Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Structures in House of Leaves (Prompt 1)

The page that drives me up a wall, page 121: 






Zampano's House of Leaves is a creative structure just as much as it is a novel. The book pushes the boundaries of printing with its oddities and raises questions about how to read the book. Readers find themselves questioning whether or not they are reading the book in the correct order, if their book is correctly oriented, and if they are simply seeing things or missing details. Page 121 of the novel is a brilliant example of just how structurally confusing the book can be.
In the center of the page there is a quote inserted from the bible, specifically words that "Jesus says" (121), which Danielewski says should "be taken literally as well as ironically" (121) and, of course, footnotes with another quote from the bible on Jacob's terrified reaction to the "territories of the divine" (footnote 153). For Danielewski to directly quote Jesus in the center of his page, and then warn for Jesus' words to be taken ironically as well as literally, puts the basis of the Christian faith in question. Danielewski is also making a comparison between the house and Heaven, which can be attributed to the strange, supernatural powers of the house that can only be explained by the power of God, or perhaps, the power of Satan.
The house in many ways echoes the idea of hell, or, the house of Satan, which is the direct opposite of what Jesus is talking about in his quote on page 121. The house is mysterious, dark, confusing, and misleading. It has the ability to drive its wanderers insane because of its continuous changes in direction and dimension. Also, Satan is a deceiving being and if the house was a representation of him, as the use of the bible on this page suggests, then it would also be deceiving. The deception of the house lies in the unknown darkness as well as the changes it seems to spontaneously generate.
This page of the novel discusses the structure of the house and in the blocked off sections of the margins, includes notable "historical experiments in design" (120). The impressive list, which continues in the margins of the next fourteen pages, is simply a list of different experimental architectural accomplishments. It is odd to just include such an extensive list, without much commentary, in a novel, but it is important because the book itself is experimenting with its architecture, in a sense. Danielewski is adjusting the margins of the book with all the footnotes and limiting the amount of content (that is not footnotes) per page. The ratio of how much narrative content and how much footnote space occupies the page is disproportionate. There is less narrative content on the page, suggesting that the structure of the novel is just as important as the narrative content.
In creating a novel that is so structurally confusing, within the confines of a physical book, Danielewski gives his readers the experience of being in the house explored in The Navidson Record. Being in the house is disorienting, confusing, and has many passageways that veer off into separate sections of the house. Similarly, the book has footnotes that will take the reader on an adventure of content seemingly unrelated to the book at all or on a topic that confuses the reader even further.

2 comments:

Adam said...

Are "creative structure" and "novel" antonyms? I'm not sure what to do with that idea, since this is hardly the first novel to be interested in *form*.

Through the rest of this essay - although it isn't really a functioning essay - you have two main topics. You are kind of generally interested in the proportion of footnote to text, and the confusing character of the lists. This part is overly general, and makes no really specific claim - not much gets accomplished here.

More productively, you are interested in Danielewski's use of the Bible and his appropriation of Christian ideas/themes/tropes. The idea is fine, and I'm certainly ok with an argument connecting the House in some way to Satan. The problem is that your discussion is vague - notably, unlike Danielewski's approach. He uses precise texts from, among others, Genesis, Mark, and John. Rather than engaging with his use of these texts (ideally, for instance, by going and reading the relevant material yourself, along with adjoining passages) you begin by generalizing. That's not to say that your interest in Satan and deception is bad, but you aren't doing anything (yet) to really develop it into an articulate argument.

Abby Peters said...

Hi Nikki!
I think that you have two good topics in this essay. If you revise I would suggest extending one. Either the structure of the novel and how that helps the reader further understand the story as a whole or the idea of the house as Satan and the use of the Bible in the novel should be the focus of the essay in my opinion. Both need to be more developed though.
If you decide to go the structure of the novel I would try to include more specific examples of the unorthodox structure. Also, I think you could relate the complicated structure to the other storylines in the novel such as Johnny’s and Zampano’s and explore how this structure helps develop those.
For the inclusion of the Bible, I think it would probably help to include other examples as well. I think you could discuss why you think Danielewski chose to include this specific quote from the Bible. The footnote also offers some room for expansion; what does Jacob’s reaction have to do with the rest of the story. I feel that you could dig a bit deeper into that as well.