the presentation of the text on the page, ranging from long-winded sentences in which readers lose themselves in the concepts that take hold of our narrators, to quick pages of little text and glossaries of images that tell more parallel stories that add layer and meaning to the storyline. In way, these novels allow both the author and the narrators to manipulate the passing of time, but readers, participating in the struggle to learn the whole story from the given perspective, feel as though time is passing around them.
One of the most common similarities in Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves is that they both require an active readership. To understand the narratives, readers must be willing to turn the book around to find the right orientation and order of frames, whether that means starting from the bottom of the page instead of the top, or following long-winded and often made-up footnotes and appendixes to piece together the whole story. Although the footnotes and frames are common styles that an author of a comic book or research book might use, both Ware and Danielewski use them ironically in their pieces to take the reader in and out of these parallel storylines. Ware tells us explicitly in the beginning that his use of visual rhetoric by making up a source from a fake organization he calls Comic Strip Apprehension: “I think it’ll be good, because people like looking at pictures, and I think words have had their day anyway. It’s a media-saturated world where media saturates everything and you can’t think about anything except media saturation all the time…Besides, people are getting less smart everyday everywhere.” (Ware 1). Unconcerned with what is real, Ware uses this quote in a way that satirizes comic strips. Images are an industry monopolized by advertizing, making Ware’s use of academic jargon ironically a statement that pictures can be just as corrupted as language, claiming that “’visual language’ has secretly been used by the military for years.” (Ware 1). Ware then proceeds to use frames that disorient readers, becoming quickly more complex than the dense, academic language that he pairs with his images. Ware uses the frames to pull us through the story, using symbols like the bird and the Chicago cityscape to drag us along to a different point in a different story. Ware uses frames to take us where language cannot, demonstrating Jimmy’s fantasies at the turn of a page, flashing back through symbols to demonstrate the effect of patriarchal lineage, the mixing of visual rhetoric and advertising, forcing us to question what Corrigan’s reality is, and if it is as alienating and sporadic as our own.
House of Leaves also makes use of false academic resources and visual representations to give the reader a layering of realities, rather than one perspective. Although we see that many of these academic footnotes, the whole analyzed documentary, in fact, is a figment of Zampano’s imagination, the word “house” colored blue an effect that perhaps gives insight into why he is writing about this fictitious documentary. On page 38, we see Zampano’s footnote covered in ink, and then a footnote from Johnny commenting on Zampano’s footnote giving the reason why the rest of the translation cannot be recovered. We see this set up throughout the book, giving readers insight into Johnny’s character through his frustration being left with Zampano’s work, as well as tiny pieces of auto-biographical information about his parents. In Zampano’s footnotes, we see comments on the Navidson family and their problem, but it is through Zampano that we receive both real footnotes that translate quotes that tend to add meaning to the chapters (for example, the origins of an echo), and other times they branch into fake literature that comments on the fake documentary. But, instead of this being a pointless look down at the bottom of the page, the act of following the footnote reminds readers that they are constantly seeing language manipulated through several narrators (and editors). Zampano’s fake footnotes range from being esoterically academic (quotations from Metamorphosis and Paradise Lost), to comments that only attempt to give insight on characters like Tom Navidson, who we know are not real. Zampano’s comment to one of this readers that he is proud of being uneducated gives us reason to believe that like Danielewski, like Ware, leaves clues as to what is reality and a character’s fantasy, but largely want their audiences to always be questioning the reliability of the visual and “academic” clues they are receiving.
Ware and Danielewski both begin their stories trying to warp language: Ware by forcing us to consider the history of visual rhetoric and the capacity for pictures to tell a layered, multi-dimensional text, and Danielewski warning the reader of the nightmares and frustration that come along with understanding Zampano’s story, following his footnotes, as well as Johnny’s to piece together meaning from a story that presents itself as false, but become true enough for these characters that they experience many truthful aspects of reality.
In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves there is a notable passage in which Zampanò discusses the second exploration of the titular house. After Jed mentions the depth and dreamlike nature of the house, Zampanò notes that it “…is actually not uncommon, especially for individuals who find themselves confronting vast tenebrific spaces. Back in the mid-60s, American cavers tackles the Sotano de las Golondrias…Later on, one of the cavers described his experience: ‘I was suspended in a giant dome with thousands of birds circling in small groups near the vague blackcloth of the far walls. Moving slowly down the rope, I had the feeling that I was descending into an illusion and would soon become part of it as the distances become unrelatable and entirely unreal”(Danielewski, 85-86). Because this passage seems to be just an isolated interview quote, I found it significantly more difficult to analyze than the rest of this week’s assignment, which I tended to attribute to parallels between the lives of Johnny and Zampanò.
The depth of the house seems to parallel the nature of academic criticism. As Zampanò spends significant time on overanalysis of various aspects of the film the physical depth of the house seems to parallel the pseudo-depth of what he discusses, including the claim two paragraphs earlier that Navidson’s fear of the house is in some way Freudian. The interview quote itself establishes two claims: “People feel odd in dark spaces” and “Another deep, dark place happens to exist in the world.” Neither one of these claims should require an entire multi-line quote from an interview to establish its validity, and simply mentioning claustrophobia or leaving the material about the characters’ feelings to stand alone would have provided the same effect. What Zampanò has done is provided a pseudo-insight into an obvious claim and bolstered it with unnecessary support in the process of analyzing a film that does not even exist in the book’s world.
Additionally, it seems like even if the interview quote contributes nothing extra to the chapter, it may just be a way for Zampanò to establish the house as transcendent, even though he could have easily done so more concisely without the quote. Given that the house defies the laws of physics by lacking directionality and by being larger on the inside than on the outside, it transcends any traditional understanding for its inhabitants much in the same way that the cave did for the caver.
However my problem with accepting this kind of traditional interpretation is that in numerous points in the book, Danielewski seems to be providing brutal satire of academic criticism. This occurs notably in one of his endnotes in which a professor explicitly says that she “…told [Zampanò] all those passages were inappropriate for a critical work, and if he were in my class I’d mark him down for it”(55). By trying to interpret a passage with a meaning that seems like it could make sense, Danielewski is baiting the reader into exactly the point he is trying to support, which is that academic criticism allows for the addition of whatever meaning the reader desires for a particular work or passage.
The overall difficulty of analyzing the passage also seems to represent this pseudo-criticism. Given that the passage itself is about testimony of depth and contains a “citation”, its difficulty seems to be supporting the claim that academic criticism has become banal and empty of actual insight. Marcuse touches upon a similar concept in Chapter 7 of One Dimensional Man, where he claims that “On the ground of its own realizations, Reason repels transcendence”(Marcuse, 173). As the actual form of the passage is summary without analysis, the interview acts in purely rational means. This is much like a citation in a scientific paper in that as mentioned previously, all it does is show that someone else has performed something similar in the past and that the respective individual(s) deserve some credit for said discovery. The citation provides no actual insight, even though it provides additional information because “[it] leaves the established reality untouched”(173), in addition to further cementing what has already been established.
Overall, due to some of the blatant comments and exaggerations Danielewski uses to highlight academic criticism, I find that this passage was extraordinarily difficult to interpret precisely because its meaning seems so obvious. In any other work, I would take it at face value, but because it happens to be in House of Leaves I feel like any attempts to claim it as anything but a “red herring” are misleading.