“It is impossible to appreciate the importance of space in The Navidson Record without taking into account the significance of echoes.”
An echo, in the most simplistic terms, is a repetition. The scientific definition of an echo is the reflection of an emission by a reflecting medium. “Physics makes Echo the subject of distance and design.” In medicine, an “echo” is an abbreviation for an echocardiogram, a test that allows medical practitioners to assess the health of your heart. The mythological definition of Echo is a “beautiful mountain nymph” who “made the mistake of helping Zeus succeed in one of his sexual conquests” and, as a result, was punished by Hera with the inability to speak anything except what was last said to her. “Myth makes Echo the subject of longing and desire.” There is the proposed “epistemological” definition of echo; an echo is the “reverberation of knowledge.” Everyday experience has taught us that an echo occurs when you stand in a closed space and, as you speak, your sound waves bounce off surrounding objects and come back to you moments later in a slightly distorted way. As kids, we are slightly frightened or, at the very least, extremely intrigued by the sound of an echo. An echo is a form of communication, of form of vision, a form of movement. An echo is both an indication of emptiness, but it is also a reminder of finite desolation and solitude. An echo is a distortion and a manipulation. An echo is comfort. It is “uncanny.” Echo is the product of both “emotion and reason.” In summary, an echo is a source of great irony.
The randomness of House of Leaves-- the multiple story lines, the artifacts, the stories, the drawings-- is explained by and held together by echoes. The “Five and a half minute hallway,” the “anteroom,” the “great hall,” the spiral staircase, the darkness that looms in the architecture of the Navidson’s house echoes the darkness that looms in the Navidson family. The narration and disarray of Johnny Truant’s life echoes the mystery of Zampano and the events of Karen Navidson’s life. It is easy to see what echoes what and who echoes whom in the novel. It is much harder, however, to determine the source of the echo. Echoes, by any definition require an original source (of sound or knowledge or ideas or thought or light). Who or what is the original source in House of Leaves? Is the author of The Navidson Record the original? If we assume the Navidson tapes are real, are the tapes the original source, or are the images captured on tape the original? Because Zampano is dead in the novel, and therefore is incapable of making sound, is Johnny Truant the original? Is imagination the original?
Echoes also require the perception of the reflected “emission.” Who perceives whom and what perceives what in the novel? Is Johnny Truant’s interpretation of Zampano’s scraps perception? How does the reader factor in to the survival and perception of an echo? (In other words, is the book the source of an echo that the reader perceives?)
Luckily, the first words of the novel meet the reader with an answer. Danielewski’s fictional (?) blurb on the dust jacket reads, “Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth –musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies—the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.” The original source of sound, light, knowledge, inspiration of House of Leaves is humanity. History echoes humanity. Later generations of humanity perceive history. History is captured in “bundled heaps of paper,” art, literature, technology. While “it is impossible to appreciate the importance of space in The Navidson Record without taking into account the significance of echoes,” it is impossible to appreciate the significance of the theme in House of Leaves without taking into account the significance of echoes. It is impossible to appreciate the importance of literature and technology without taking into account the significance of echoes.