Thursday, April 10, 2014

The House as a Grave and the Index as a Death Sentence

House of Leaves is a novel in which each anecdote, reference, and word choice is purposeful and significant. Tackling any thread presented in the novel is an undertaking in itself, and in this section of the reading, the references to the house as a grave were particularly prominent. Danielewski presents references to the idea of a grave through direct use of the word as well as in obscure referential ways. These bring up the idea of a person’s house being like their grave, but more specifically how the abnormalities of this house make it one. In multiple of the storylines through which the story is presented, this obsession is in a way, “digging the grave” for the person getting involved as paralleled by all of the grave uses and references, which lead to a discovery of significant discrepancies in the index. The explicit imagery to graves is brought to the reader’s attention to make relevant the obscurities in the index.
The thread of a grave is most explicitly pointed out on page 319. The text within The Navidson Record reads a quote from Sheriff Josiah who had been called in to handle the failed exploration, “It creeped me like I have never been creeped before, like I was standing in a gigantic grave” (Danielewski 319). The footnote at the end of his sentence references down to a footnote of Zampano’s:

Nor is this the first time the word “grave” appears in reference to the house in The Navidson Record. When Reston suggests Navidson use the Leica distance meter, he adds, “That should put the ghost in the grave fast.” Holloway in Exploration #3 mutters: “Cold as a grave.” Also in the same segment Wax grunts a variation, “I feel like I’m in a coffin.” In one of her Hi 8 journal entries, Karen tries to make light of her situation when she remarks: “It’s like having a giant catacomb for a family room.” Tom in Tom’s Story tells the “grave-maker” joke. while Reston, during the rescue attempt, admits to Navidson, “You know, I feel like I’m in a grave.” To which Navidson responds, “Makes you wonder what gets buried here.” “Well judging by the size,” Reston replies. “It must be the giant from Jack and the fucking Beanstalk.” Giant indeed.

The end of  Zampanos large footnote leads on to reference one from Johnny saying, “On several occasions, Zampano also uses the word ‘grave’” which then references a third footnote, “See Index -- Ed” (Danielewski 319). All four perceived levels of narration in this book have a comment on “grave” as a comparison for the house, and the blatant summary of all instances of its use emphasizes it as a significant reference.
When the last reference from the editor is followed to the index, the word “grave” is cataloged to appear on pages iv-v, vii, 319, 376, and 379. As far as I can tell, these page numbers don’t match up with a direct reference to a grave. Those appear on pages 14, 38, 134, 260, 299, 315, 327, and 367 to name a few thus far. Some of these pages even depict some of the references Zampano makes in his footnote of correct, direct quotes.
So why is the index misdirecting the reader in this way? While analysis of the similarities and references to a grave, or even variations of the word to extend to a “coffin” or “crypt” could be extensive and plentiful, the index also proves to be a challenge to interpret. Perhaps the most curious thing about this index is the entries that don’t have page references (correct or otherwise) next to them, but a “...DNE”, which can be interpreted to mean “does not exist”. However, these entries that supposedly don’t exist, aren’t always truthful. For example, the entry for the word “mast” is said to not exist, but appears on page 138 in a poem about a sea voyage, but it does not appear in the passage where Johnny talks about the sinking ship. Other words that the reader would be surprised actually do not exist are in the index as well. With the abundance of nautical references and stories, the word “float” actually does not appear in the text. This could be significant to contribute to the grave comparison thread, in a way that suggests there are few to no survivors from the sinking ships referenced.
The explicit footnotes about the grave lead the perceptive reader to inquire about the index, which is referenced here quite deliberately. If everything in this novel has a purpose, why does Danielewski want the reader to find the index now? At this point in the novel, the presence of the index allows the reader to be surprised at the actual inclusions and exclusions of particular words that are specifically pointed out as being present or absent in the index. The grave similarities somewhat mirror the reader’s experience trying to make sense of the index. All of the grave or coffin reference have this foreboding sense of inevitability, just as the reader’s sanity (like Zampano’s or Johnny’s) is on a death march with further investigation of these significant, yet maddening inconsistencies.

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


Jessica Craig said...

Your first paragraph has me intrigued. However, I wish you had included, in the very first paragraph, specific references to the text where the house is associated with a grave. I had to pull out my book and look around for specific examples. Adding these citations, I think would really strengthen your argument. Your final sentence: “The explicit imagery to graves is brought to the reader’s attention to make relevant the obscurities in the index” is a good thesis, however, I almost think your argument could go further and deeper. In other words, what I wanted to see more of was why the discrepancy between the index and the text mattered for the word “grave.” There are similar discrepancies for other words, why don’t those matter as much? Your last few sentences begin to explore this. Overall, I think you have a great foundation that just needs a little bit more explanation.

Adam said...

You do very well at pushing at the index - showing what it covers as well as what it doesn't cover, while being reasonable thorough with the relevant parts of the text.

Part of me wishes that you have been able to go a little further along toward an answer to your question(s). Now one issue with that is that there are at least two levels to your approach - you are concerned with the theme/idea of the grave, and you're also concerned with what I'll call the problem or the mystery of the index. Bringing the two together more conclusively in the conclusion would have been great.

What direction you could have gone in to push yourself further, I don't know. I think you're moving toward the recognition that the index itself operates as a kind of grave (where words are buried? Where thoughts are buried?). I also think that delving a little into the meaning(s) of "grave" (think of the phrase "his face was grave" in comparison to "he was in a grave") could have been useful.

So this was good and interesting, but not everything came together quite as well as it might have.