For my final project, I plan to write an essay that examines the importance of echoes in understanding and explaining Danielewski’s House of Leaves. In the novel, there are many levels of echoes. I take echoes to mean repetition, redundancy, and reflectivity. Echoes are unique because, while they reflect what you say, they alter what you say. Echoes are not real but they require real perception. Echoes also require space but not infinitely empty space. Somewhere, you need an object that your sound waves bounce of and return back to you. But these sound waves originate from you. Moving away from literal echoes, there are visual, intellectual, and historical echoes in the novel.
‘… an echo of humanity suggests the profoundest return of all. Aside from recurrence, revision, and commensurate symbolic reference, echoes also reveal emptiness. Since objects always muffle or impede acoustic reflection, only empty places can create echoes of lasting clarity. Ironically, hollowness only increases the eerie quality of otherness inherent in any echo. Delay and fragmented repetition create a sense of another inhabiting a necessarily deserted place. Strange then how something so uncanny and outside of the self, even ghostly as some have suggested, can at the same time also contain resilient comfort: the assurance that even if it is imaginary and at best the product of a wall, there is still something else out there, something to stake out in the face of nothingness…In the case of a verbal echo, the spoken word acts as the pebble and the subsequent repetition serves as “the plunk.” In this way, speaking can result in a form of “seeing.”
Echoes are inherently inexact repetition or replication. We see this in the novel—echoes as a form of manipulation and distortion (linguistic echoes). An explicit example of this is in the footnotes on page 44. “Narcissus: May I die before I give you power over me. Echo: I give you power over me.” Echoes manipulate meaning; we see this happen a lot in Zampano’s narrative. As we discussed in class, the quotes he uses at the opening of chapters and throughout the text are taken out of context and are understood in a completely different way in this book than in the original context. Echoes also require a time gap or distance. “In other words, to hear an echo, regardless of whether eyes are open or closed, is to have already “seen” a sizable space…Myth makes echo the subject of longing and desire. Physics makes Echo the subject of distance and design. Where emotion and reason are concerned both claims are accurate.” You don’t immediately hear an echo. This is what I am terming a historical echo, or to use a cliché “history repeats itself.” In the novel, Truant’s narrative echoes Zampano’s, Zamano’s narrative echoes the Navidson’s story. Thus the three narratives are intertwined by echoes. I would argue that this is the relationship between literature and reality and narrative and reality. Narrative and technology are both echoes of real-life. In literature the author is the original source of intellect, thought, ideas. The author sends out “waves” into space and, later, whether it be months later or centuries later, the reader is on the receiving end. The reader can never interpret exactly what the author intended, or time, society, history has morphed the meaning of certain words or ideas. Ideas, language, intellect traveling through time and space are always changing, being manipulated…like a game of telephone. The perception of an echoed sound parallels the perception of literature and technology. Here I would like to discuss Marcuse. The use, and perhaps the rationale, of technology in human life depend on an echo. Technology, as Marcuse explains, is both the foundation of freedom and the foundation of control, domination, and power. In a sense we use technology for the supposed freedom it allots us, but technology returns oppression. Next, I will apply the ideas of echoes to the other novels we have read. I will focus on Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (and possibly Frankenstein, depending on length). For example, in Jimmy Corrigan I will analyze the echoes in the successive generations of the Corrigan men.
The two academic sources I have used so far, and I am sure I will need a few more, are a physics textbook about echoes, sound waves, and reverberations (I will include an explanation of how echoes work in addition to my essay) and an academic article
This article discusses the perception of historical, linguistic, visual patterns in the novel. The uncanny in House of Leaves revolves around spatial invasion and intellectual uncertainty. The following is a passage from the article:
“So there is a relation of “the uncanny to the spatial and environmental, that of ‘orientation’, ‘knowing one’s way out about.’ In this light it is obvious that no compass can work in the house…the impossibility of orientating oneself thus increases the uncanny feeling already present…He characterizes the uncanny as everything that should have remained secret and concealed, and nonetheless has come to light….the uncanny is not something new and unknown, but something old and familiar, something that suddenly returns, completely unexpectedly— ‘in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression.”