Friday, March 21, 2014

Comments & Questions on Danielewski, Day One

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post.  Again:  a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved.  You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice.  Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

Reminder:  there are no prompts this week because your revisions are due.  The earlier you send me questions (or drafts), the better.  There will still be a chance for workshopping next Thursday for anyone who is interested.


Jessica Craig said...

“At first only curiosity drove me from one phrase to the next. Often a few days would pass before I’d pick up another mauled scrap, maybe even a week, but still I returned, for ten minutes, maybe twenty minutes, grazing over the scenes, the names, small connections starting to form, minor patterns evolving in those spare slivers of time. I never read for more than an hour…And then one evening I looked over at my clock and discovered seven hours had passed…Slowly but surely, I grew more and more disoriented…No one could reach me…I nailed my windows shut, threw out my closet and bathroom doors…”
After a first read of this first section, I thought Johnny Truant’s “introduction”, namely the description of his madness, was simply a part of the story. But after delving into the novel, I realized that his introduction was not just an introduction, but a warning and a guide to the reader. One day I am reading the book because I have to, but, at some point, it almost becomes a necessity to continue reading, to reach the end, to find some conclusion or answer.
One question I had about Truant’s narrative regards the use of footnotes. The footnotes appear in two different typographical fonts, one of the fonts seem to match the font of the introduction, so I assume that these footnotes are Truant’s and not Zampano’s. Why do Truant’s notes come to us in this way? Why not present The Navidson Record from Truant’s point of view rather than interjecting his thoughts in a space on the page where, quite honestly, I generally skip over when reading. Why not switch back and forth between Truant thinking and his reading The Navidson Record? I thought it was maybe to allow a more fluid presentation of the Navidson story, but the reader has to break away from this narrative and realize that Truant is addressing them. I understand the purpose of footnotes in textbooks, but I don’t understand what the footnotes add to this narrative. It seems obscure and odd. One other idea I had was that the use of footnotes pointed to the larger theme of the story – the pursuit of knowledge. In each level of narrative the characters are searching for answers and, in my instances, the pursuit of knowledge is dangerous and hazardous. I saw an explicit connection to Frankenstein; both novels heed warning against the pursuit of knowledge. At the very center of House of Leaves, there is an unknown. Building outwards from the center, each character of each narrative looks for some sort of answer. The Navidson family is obviously trying to understand this secret hallway and Truant seeks answers about Zampano. The reader is the outermost layer of narrative, and there are so many answers I am looking for. It isn’t immediately clear to me, however, what Zampano is searching for, and this is where my argument (that the pursuit of knowledge is a central theme) breaks down for me.

Tom Kappil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Kappil said...

One thing that immediately stood out was the singular use of the word house. While the word itself does stand out due to the blue color of the word wherever it appears (even within different languages), what surprised me was that no synonyms for house appeared. The building is never called a home, abode, domicile, or even a dwelling. For well written prose, the focus on only that word stood out. Is the author implying that the building is just a house, but explicitly not a home (which has a more emotional connotation)?

Secondly, the rambling, stream of consciousness nature of Truant’s narration was moderately annoying. His annotations are usually several pages long, but have only tangential relation to what occurred to the Navidson household, and always focus on the “creepy” effects the book his having on him, but to me, personally, seem like a confirmation bias, where he only sees events as creepy because he is expecting it. Otherwise, a water heater breaking, or Truant falling down in a closet, are just normal mistakes, not signs of impending doom. Is there something reason that Truant has a predilection for the macabre, or is the book really having that much of a negative impact upon his life?

Jessica Merrill said...

Something about Truant's first major footnote has kept me thinking about it since I read it a few days ago. Starting on page 12, it spans 3 entire pages with a story that Truant made up to impress some girls. When you first start reading his story, it seems like an aside that has nothing to do with the story line that Zampano is following with The Navidson Record. The connection Truant tries to make on page 16 with the water heater is an extremely weak relationship. I think the real connection has to do with a two separate sentences he says on pages 15, "It's like there's something else, something beyond it all a greater story still looming in the twilight, which for some reason I'm unable to see", and on page 16, "If only any of it were true. I mean we'd all be so lucky to wind up a punching bag and still find our crates full of Birds of Paradise."

The statement on page 16 seems to implicate a true story behind the fake one he is telling; the meaning he is searching for on page 15. Something that may not have happened yet: a happy ending for someone who has been beaten on for a living. From what we have heard about Truant's life so far, he seems to create a persona that can be easily used as a punching bag, both by himself and by others. Does he create stories like this to convince himself that there can be a happy ending, like a crate full of Birds of Paradise? I've justified this symbolism for myself, but like Truant, I can't help but think there's an even deeper meaning to the story he is telling, and a reason why he had the urge to tell it at this point during the Navidson record. I've been trying to search for this through the rest of the reading, but have yet to find it. Especially in this novel, the meaning has to be more than happy endings.

Brendan Demich said...

House of Leaves redundantly and viciously attacks the notion of reality. Superficially, its a work of fiction. But the introduction had the effect of seeming non-fiction. More appropriately worded, I thought that Johnny Truant was a real person telling a real story before I had to remind myself that that was fiction as well. But the assault on reality in the introduction hardly stops there. Johnny tells us that the entire collection of Zampano's writings were an analysis of a film that doesn't exist. Also, the analysis included references to works that do not even exist. This idea is even more exaggerated when we learn that Zampano is blind!

But to talk about the reality of the narrative(s), its important to return to an analysis that we started the course with: Levels of Narration. The levels of narration in this novel are equally as important as they were in Frankenstein. The validity and reality of the tale disintegrate in the first few pages when Johnny imprints his own experience of a broken Waterheater on Zampano's writing of The Navidson Record (notice the levels of narration here). This was a literal, "Hey! Fuck you." to validity. But possibly the most disturbing attack for me on the fiction-nonfiction distinction was on page 45 when the EDITOR of house of leave footnotes Johnny's footnote of a verse that Zampano references. Paraphrasing the editor, they were unable to determine who wrote the verse. The bizarre implications of this statement confused me to no end. Are they implying that there was a real author behind the fictional verse? In what level of narration does this verse exist? If the verse is "original", who should be given credit for the verse (Zampano? Navidson? Editors? Someone else?) The annihilation of the readers' sense of reality is what has disturbed me the most about this book, and likely what compels me to continue reading.

Maggie Stankaitis said...

The experience I’m having reading this book is really strange, similar feelings to Jessica C., but as she mentioned as well as others, I think it is very likely that others are feeling similarly. My experience reading House of Leaves is also reflective of the context and style of the text. Sometimes I feel like I need to read on, and that I have a momentum in reading the story. But at other times I find reading House of Leaves grueling, and that I can only take reading 10 pages a time. In the introduction we are told of Truant’s reading experience. He describes it, “Often a few days would pass before I’d pick up another mauled scrap, maybe even a week, but still I returned, for ten minutes, maybe twenty minutes… I never read for more that an hour.” I find it interesting how this is reflective of my own experience in reading the book. The book is very jumbled with the footnotes and the different narratives— Truants versus Zamanos. There are some moments in the book when I’m entirely consumed and interested in what comes next, other times I want to, and have skipped over footnotes just get to the next chapter.

That being said, I can’t quite figure out if i either love or despise the maze of footnotes and the story from Zampano. But if it were any different it wouldn’t be the book that it is, and it would be much less interesting. I wonder if the scientific and historical footnotes are completely necessary— I know that they are necessary at times when translating specific text, but other than that I often find myself skipping over the footnotes that are not that of Truant’s narration.

Like Jimmy Corrigan, every part of this book is deliberate and purposeful. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book, so long as I keep the momentum in reading.

Courtney Elvin said...

At this point in the readings scheduled for completing this novel we have not encountered the most obscure methods of storytelling to take place. I say that based on the reading for today as well as a quick flip through of the rest of the book and the table of contents. There is layered narration through the introduction and footnotes, the word “house” always printed in blue, and the curious page that reminded me of a Mad Lib (page 63).

From the footnote (numbered 74) we learn that Zampano left blanks in the story that were never filled in. Based on context clues and sentence structure, the blanks mostly seem to be in place of Navidson and Karen’s guests. Is this because Zampano doesn’t know who they are/were? I am also confused about what exactly even happened. Did they get lost in the hallway? What happened to the guests? Also, not that they are necessarily related, but why can’t/didn’t Zampano include the names of his guest when he (or whoever) spends nearly three and a half pages (64-67) listing names of reference to photographic documentation presumably from what is another work? Why include this section at all? Are we expected to read it and gain anything from it? What is the significance here?

Jake Stambaugh said...

I thought that I was seeing things when on page 8, most of the way down the page, I thought that I saw the word "house" in a different color. After noticing it the first time I realized that it was actually blue, and every mention of the word "house" was in blue, in Zampano's text and in Johnny Truant's. Even the word House on the cover is blue. If I had to guess at a reason for this, I'd say that it's supposed to make the house seem alien, or at least extremely unusual. However, I suspect that nothing in this book has a reasonable explanation, so I almost feel bad providing such a simple one.

Actually, one recurring theme is rational people acting rationally to incredibly irrational circumstances. When, on page 28, Navidson and Karen find the new door in their house they try the rational things like checking their cameras, looking through county records, and so on. As Navidson continues to try to explain the house, the house continues to grow more paradoxical.

To me, House of Leaves seems to be making a statement against the power of rationality in favor of the illogical and unbelievable.

Alec Brace said...

House of Leaves starts of in an interesting way to me with the introduction. I start to believe that we are going to hear the story of how Johnny became so messed up and unable to sleep. As I kept reading I discovered that the introduction is more of a warning to the reader of what follows, that Johnny is messed up from reading Zampano's work. He cautions that the work on The Navidson's Record will change everything the reader thinks they know about themselves. From here we start into what I believe is Zampano's work and I assume the novel will follow the form of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. We would hear Zampano's account of Navidson's video for a while, then shift narration back to Johnny at the end to sort of sum things up about him. However, this is not what is happening at all. Danielewski mixes in Johnny's narrative by use of the footnotes and I find it very distracting. It might be a little more acceptable if he didn't cut them into each other in the middle of sentences or thoughts.
There has to be a reason for this but I am having trouble determining what that reason could be. I suppose he could want the reader to experience it under the same thought process or conditions Johnny did, bits and pieces mixed in with his real life, but doesn't that defeat the purpose of letting only Zampano's work affect the reader like it did to Johnny? Honestly, the weird stuff going on with the house is enough to keep me reading, I find I have to force myself to not skip Johnny's narration in the footnotes because I want to keep my focus on Zampano's.

Kyle McManigle said...

I was really looking forward to reading this book. I had already heard things about it before the class, so I'm glad we are reading it. But to be completely honest, I was mildly worried (and still kind of am) about losing my mind reading or being sucked into some activity I don't want to be involved in. Time will tell. I had expectations about the content, but I had no idea what to expect on the format, and even though it is pretty much just all over the place, I like how it is printed. There is a true sense of estranged emotion I get from it that goes really well with the actual content for me.

There are a couple things that stood out to me while reading. First, I noticed that some of the footnotes are labeled with symbols rather than numbers, but I didn't detect any pattern of content for that select group represented that way. Why are there some that are represented this way? Another oddity I thought about with the footnotes was the placement of the really long ones thus far. Specifically, I noticed that the ones that were multiple pages of Truant's writing were around intense moments of action or suspense, like the one that spans pages 64-66 right after Navidson escapes the depths of the hallway. What is the specific reason for this? Secondly, I'm fumbling with a reason why there are certain sections where there is extreme detail of an activity, almost too much. One example is on page 11 when the process of the kids making candles is talked about, and another example is on page 61 when Tom installs the door over the hallway. The second even includes extreme detail that the layperson wouldn't understand like the, "acoustical performance rating coded at ASTM E413-70T-STC 28." Why would there be so much attention to minute details of these somewhat simple tasks instead of just saying the kids made candles or Tom installed a door? The third thing that stood out to me was the recurrent repetition of long word lists, some of which are just synonyms listed in succession. On page 26 there is a large list Truant gives for all the ink colors in the tattoo shop, drugs on page xi, the description of the smell in Zampano's apartment on page xvi, and the most obvious one of photographers spanning pages 64-67. We are told that Zampano's list is completely random, but what purpose do these repetitively tedious lists serve to the higher goal of the book?

Kristen Welsh said...

I think its interesting how in a way, House of Leaves has two separate narratives. The main narrative and the narrative that happens in the footnotes contain two very different tones. The main narrative is very reflective and analytical. Navidson is very exact, measuring out the interior and exterior of the house to the exact quarter of an inch. When they do not measure up, he panics quite a bit. Why do you think that extra quater of an inch matters so much to him? How do you think this tone helps to portray his character? The narrative that takes place in the footnotes seems much more relaxed to me. There is a fair amount of vulgar language, and the speaker enjoys making up elaborate stories for fun. How does the dichotomy between this laid back narrative and the more analytical narrative affect the overall story? Do you think there are also a lot of similarities?

Kevin Weatherspoon said...

While reading the book House of Leaves, I found out that this kind of novel is quite different compared to the other ones that I read before. In some ways it got me feeling a bit confused more than anything. Some of the pages are being read with a few words while some are normal which is different. The other issue is the way these words are set up throughout the novel. They are sort of setup in a weird way which creates a different effect on the story than usual. Overall, besides the way the novel is written it still seems good by acknowledging the fact that it seems to be portrayed as a horror story.

Becca Garges said...

I thought House of Leaves would be difficult to read when I first saw how it was written. However, so far I've been able to follow the multiple narrators fairly well, which is helped by the fact that their stories are obviously connected. I'm most interested in the narration that originally starts the story though. It reminds me a lot of the horror film The Messengers with Kristen Stewart. It's about a weird darkness that invades a sunflower farm in North Dakota. House of Leaves is a little different, at least thus far, because nothing harmful or bad actually happens - only the strange, seemingly impossible stretching of the house and the creepy thing that is haunting the tattoo narrator. I'm interested to see how the multiple narrations will tie in together. I wonder if the characters will meet or if they will simply tell separate but related stories. Thus far, I am enjoying the differentness of this narrative.

Dennis Madden said...

"It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. What is a grue?
The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale."

This excerpt from Zork fits quite well when considering the labyrinth inside the house on Ashtree Lane. Navidson, the adventurer, by virtue of driving curiosity and ambition, wanders into the unknown maze with the intention to find answers.... "treasure" perhaps. We are guided by the composition of Zampano, who may be seen as the 'narrator', while Truant seems to resemble the player outside of the computer, his semi-omniscience is obscured by his own listless ambitions. Just as Zork challenged everything computer-goers knew back when it was released, the labyrinth on Ashtree Lane threatens to challenge everything Navidson and his associates know in reality. When you take a human and put him somewhere where the impossible is present, starkly contrasting physical reality, the situation becomes very Zork-like indeed. Will Navidson find treasure? Or will he be swallowed by the everchanging N/S/E/W/NE/NW/SE/SW of the maze?

Perhaps he should bring along a lamp to keep the growling grues at bay..