Danielewski’s work House of Leaves is as much a work of art and entertainment as it is a novel. The way in which the pages are laid out brings the story out of the book and into the reader’s mind as an engaging piece. In this paper I argue that Danielewski created House of Leaves in such a way that it would be able to compete with the changing world of entertainment by incorporating their particular strengths within the book. As technology was advancing film became a greater form of entertainment than books. To counter this Danielewski includes many of the distinctive parts of a film, other than the pictorial representation, that make it stand out from a book. Instead of stopping at film in general, he also appears to focus on the forms of entertainment in general that was present in the 1990’s. By mixing up the narratives between Johnny, Zampano, and Navidson, he is attempting to represent a world full of distractions. Much like an individual can become distracted by a television during their day to day activities; Danielewski distracts the reader from a narrative by jumping to another narrator. The sexually entertaining content of some of Johnny’s narration is also reflexive of the massive expansion of the porn industry that occurred in the 1990’s.
First, let’s examine the layout of House of Leaves and how it incorporates some aspects of film into the book itself. From pages 275 to 295 during the rescue scene on the staircase we can really see these ideas coming forth. By only having a paragraph or less per page, the reader is forced to turn the page to read what happens next. Danielewski is clearly trying to portray suspenseful scenes in film with these 20 or more pages. Typically in movies the suspenseful scenes are filled with short pauses between each event that are either completely quiet or have dramatic music in them. Forcing the reader to turn a page to read a paragraph at a time is a realistic way to achieve the same entertaining response from the reader that a movie viewer experiences. When the staircase scene becomes strange Danielewski follows up by representing the text in strange ways as well. In a film the strangeness would be easily observe and the viewer can develop a response to it readily. Through a reading that same response becomes difficult to represent. By shifting the words upside-down and diagonal Danielewski is able to entertain the reader and force the same visual response of strangeness a viewer experiences during a movie.
Now let’s examine the layout of the narration in House of Leaves. I believe Danielewski is attempting to mimic entertainment in society in the 1990’s through his levels of narration. Furthermore, I think his main goal is to represent all the distractions people experience in everyday life. Our lives are anything but a linear story being told like a typical book. There are constant shifts in our focus between work, television, random thoughts, computers, and a vast number of things. Although much more prominent in today’s culture than the 1990’s when House of Leaves was being published, the same idea of distractions persists. To make the novel express this aspect of society Danielewski shifts narratives at seemingly random points in the story. In order to create a more entertaining book he was attempting to go against typical storytelling and write in a way that was capable of representing society as it was in the 1990’s.
Finally, let us examine the sexual expressions present in Johnny’s narrative and how it relates to the entertainment of the time. According to Eric Schlosser’s contribution to a collaboration source on the porn industry, “From 1991-1997, the number of new hard-core [pornographic] titles released each year increased by 500%” (Covenant Eyes 2). Other information from this source including the estimate the industry profited 8 to 11-billion dollars in 1997 can lead to a safe conclusion that the porn industry was expanding drastically in the 1990’s. Since the form of entertainment was so successful during the time House of Leave was being published it only made sense to include it in some form within the novel. Danielewski uses Johnny’s narration to successfully incorporate pornographic entertainment into the story. On pages 262 and 263 we have “Lude’s List”, a list of sexual encounters he had had with a short, explicit description of the events that occurred. Previously on pages 108 and 109 we read of Johnny’s arguably hardcore sexual encounter which is also described in explicit detail. By adding these scenes it appears Danielewski is almost acknowledging the success of the porn industry and uses it as a form of entertainment in House of Leaves.
In attempt to compete with the different forms of entertainment in the 1990’s Danielewski incorporates some of their aspects within House of Leaves. By altering the layout of the pages and text, representing distractions in society, and adding pornographic material to book he was agreeing with their successes. Rather than disagreeing with these forms, he includes their aspect within his novel to show that books can evolve and be as entertaining and engaging as the new forms developing in society.
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000.
Covenant Eyes. Pornographcy Statistics. Online. Accessed April 10, 2014. Available: http://www.discernement.com/fichs/10141.pdf