Thursday, April 10, 2014

Echoes


“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.

 

2 comments:

Kristen Welsh said...


I really like how the topic you chose is sort of a universal theme that is easily applicable to House of Leaves. I do believe that without this awareness of “echoes”, without the way the house echoes everything about humanity, a lot of meaning throughout the novel would be lost. You also made me really think about the concept of echoes for the first time, and how the house is symbolic of the dark void that surrounds the Navidson family – a very telling detail.

While your introduction provides an excellent and well-researched background on the concept of “echoes”, I feel like it’s a little long-winded. The paragraph takes up a decent portion of your essay, and I’m afraid that it may be too long for an essay of such a small scale like this one. You also do not even mention House of Leaves in your introduction, so that I am not even sure what the essay is going to be about until the second paragraph. If you were to revise, I would go back and cut out some of the definitions of echo and work on tying the concept into House of Leaves neatly. You don’t necessarily have to go in-depth with your description – that’s what the body of the essay is for – but explaining the goal of your essay seems like a worthy approach to take. On a side note, it seems like you are getting most of this information from outside sources, so I would include a small bibliography.

I’m not a big fan of the questions in your essay. It seems to me that you are asking more questions than you are answering, which is not the objective of the essay. I’m not sure you ever get to a clear thesis. You spend most of the essay asking the reader questions, and only truly get into your analysis in the last paragraph, which is indeed a lengthy paragraph, but half of it is a quotation from Danielewski, which also happens to be the only quotation from House of Leaves. I think it would be in your best interest while revising if you were to split up his quotations throughout the essay and analyze them deeply while forming a clear thesis statement. It might also be in your best interest to add a conclusion paragraph.

Good job, though!

Adam said...

Your first paragraph is a nice echo and distillation of Danielewski - a compact attempt to present the resonant importance of the concept of the echo. I like it - it has a kind of literary merit of its own - but at the same time it isn't notably *focused* itself. That's going to be your challenge - I think we both agree on that.

You ask some great questions in the 2nd paragraph. I won't attempt to improve upon them - but I will add that for the project I want to see answers (no matter how partial) - unless your equivalent of an answer is to move on to another whole level of questioning.

I want to answer the 2nd paragraph by saying that the epistemological reverberation you reference in the 1st paragraph is key. But then, that's something that I *would* say - maybe that says more about me than about the novel, ultimately.

In the final paragraph you are moving toward doing something I've never really tried to do: address the centrality of history through the idea of the echo. That's a great concept. But what you've done over these few paragraphs is simply explain a concept or an approach. This is the idea: for the project you need to actually *do* it through a close reading of the relevant parts of the text. There's an A+ concept here if you can execute it - that is, if you can convincingly explain how we need to understand HOL through an "echoing" understanding of history.