Friday, November 11, 2011

"the question of occupation."

Though few will ever agree on the meaning of the configurations or the absence of style in that place, no one has yet to disagree that the labyrinth is still a house. Therefore the question soon arises whether or not it is someone's house. Though if so whose? Whose was it or even whose is it? Thus giving voice to another suspicion: could the owner still be there? - An excerpt from The Navidson Record

Anyone who understands this work in its entirety understands, in its entirety,
Neon Genesis Evangelion. (This is a law, not an assertion.) Thus, House of Leaves is Evangelion-complete. - TVTropes.org

Mark Z. Danielewski (1966-) is the son of Polish avant-garde film director Ted Danielewski and the brother of singer-songwriter Annie Decatur Danielewski, better known as Poe. He has a graduate degree from the USC School of Cinema-Television and has worked on sound for the documentary Derrida. House of Leaves, his 2000 debut novel, combines his interests in film and experimental art and has attracted a considerable cult following. Poe's second album Haunted was released simultaneously as a companion work.

House of Leaves is a dual novel following two distinct stories. Framing the work is the first-hand account of Johnny Truant, an apprentice tattoo artist in LA with a freewheeling life of sex, drugs, and hard Hollywood partying. His friend Lude invites him to the apartment of a recently deceased neighbor known only as Zampanò. A blind, solitary man who nevertheless unnerved the building's Herculean superintendent, Zampanò turns out to have been an imaginative and prolific writer who left behind a strange manuscript called The Navidson Record. Truant sets out to edit the many scattered leaves, some scribbled on the most unlikely of places such as the backs of stamps and envelopes, only to find that the thing is consuming him, sending him on a downward spiral of madness and paranoia. There is a monster afoot, lurking just out of the corner of his eye when he looks up from the pages, hiding in those hidden pockets without sound. It's always there. Concentrate on these words. Don't let your eyes leave the page.

The Navidson Record is a scholarly work discussing the titular film by photojournalist Will Navidson. Will, his girlfriend Karen Green, and their two children Chad and Daisy, age eight and five, have left New York City for an old farmhouse in rural Virginia. Will and Karen hope to repair their relationship, which has become strained due to his sudden, frequent, and often dangerous overseas assignments. To make the most of his new downtime, Will seeks to combine his craft and new circumstances in a film that will follow his family's adjustment to life in the country. But The Navidson Record is not the film he set out to make. Imagine returning from vacation to find a closet where there wasn't a closet before. The house, they learn, is bigger on the inside than on the outside. And it can get even bigger. In the miles of corridors and winding staircases, perpetually shrinking and expanding, something growls.

Beyond that, hell if I know.

Others more qualified than I have tried to explain this labyrinth of a book, where the text changes color and position and the footnotes frequently overwhelm the narrative. It is obviously, first and foremost, a postmodern work of psychological horror that explores the interaction between humans and the spaces we inhabit. Zampanò's imaginary scholarly sources interrogate Will Navidson's film from every angle imaginable, offering interpretations of the house that range from the Freudian to the pop cultural to the theological. The source of the growl is offered up as either the sound of the house shifting - similar to the groans of the Arctic ice that haunted stranded explorers - or a Minotaur that stalks unseen. The monster's presence is overwhelming in both The Navidson Record and Johnny Truant's story. Its perpetual threat destroys the sanity of both Truant and Holloway Roberts, an experienced outdoorsman who descends into a homicidal frenzy in the freezing halls of the house. And yet we never so much as glimpse the Minotaur. Its alleged existence functions as an amalgamation of the fears and anxieties of various characters, giving it very real power as a negative entity. For all its supernatural trappings, House of Leaves is driven by its human characters, both the players in the stories and the academics plumbing a vast array of myths and social complexes to account for such a thing as the house.

It should be noted, however, that Zampanò's body was found besides a series of strange, deep gorges in the floor.

The book is Mind Screw like that. Like I said, hell if I know.

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Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves was The Wolves' reading selection for October. (This post was very late.) Please feel free to join us for the rest! You can find the complete book list here.

9 comments:

Richard said...

Your post was early--the first Wolves one I've seen on it at least! I didn't get around to even starting the book, but I'm curious if you'd recommend it. P.S. Are you still reading Smilla's Sense of Snow or did you give up on that?

Caitlin said...

I'm one of those culty people about this book. I picked it up when it was first released and have read and re-read multiple times. My college-age son read it this summer.

I love everything about this book - it's postmodern, it's unique, it's scary as hell - it's just awesome.

E. L. Fay said...

Richard: The Wolves seem to have fallen off lately. Me, I've been having issues with no Internet at my apartment, which will be rectified shortly. As to whether I recommend House of Leaves, I have to say I was somewhat let down (wasn't as much Cosmic Horror as I'd hoped) but overall I liked it.

I did finish Smilla's Sense of Snow but didn't have much to say about it. It started out great but then the story went off the rails. I gave my copy to a local booksale.

Caitlin: I really didn't find it as scary as everyone said it was. It was unnerving, yes, and very creative but . . . it didn't entirely click.

softdrink said...

Hell if I know, too. I was totally baffled by the whole thing.

Gavin said...

I tried reading this when it first can out and just couldn't stay focused on it. Maybe I'll try again for the TBR double dare.

E. L. Fay said...

Softdrink: I'm going to cop out and say the entire thing is supposed to be open-ended.

Gavin: Oh do try it again. The more perspectives on this the better.

Sarah said...

My reaction was similar to yours - overall I liked it, but I was expecting something...spookier. I was a bit overwhelmed - there were so many things I WANTED to really like about it, but with so much going on at once I never got a chance dig in. I wonder if this would be a good one to re-read, if more could be gotten out of it, or if it would just become more of a mind-screw...?

Emily said...

Sorry to avoid commenting here for so long - I wanted to finish & post before looking at other peoples' entries. And then I was very late. :-P

But yeah, it was a bit...much. It's interesting what people are saying in the comments re: whether the book is frightening, because I found all the academic frame narrative stuff to completely negate any scary qualities the haunted-house story might have had. Like, if we're getting the tale through this much mediation, how can it possibly threaten us? I know Zampanò's body and Johnny Truant's breakdown are supposed to feel closer to the reader, but...I dunno. Somehow they didn't, at least to me.

scribeswindow said...

Great dissection of this book. I've heard so much about it and did try to read a library copy a few years ago. I'm going to buy a copy next time and try focusing on it more. I love postmodern literature and horror stories. :)

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