Many passages and pages of House of Leaves can be seen as difficult to understand or interpret because of the complexity and different levels of narration that can be seen throughout the novel. On part that I specifically had difficulty with is when Johnny Truant says:
Ever since leaving the labyrinth, having had to endure all those convolutions, those incomplete suggestions, the maddening departures and inconclusive nature of the whole fucking chapter, I’ve craved space, light, and some kind of clarity. Any kind of clarity. (Danielewski 179)
This passage struck me as particularly difficult because it is tossed in the page as almost a throwaway line and I am unclear as to what labyrinth Johnny is referring to. One interpretation is that the labyrinth chapter Johnny mentions is the one that I just read. Another way to interpret Johnny’s statement is the chapter of the film and story itself involving the labyrinth that Navidson’s and Holloway’s teams explore. But the final reading, perhaps the most confusing and interesting of all, is the reading where Johnny feels that he has actually experienced a labyrinth itself, potentially like the one in The Navidson Record.
In all cases, the way that such a scene has affected Johnny is confusing and almost unimaginable. Why is he so affected by these parts of the story? If Johnny is referring to the section of the manuscript Zampano wrote, then it is just a chapter in a book. Granted, it gave me a little bit of a headache trying to follow the narration style as it overlaps between pages and then backtracks and loops around certain sections, but after I passed that section I took an ibuprofen and moved on. Why is Johnny unable to do that? I think that Johnny feels like he has experienced a labyrinth similar to that experienced in The Navidson Record, perhaps through the chapter that Zampano wrote about that particular scene. However, if this is the case, and all Johnny wants is some clarity, why does he not just reorder the chapter? As he is continuing the manuscript, he has complete control over the different ways to order and structure the novel, so why does he not just act on this and change it? Johnny’s inability and his refusal to act have completely baffled me.
Johnny admits at the beginning of the novel that the story has affected him in a deeply personal way, and as the story unfolds we see different changes come over Johnny’s character. He suddenly becomes overwhelmed with a crippling sense of fear when leaving his apartment, starts hallucinating, and stops sleeping. Johnny’s statement in this section shows again how he is losing his grip on reality. Yet at the same time, he refuses to do anything about this. He does not try to get help, instead trying to deal with his demons by denying that they exist. The passage above is simply a throwaway line in a story that Johnny interjects into the novel about how he gets sleeping pills and destroys them. Even when he tries to get help, he ends up not allowing others to help him, even inanimate objects such as sleeping pills, instead deciding to face these problems he is having all on his own.
Johnny’s refusal to get help relates back to his losing battle with reality. Throughout the novel there are multiple hints that Johnny is having mental issues, illustrated through long rambling passages that are difficult to follow and the meaning of which changes halfway through. It is interesting to note that instead of telling the audience that after reading the chapter about the labyrinth, he uses the phrase: “ever since leaving the labyrinth,” implying that he has not simply read the words, but experienced them. Perhaps it is because Johnny’s narration style has become so difficult to follow that leads me to question his sanity, but his describing the experience he has with the labyrinth in such a way convolutes the matter further.
I cannot say exactly what this passage is supposed to tell the reader. As I have mentioned, it is not even necessarily an important part of the story, as it is just one line in a completely different story that Johnny is telling. However, I believe that though the actual meaning of this phrase is difficult to grasp, it should not be overlooked. Though I do not know exactly why Johnny phrased his thoughts in such a way, and cannot even say for sure that he knows, I think the difficulty in understanding his thoughts is important in and of it’s own right.