Thursday, April 10, 2014

Discussion of Media and Truth in House of Leaves

On walking into Barnes and Noble, an experience becoming less and less common, House of Leaves might be found in the Fiction section. In the broadest sense, House of Leaves is a novel. However, continuing House of Leaves reveals that even calling it a novel might not be accurate. The conventions of the medium break away. As the words scramble across the pages, Danielewski is deconstructing the medium of the novel. Throughout House of Leaves, the ideas of what constitute film, photography, and literature are all explored in an attempt to find a medium capable of conveying truth to the viewer.

Will Navidson is a professional photographer. Throughout the novel, Zampanò and sources that he cites attribute this career choice to the nature of Navidson’s childhood. His distant parents are often brought up as a source of turmoil in Will’s childhood, forcing him to adopt a worldview that sees everything as fleeting and temporary. These sources claim that through photography, Navidson is trying to make inherently temporal moments permanent (Danielewski 22). This method of capturing and preserving a moment represents a concreteness of fact that few things in this novel offer. The photography and the permanence that it offers is Navidson’s counter to the unknowable, inconsistent house.
Film is also an important medium to House of Leaves. Specifically, the ability for film to capture emotions. Zampanò’s description of the Navidson Record often describes the editing techniques of the film that provide emotional resonance. In the beginning of Exploration #4, Navidson focuses on Reston in the living room instead of Holloway in the labyrinth, which “gives our varied imaginations a chance to fill in the adjacent darkness with questions and demons. It also further increases our identification with Navidson, who like us, wants nothing more than to penetrate first hand the mystery of that place” (Danielewski 98). This deliberate editing style is trying to make the audience relate to Navidson, and empathetically feel the impatience and curiosity that he feels outside the door to the labyrinth. This use of film to document the house is, like the photography, capture some element of the house that is otherwise intangible. In this case, the haunting, mysterious hold that this house has on its inhabitants.

This tactic, however, proves somewhat ineffective at actually explaining the house. On page 64 Navidson’s first exploration into the darkness is recounted. His aesthetic framing is commended, but the darkness of the place is still overwhelming. His footage provides no answers, only more questions about the nature of the hallway. Here the limits of film and photography are starting to show. They can only provide so much truth, up to a point they start becoming unbelievable. Zampanò finds a quote claiming “Navidson has still relied on F/X. Don’t fool yourself into thinking any of this stuff’s true. Grit’s just grit, and the room stretching is all care of Industrial Light & Magic” (Danielewski 146). Photography is also targeted, as its diminishing accountability is shown on page 141, with the hypothesis,
“In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated. Even if news photographers and editors resist the temptations of electronic manipulation, as they are likely to do, the credibility of all reproduced images will be diminished by a climate of reduced expectations. In short, photographs will not seem as real as they once did.”
This quote makes a bold declaration, predicting the decline of the honesty of photography.
The reliability of these media to provide a true account of events is called into question by Danielewski.

While the narrative of House of Leaves is focused on a photographer’s film, the accounts written by a blind man are equally worthy of discussion. The structure of House of Leaves shows that the Danielewski, like Zampanò, is focusing on the deconstruction of a medium; in this case the novel. As the words on the page are stretched and scattered, mirrored, crossed out, colored and burnt, House of Leaves is trying to communicate more than most novels are capable of by moving outside of the realm of the novel. By accompanying Zampanò’s text with a transcription of the last reader, Johnny, and the notes that his editors felt compelled to leave, House of Leaves shows its self awareness. It understands itself as a novel, and tries to convey depth and truth through its aesthetic stylistic choices as well as its word choice. Danielewski is, in some ways, showing that the visual media of film and photography are still as capable as skewing truth as novels, while the novel itself is attempting to use aesthetics to create meaning.

Works Cited

Danielewski, Mark Z., and Zampanò. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

2 comments:

Adam said...

An introductory note (we may yet get a chance to talk about this): Danielewksi's deconstruction of the novel parallels Cervantes deconstruction of the novel in Don Quixote, which is the first modern novel. My point is that self-analysis and self-deconstruction is far from unheard of in the medium. That doesn't make you wrong, but that does give your introduction some context.

What does the material of the second paragraph (Navidson's relationship with time through photography) have to do with the introduction?

"This use of film to document the house is, like the photography, capture some element of the house that is otherwise intangible. In this case, the haunting, mysterious hold that this house has on its inhabitants." - This is true. But it's also true that we receive only a written representation of the film - so is this a novel which is about film & photography, or is it a novel which uses film and photography as tools to think about prose?

Toward the end, you point out that "The reliability of these media to provide a true account of events is called into question by Danielewski." But this is literally where the novel *begins* back on page 3 - with the problem of unreliable media. So what is the relationship between the very early discussion of the problem and the discussion of it in the passages which you focus upon?

"Danielewski is, in some ways, showing that the visual media of film and photography are still as capable as skewing truth as novels, while the novel itself is attempting to use aesthetics to create meaning." -- this is too easy. I mean, it seems correct, but it doesn't actually say anything that we don't already know back on page 3, or possibly even in the introduction.

What's lacking here, ironically, is a sense of how Danieleski's vision develops. I say that's ironic, because the passages which interest you are concerned with Navidson's struggle to create some sort of stability or permanence. Why, in other words, do we need both this material and the similar material back (for instance) on page three? What have we learned in between? How is this a changing or developing vision?

Maggie Stankaitis said...

Jake,
You took an interesting angle to your essay this week. I appreciate that you are trying to unravel truth through the artistic side of things. I, too, am curious about truth in this novel (my blog post was about that) and you definitely touched on it in a way I didn’t— through understanding the photography and videography. I think you lose track of your thesis a little bit in the middle of your essay in the fourth paragraph, but I think this happened just because it’s a supporting face of your second paragraph. I think this blog post would benefit more from being longer in a revision, but obviously that wasn’t the assignment, so that being said I think you did a great job of analyzing a little bit of why House of Leaves incorporates film and photography. In a revision I would like to know more about your reservations about Zampano and his truthfulness in his writing, and viewing of the film (since we know that he is blind and wrote about viewing a film…) Just being nit-picky, and this was our last blog post anyway, make sure you check for grammar and spelling. But overall it is a good and very interesting essay.