Friday, April 11, 2014

Comments and Questions on Danielewski, Week 4

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. Note 1: If you have a draft you want me to read, send it to me any time! Note 2: If you have a draft that you want me to workshop in class next week, send it to me!


Jessica Craig said...
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Jessica Craig said...

As we have discussed before, there are many parallels between characters of different narrative layers. It is interesting that there is really only one family in the entire novel- the Navidson family. All the other characters seem to exist as single, disconnected (or loosely connected) units--Lude, Thumper, Johnny. What does this novel say about masculinity, femininity, and family dynamics? I am curious about the relationship or similarities between the two prominent female characters of the novel (Thumper and Karen). While they seemingly inhabit polar opposites roles, I see their characters overlapping in areas such as sexual promiscuity. Other character traits seem misplaced in the other. For example, Thumper seems to possess more caring, mother-like qualities than Karen does. I wonder why that is and generally what the relationship between these two reveals about the novel. On a somewhat unrelated note, the ending, as in the exhibit and the whalestoe letters, of House of Leaves was very disappointing to me. Throughout the novel, I considered the Navidson story the primary narrative; the Zampano and Truant stories were only secondary. The ending however, suggests that Truant was a more predominant character than I thought of him. Are the letters from Johnny’s mother necessary and relevant to the rest of the novel? What purpose do they serve? I often felt tempted to skip over the letters because, while they did offer some backstory about Johnny, I felt like I either already assumed these things about Johnny or the letters didn’t ask the questions I needed answers to. I wonder if this is why we weren’t assigned to read these pages.

Becca Garges said...

I'm confused by Johnny's use of "f" instead of "s" on pages 410-413. He starts off by saying, "This sporadic 'f' for 's' stuff mystifies me…" and then proceeds to switch out the "s's" for "f's" in the rest of his writing on these few pages. It makes me imagine him speaking with a fat lip or knocked out tooth or something. Also, Lude's dialogue switches the "s's" and "f's" as well. Both Johnny and Lude are pretty messed up physically at this time, but I still don't understand why the switch. Footnote 399's explanation doesn't really help either.

I can't decide if I love or hate this book. At some points I couldn't put it down, but at others it was really hard to read. I only read to page 528, so I feel satisfied with the ending in terms of Navidson. However, I don't really get where Johnny ended up. Maybe you have to actually read to the end to find out.

Kristen Welsh said...

I think that my favorite part in this last section of the novel was Navidson's love letter to Karen. I don't know if its cause I'm a sucker for a good love story or if its the way it was written, but probably both. I think the state of mind he wrote it in really captured his true feelings. He is about to go back into the house and is not sure if he is going to be coming out alive - or coming out at all. He is very reasonably worried, and when he has his last chance to say what he has to say, he continuously tells Karen that he loves her and misses her. But he also mentions the little girl named Delial that he photographed as she was the vulture's prey and his guilt that goes along with that incident. Why do you think it is that he speaks of Delial in what could arguably be called his suicide letter? Why does he bring her up to Karen, specifically? Do you think his guilt over Delial is in anyway a manifestation of his guilt of not being there for his own children? And what do you think of his chopped up and disarrayed writing style? Do you think its an accurate depiction of his state of mind? Does it represent anything else? Does it make sense to you? Is it supposed to make sense to you?

Maggie Stankaitis said...

I thought it was really interesting that page 423 was really the only time in the novel that we are blatantly exposed to Zampano’s blindness. Besides a sentence or two in the very beginning, we are never provided with any brail. The footnote on this page is interesting regarding the walls— “They are without texture. Even to the keenest eye or most sentient fingertip, they remain unreadable. You will never find a mark there. No trace survives.” Although we know that Zampano was blind, what does this page provide in context to the story?

This week I was also disappointed with the end of the book. Until this week of reading I was intrigued by the story, and wanted it to wrap up nicely and answering my unanswered questions. Instead I found myself with more questions— and these questions were irrelevant to my questions I had before.

Why were we assigned to stop at 528? There is so much left afterward, i.e. the appendixes that I feel must be a huge part of the novel, since they take up so much of the book. I continued to read and I am so confused, but also extremely interested in knowing the purpose of introducing and incorporating Truant’s mother at the end in The Whalestoe Letters.
The relationship between Truant and his mother seems very obscure. Sometimes too loving to the point where I wonder if he was ever sexually abused/ or they had an incestuous relationship or if she just really cared about him as his loving mother. Most of them made little to no sense to me, making me question their relationship, the purpose of the letters, placement of her introduction etc.

Does his mother have a larger presence in the book than we ever expected?

Courtney Elvin said...

As a reader in the last section of this book, I kept finding myself connecting little threads, images, or themes (as so many have accumulated at this point), and one that particularly stood out to me went along with the theme of music as seen throughout the book. Page 479 is where the line of music notes runs vertically on the page. This page, like many of the other oddities of this book, resonated with me long after I passed it. I then spent longer than I’m proud of trying to find a piano simulator online and figure out what the tune was since I know how to read music. After that didn’t help much, I read on a forum that the tune (when recreated at the correct rhythm) that the tune is mostly written the same as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” ( This part of the book comes when Navidson is falling infinitely. What is the significance of this tune specifically at this part? How is this connected to Johnny’s narrative? Because the direct parallel to the name I’m sure isn’t a coincidence.
Another thought I had, which may be off base, thinking about the music notes and the lines on the preceding page (478), could the empty footnotes (pages 118, 327, and 507) be blank staff lines for music considering every one has the correct number of lines to be one? Could this indicate silence or absence somehow if they are staffs with no notes? Why include them where they are in the story then? Alternatively, are they there for the reader to fill in with words? I interpret them to have something to do with absence, but wonder more specifically their purpose.

Tom Kappil said...

The author’s reliance on concrete prose layout has become hackneyed at this point. Earlier, it was used to great effect in demonstrating the discombobulating nature of the labyrinth, but by the end, especially with Navidson’s last excursion, the layout’s effect was less unique and poignant, and just a waste of paper. It distracted from the real tension the author was able to implement with the text itself. Did the author intentionally mean to downplay the effectiveness of the text formatting, or was it more like the author felt like he had to continue the strange formatting with the earlier text?

Another aspect that bothered me about this week’s reading was the sudden appearance of Zampano-Truant manuscript on the internet. At this point of Truant’s story, he was extremely poor, and essentially wandering around the country, and nowhere did it he ever mention the use of a computer to preserve Zampano’s work. The manuscript’s leap from Johnny’s obsession to an internet sensation was jarring, and seemed unfounded. Was the author trying to highlight how Truant can be an unreliable narrator? For a book as detail-oriented as House of Leaves, I can’t see such a large plot-hole being chalked up to chance.

Finally the “death” of the maze was extremely anticlimactic. While I bemoaned the gradual weakening of the maze’s mystique through the “house swallows Tom” incident, the ending where Karen’s love for Navidson overcame the power of the maze, and stopped or mitigated most of the side-effects associated with maze interactions, seemed too simple. The maze was effectively broken in a storybook ending that wouldn’t have been out of place in Disney movie. The ending was simply too bright, and the defeat of the maze too stereotypical to be truly effective. In fact, it felt completely out of tone with the rest of the novel. At this point, I wonder more and more if Danielewski just became too fatigued with the book to continue with his particular style, and just wrote a happy ending to be done with the book.

Jessica Merrill said...

On page 395, a footnote leads us to Appendix F, "Poems". The quote that the footnote is a part of, "Plenty of rootbeer and summer love to go around", only serves as a starting point to the poems. The only similarity to the poems and the quote are that the first poem mentions the same phrase. It seems that both these quotes exist only to make the connection from one to the other, to bring the reader to these poems.

The first poem begins nicely, but turns dark quickly. Many of the poems, including this first one, relate to The Navidson Record and the meanings of the house, and the others have to do with love. Natasha, a possible love interest of Zampano, is mentioned. This makes me want to connect the house to love. Possibly empty, unreciprocated love? I haven't looked deeply into this idea, but it could use some more thought, especially with Johnny's reoccurring relationships also devoid of love.

The poem on page 564 is written completely in french, with no translation available. I'm curious about its translation, has anyone from a previous class (or someone from this class) translated it before?

Lastly, I wanted to mention my favorite poem. One that I would possibly like to attribute the title to the book to. It's short enough that I'll type it out here, but it lies on page 163.

"Little solace comes
to those who grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind."

I feel there's a lot of themes in "House of Leaves" that are present in these poems. I'm assuming they were written by Zampano, so they can give us a clearer look at the meaning he assigns to The Navidson Record.

Kyle McManigle said...

I am still not sure what I think of the book overall. Some things about the ending made sense to me, while at the same times, it doesn't. First, I thought it was too obvious that Navy would survive, and I didn't know if I liked that. I had minor doubt once Karen entered in after him, but all of his accounts from being inside on Exploration 5 were still a part of the final production, so he had to have gotten out of there to have those tapes from it, but I didn't expect Karen to be the reason for his survival. I didn't know if it was anti-climatic compared to the novel development itself. The complete resolution shown by the dissolution of the house, and the marriage, was something I didn't understand, but made sense of it that the house was the confines of Karen and Navy's relationship as a whole. The final resolution is them coming together, though other things had to change for them to be close, including the loss of Tom so Navy himself could assume that role. I liked how there was a strong parallel between the emphasis on Johnny dying while Navy was also dying. I was really engaged in both of these, but I didn't know what to think of Johnny's "resolution". One thing I thought was curious was on page 490, Yale was the producing company at the end of Navy's tape. Why not Princeton? Isn't that where all the sample analysis went through, and with Reston and Navy's connections? The parallel and discussion of Johnny with his mother was really disturbing to me, also, in different ways. I wasn't sure what to think of Johnny, but everything wasn't good obviously. Did I miss something? What was Johnny's resolution or was he not deemed good enough to give one? Navy had the house as his end, but I didn't see an end on his side. Also, why didn't he tell the band in the random bar that he was Johnny when they had the book? And this couldn't have been the same House of Leaves that Navy had with him in his Exploration 5, right?

Jake Stambaugh said...

Something that I found interesting was the idea of a middle to the maze, and what that would represent to the Minotaur. In Johnny's dream where he is being chase through a ship by the frat boy he is most closely resembling Chiclitz's repressed minotaur. However, in Exploration #5 Navidson finally makes it to something of a center to the maze, or the end of it. This space is an infinite void of darkness in which he is either perfectly still or constantly falling, either way he is totally consumed by the house. As his last action before going into the maze was leaving a letter to Karen in which he verbalizes many of the emotions that he has been repressing, this journey and eventual emergence from the center of the house may show some kind of un-repression or acceptance. While Johnny is an obvious parallel to the minotaur, I think Navidson shows a possible release of repression, showing a outcome to the story where the minotaur does not get slaughtered by Theseus the frat boy.

Brendan Demich said...

An especially interesting footnote that I found was footnote 380 on page 398. The footnote is dissecting aspects of Navidson's dream about the afterlife. The footnote includes many technical references about dreams, sleep and water. At the end of the footnote, a web URL is provided. Here is the URL:

It appears to be the website of a research facility in Japan that uses a Cherenkov detector to detect neutrinos. The exact paper appears to be about "ultra-pure water." I couldn't find the exact paper, but there are a number of technical papers on the website. I doubt that there is any hidden message in the paper, but the footnote was still immensely interesting to me. This was the first time I noticed any reference to a webpage. Which made me think, "I don't remember Johnny saying anything about Zampano having a personal computer." Reasonably, it could be assumed that one of Zampano's ghost writers could have looked it up and included it. Because this is the only time I have noticed any reference to the web's existence from Zampano, it may be his suppression and rejection of digitization.

Another thought I had because of the footnote was how technical some of this reading was. Why so in depth about the radiometric dating methods and this link to a technical paper about neutrinos? In some ways, Zampano (or Danielewski) is coming across as a "Know-it-all." But I'm sure there is a more logical reason there has been such technical depth in diverse subject matter, but it is beyond me.