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November 4 - House of Leaves, Day 2

Page history last edited by Jillian 14 years, 5 months ago


House of Leaves Day 2



     In class today we discussed the many layers that lie within the text, and how they all work together to create a world where the audience can decide if it is truly fictional or reality based.  However, we arrived at the conclusion that whether the book is telling the truth does not matter.  What matters, rather, is that the book exists.  Danielewski chooses to construct his narrative as a book to constantly remind the reader of the medium of in which they are engaged.  The novel is polyphonic (as coined by Bahktin) or "of many voices,"  He uses footnotes, various appendixes, and a variety of narrators to disrupt the readers' experience of the novel to achieve this lack of transparency.  However, because it is true that two narratives are happening at once, it is sometimes hard to understand the novel's chronology. The timeline below is a rough sketch of the first events of the novel:



We went on to discuss the unreliability of the narrators, especially Johnny Truant and his mother--both of which suffer mental instability.  Johnny is not only mentally unreliable, but he openly admits to lying to people he meets and to editing some of Zampano's writing.


Who is Johnny Truant?


Johnny Truant is a tattoo assistant who makes points and cleans. It is clear in the text that he wants to be an artist, but his boss does not give him that privilege. He has a family history of mental illness (his mother). His father died in a car accident, while his mother committed suicide by hanging herself.


He was raised by foster families during his childhood, but it seems that the Raymond family was abusive to him. Currently, he is friends with Lude (who is extremely lewd), and is obsessed with Thumper, a stripper. He is also frequently under the influence of drugs and occasionally experiences intense psychotic episodes related to traumatic childhood experiences.



Who is Zampanò?


Zampano lived mostly alone and sealed himself away from the outside world. He frequently met with female college students, and they were primarily responsible for writing his script. He liked cats (or at least, he lived with a lot of them), and was a graphomaniac.


He was found dead on the floor with strange scratches around him. There was also a mutilated cat on the staircase.



Complex Layering

The novel is structured into multiple “layers,” so to speak. Each of these layers receives a part of the story from the layer in front of it, and the layers stack all the way to the "true story" in the center.




1. Life: the actual happenings in the world of the novel; the whole truth.

2. Filmed events: what Navidson's cameras capture, limits because you don't see some things (i.e. the door appearing or the events inside the hallway after the children wander in there).

3. The Navidson Record: the edited version of the former, limits what you see, and organizes it in order to make the ideas more effective.

4.  Academics and literature: the analysis of stories, real or imagined, that Zampano cites.

5. Zampano writes the Navidson Record: Zampano's personal analysis and description, colored by his ideas, opinions, and emotions.

6. Johnny Truant: his footnotes, anecdotes, as well as his own personal edits to the text (i.e. the "hot water heater footnote,” p.25-28)

7. The Editors: arrange and catalog the novel, include their own appendices as well as their own footnotes.

8. Mark Z. Danielewski: wrote House of Leaves.

9. The Reader (Us): our own experiences with the book are colored by our emotions (i.e. getting creeped out by what might be lurking in the shadows around you as you read it.)


Connections of layers

        (page 614) This letter in particular is certainly related to the Navidson Record, and there is no reason to believe that Johnny's mother ever knew of the film.  Many of the letters coincide with the film and Zampano's book, but with sentences like: "Every night when I must sleep they scheme." and "I have made congeal the artifacts of this world and so behold now its mutations in simple entirety."  The same language, which speaks about the hallway's almost overnight appearance, continues in the following paragraph: "To keep me, perhaps others here, detained so they can unlock us and then empty us."

     (page 615)  The connections continue in the same letter as Johnny's mother writes about "robbing" which Will and Kate think has happened to their home upon their return after a brief trip.  She also speaks of "endliess arrangements" much like the hallway, and "perscriptions" which pertain to both her and Kate's mental disabilities.



House of Leaves causes its readers to question authenticity through the layering of the plots and the unreliability of the narrators.  Authenticity is also present in the novel as Will Navidson attempts to prove that the infinite hallway in his living room really exists.  In Navidson's initial footage, the hallway is perceived to be real because it is filmed in one continuous shot.  Cuts cause the viewer to wonder what has been left out.  Additionally, the cameras positioned in every room of Navidson's house add to the authenticity.   People are suspicious of digital photography because of photoshop.  However, analog film can also be manipulated.  The simple act of posing a subject to be photographed takes away the "realness" or "authenticity" of the image.  How can we know what is authentic with a mediated experience?  If an experience is put through even one level of mediation, its authenticity is called into question, even more so with remediation. 




"Easily that whole bit from 'coffee arcing tragically' down to 'the mourning paper' could have been cut. You wouldn't of noticed the absence. I probably wouldn't of either. But that doesn't change the fact that I can't do it. Get rid of it, I mean. What's gained in economy doesn't really seem to make up for what you lose of Zampano, the old man himself, coming a little more into focus, especially where digressions like these are concerned." (p. 31)


In this passage it becomes clear that Johnny wants to give us a faithful narrative; he wants to stay true to what was written by Zampano. We thus encounter one of the main questions of the novel: How do we know how much of the film was written by Zampano and how much of it was written by others? We begin to question the authenticity of the Navidson Record because we know that multiple people were responsible for writing the story down.


"Add to this my own mistakes (and there's no doubt I'm responsible for plenty) as well as those errors Zampano made which I failed to notice or correct, and you'll see why there's suddenly a whole lot here not to take too seriously." (p. xx)


However, Johnny tells us on page xx that we are not supposed to take him too seriously. This makes the reader question the authenticity of Johnny as well as his mental sanity. We are thus informed that the narrator we are listening to is unreliable. We even see a citation from an article called "Crap" on page 34, which obviously is not a real journal.


"As for the books cited in the footnotes, a good portion of them are fictitious. For instance, Gavin Young's Shots In the Dark doesn't exist nor does The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXVIII." (p. xx)


Although Johnny claims that the works of Hubert Howe do not exist, it is shown in the appendix on page 658 that it does, indeed, exist. We can therefore see that he is incredibly unreliable and that his word is not the absolute truth.


"The Navidson Record did not first appear as it does today. Nearly seven years ago what surfaced was 'The Five and a Half Minute Hallway' -- a five and a half minute optical illusion barely exceeding the abilities of any NYU film school graduate. The problem, of course, was the accompanying statement that claimed all of it was true."


This is a case where what we see is convincing because of the fact that it is a continuous shot. Other cases where this has been seen before include the Russian Ark (a 90 minute continuous shot, which is extremely impressive), and Rope (where they only cut the movie when they ran out of film). We thus left the class with the question: What does it (the continuity of the piece) mean for the experience of reading a book?


Key Terms

·        Manipulation

·        Mediated Experience

·        Polyphonic -Having many different voices, House of Leaves could be said to be polyphonic, since there are so many different story tellers.

·        ekphrasis- when a work of art is described in writing.  (see: The Navidson Record, Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn)

·        Authenticity- Hard to judge in light of the fact that both digital and analog images can both be manipulated. Digital images can be modified through manipulation of pixels and the combination of images (e.g. Photoshop), and analog images can be changed through exposure as well as the posing of objects in the image.

·        Configuration

·        Interpretation



 www.Houseofleaves.com/forum/ - The book has it's own website and forum...truly it posses the power that Truant describes in his various passages.

You'll even notice that they obey the color coding system here, as well, which I find really neat.

 www.youtube.com/watch - A trailer for House of Leaves the movie....produced by Johnny Truant and directed by Will Navidson.

http://markzdanielewski.info/holgen.html  - A page dedicated to the "secrets" of the text, including comparisons of the text published in different languages. Not only have we found differences between editions in the English language, but apparently the same idea was applied to each published version of the book in other languages.

www.zampanofilms.com/ - Zampano films. Is it related to the Zampano in the book? It claims not to be, but this was too ironic to overlook.









Comments (5)

Hong Tran said

at 10:58 pm on Nov 5, 2008

Sorry I didn't get to this until so late--just got back from a long day at around 9. These past two days have been crazy. I'll make another edit later, but if anyone wants to go ahead and take a stab at it be my guest.

jtopping@... said

at 12:19 am on Nov 6, 2008

Hong, you rock my wiki-world. Damn I am lame.

Hong Tran said

at 2:44 am on Nov 6, 2008

Can someone please work on the links section? We need elaboration on that part and the passages that were discussed in class. Thanks!

Adam Al-Sayed said

at 10:36 pm on Dec 8, 2008

I'll work on stuff as soon as I finish this essay for another class. Probably won't be until late tonight or early tomorrow though, sorry guys.

Adam Al-Sayed said

at 10:39 pm on Dec 8, 2008

Whoops, meant to make that comment on another page. Ignore me.

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