Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prompt 1: Difficulty in House of Leaves

               House of Leaves, in many ways, tends to defy any attempt at classification. Between the multiple and crazed narrators, chapter-long footnotes, and allover strange formatting of text, the book’s content is never meant to be taken at face value. In fact, the only generally agreed upon statement about the novel is that it is, indeed, an example of “ergodic” literature. Although the term is usually seen in mathematical or scientific writings, in this case, it is in reference to the requirement of the reader to exert a varying degree of effort in order to simply read the text in order to discern meaning, contrasting to the trivial requirements of reading a traditional novel. The requirements of this classification, which was developed by Espen Aarseth[1], are without a doubt the core experience present within House of Leaves. Many times, the formatting of the text, as well as its color, contains meaning far beyond what is present in the text, and deriving that meaning can be difficult. One particularly valid example is the relation of classic labyrinths to the Navidson’s house, and the strange shape and color of Zampano’s struck-out recounting of the myth of the Minotaur.
                The difficulty in determining what is meant by this passage[2] does not solely come from the content of the text.  Just as Zampano begins to discuss the depths of the house as example of a great labyrinth, for some reason he strikes it out, although Truant is apparently able to recover it. Zampano explains his own interpretation of the myth, claiming the Minotaur was not a fantastical monster, but rather King Minos’ deformed son. He even claims that he had previously published this belief, and that it had inspired a play, which of course had a very limited run and only eight people other than himself have seen it. Although interpreting the relevance of this passage to the Navidson’s house can prove challenging, it is the color and formatting of the text that is most jarring to the reader. This footnote that explains his views in greater detail is printed in bright red, striked-out, and forms the shape of a disjointed key[3] across two pages.
As well as being physically hard to read, the red text starkly contrasts the blue text seen elsewhere in the novel, and is meant to imply a deep contrast between the properties of the house’s and Minos’ mazes. The recesses of the Navidson’s house are seemingly infinite, and are believed to model themselves after the mental states of those who enter them, while the labyrinth of the Minotaur is finite, and the boundaries, although confusing, are predetermined. The presence of the Minotaur itself is also a contrasting feature, as Navidson’s house holds no monster other than the mental states of its inhabitants, while the maze of Knossos is known, or at least believed, to concretely hold a vengeful monster. Furthermore, the shape of the footnote as a key is meant to convey to the reader that the solution for both the Navidson’s and the reader to escape their respective labyrinths is in conquering their mental states, which is directly related to how Theseus eventually “hacks the Minotaur into little pieces,” and escapes Minos’ labyrinth.
For the reader, the difficulty present in the formatting of both the footnote and all things relating to the story of the Minotaur are necessary in determining the true narrative importance of the text. Without it, the content becomes simply something that a reader might believe should be skipped over, as it is striked out and apparently meant to have been removed by Zampano. Although the nature of the contrasting color and shape is not stated outright, by including it Danielewski hints that there is more meaning here for those who more closely analyze the passage’s both physical and narrative content. Still, even the “hints” are not overtly present, as the shape of the key is not present on one page, but rather two, obscuring its true form. If the reader does choose to simply write off the red text and strange paragraphing of Zampano’s exposition, they miss their chance to learn a way to escape the labyrinth that Zampano and Truant have fallen to before them.

[1] For more information regarding Espen Aarseth and ergodic literature, refer to the following source: .

[2] Pages 109 - 111

[3] The black line denotes where the key is split onto two different pages.

Works Cited
Aarseth, Espen J. "Precis: Introduction to Ergodic Literature." University of Minnestoa, 30 Nov. 2000. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Danielewski, Mark Z., and Zampanò. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.


Tolu Dayo said...

I think that The term ergodic literature is the essence of HOL and I like the fact that you picked that up and did some research on it. However I do think that a little more evidence from the book, followed by explanation would be a better way of analyzing the difficulty in HOL's. Overall there is a lot of good substance to this essay. But i think that backing it up with evidence from the book will make this essay even stronger

Adam said...

The introduction of the ergodic concept is good, although I could do with a sentence or so about *why* you're applying the concept. It works well, I'd just like to follow your thought a little more clearly.

The discussion of red vs. blue is excellent. The discussion of the key is good. In general, I can't ask much more of a rough draft, but in an ideal world, here are a couple more ways I'd ask you to press forward.

1) If this is ergodic literature, and if you believe (as you obviously do) that physical form here plays a very important, even central role, can you make any sense of the relative interpretative weight we should apply to the narrative as such vs. the peculiar visual forms that it takes?

2) Ideally you would also say more about what the trope of the minotaur means, and why this passage is a "key." You've heard some of my interpretation in class - it's not the only one, but if this is pivotal, vital material, we should be able to understand and analyze, to some extent, what it is pivotal and vital *for*.