Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blog 7, Prompt 1

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski is not a book for the fair weather traveller. It is not a tale for those wanting something easy to read while they lie by the pool. This is not a story for those who are easily dissuaded by the difficulty of a book’s contents. The dedication page says it all, “this is not for you.” (Danielewski). This book does everything in its power to discourage the reader from moving forward. Between its contents, its format, its strange way of moving the story forward. A single confusing passage could be discussed for hours trying to disentangle its content from its format, or diction, or organization. Yet making even a little headway could potentially help a reader better understand the book as a whole. Zampano’s discussion on the labyrinth that entrapped that Minotaur of legend is one such passage. (Danielewski 109-110, footnote 123).

The brief passage gives a cursory description of the myth of the Minotaur that King Minos had constructed by Daedalus. The footnote that follows describes Zampano’s interpretation of the myth, that the Minotaur was in fact King Minos’ deformed child that he had locked away without actually locking the child away. The content on a base level is not hard to understand. What makes this passage infuriating is that the entirety of it has been crossed out, all the way done to the citations. Before this myth is mentioned, Zampano is talking about mazes and other labyrinths, making the inclusion of this perfectly acceptable, and, considering the widespread knowledge of the belief, almost expected. Yet not only did Zampano make the choice to leave this information out, but future editors (Johnny Truant included) decided that for some reason it belonged in. Why leave it in at all?

The brief passage and the footnote take opposing sides. The passage describes what most people believe, while the footnote is about Zampano’s belief. Originally, Zampano decided to include two separate perspectives on the same topic, and in the end decided to take both of them away. This seems to resonate with how the rest of the book should be read. There is always two perspectives behind a story as it is being read: the author’s and the reader’s. These do not always coincide. In a book like House of Leaves, it makes perfect sense. Danielewski could not possibly expect that a book like the one he has written here would get readers to the same point that he had in his head when he began constructing it. There is more than one way out of the labyrinth.

But if the meaning behind the passage is to give permission to the reader to form their own opinion, why cross it out? Why not have its message unmarred so that it rings out loud and true? A person’s desire to absorb and critically think about knowledge is often increased if the information is presented in a way that gets the person thinking. When information is presented in an atypical manner, curiosity can get the better of us. This inclusion of the myth could have just been another part to a boring discussion on architecture and its relation to the mysterious house. Most likely a reader would skim through this information until they once again reached the juicy, exciting plot. Instead he/she is faced with a page of crossed out text, causing them to stop and try and figure out what makes this crossed out text so important. On the surface it is just about King Minos and his son/prisoner the Minotaur, but it has to be more than that. It is only when the format is related to the first seven words of the footnote, “At the risk of stating the obvious…” that is begins to make more sense. (Danielewski 110).

The myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth could be so simple and obvious, but it is not necessarily, just like the tale of the House on Ash Tree Lane. The tale spun here could be taken at face value: an interesting account of a horror story and how the characters dealt with their struggles into an unknown. Or like the twisted pathways and unending staircases of the house, you can go deeper into the labyrinth. This story is not going to be about a monster trapped away to feed on the innocent, and with one mighty swing of a sword will be dispatched by a hero. Danielewski wants you to expect more than a heroic tale.

Danielewski aims to confuse and confound. He wants us to twist and turn down these pages until we don’t know where we are like some literary pin the tail on the donkey. But that could be the point of it all. He gets us lost so we can find our way out on our own, using our own compass, following our own myths. He may stop and try to remind us that the obvious is not always the answer, but more than one perspective is right. Otherwise, we’re finding our own way out of the 5 minute hallway.


Roger Sepich said...

I really like this essay. It begins as a rumination on House of Leaves, turns into a critical reading on House of Leaves, and finishes with an argument about House of Leaves. Through writing this essay, it seems that you were able to help yourself understand Danielewski and I like your closing paragraph because it explains the difficulty of this book in a very detailed and meaningful manner.

The only thing I would suggest is to maybe organize the essay more if you were to revise it. Right now, it feels like you didn't quite know what you wanted to write about when you began, which is fine. But since you reach a nice conclusion, make sure your thesis and first few paragraphs reflect that understanding more so that the reader knows where the essay is heading.

Oh, and nice job to make sure "house" was blue every time!

-- RJ Sepich

Adam said...

This is well written, and your focus on the writer/reader relationship (tension), and the fact that the book simultaneously expunges and emphasizes it (or expunges it in order to emphasize it - that which is absent is most present, almost by definition, in this novel) is good.

That being said, there's a major omission here. Not that catching it is easy - you're dealing with difficulty as a topic - but one question that you aren't addressing is what the "expunging" of the minotaur means - there is a very clear moment when it is articulated that the theme of the minotaur is a theme of *repression* (repression plays a huge role in the novel as a whole, as well as in many parts.

Your discussion is worthwhile and engaging, but it doesn't engage with the easier/more transparent parts of the text which directly explain some of the difficulty.