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House of Leaves, thoughts

06/17/2010

So…this will be a spoiler-filled post. Watch out, etc.

Dang this book is cool. I got it on Interlibrary loan and was concerned that I wouldn’t finish it in time. Did the mental math and everything (“Okay, 13 days left, just have to read 50 pages a day”)–and finished it in 6 days. It does help that some of the pages look like this

rather than this

Yup.

BUT OH MY GOODNESS, it sucks you in. Danielewski does an awesome job. I think that’s the first book in a while where I felt somewhat mystified (mostly all the talk about “uncanny” but that was very cool too. You philosophy types would love it) but completely satisfied at the end. I guess it was nice to read a challenging book where the ending was at least half tied up in a bow. Cathartic, yes.

I took notes sporadically as something struck me.

IJ connections

  • Well, first, duh, nonlinearity. Danielewski is a little kinder with having more sentence breaks, but you experience your fair share of blocks-of-text. Danielewski uses footnotes instead of endnotes, but they often send you to the appendices at the end of the book so there’s still a good amount of flipping around. Also footnotes can be pages long (but never as long as Wallace’s). Definitely worth reading all of them, and at least skimming the appendices–there’s a wealth of inferences to draw on from the fragments back there as well as teasing absences of information (like “The Reston Interview” or “The Last Interview”).³
  • Lots of academic speech on different schools of thought (HoL has a section on “consequentialism”–reminded me of the film discussion in IJ–anticonfluential etc), lists of what looks like meaningless info (of authors, architects, houses¹, films, etc) which connect to DFW’s pharmaceutical information on all the Substances in IJ.
  • The fake academic research  (basically the whole book) reminded me of the famous filmography footnote in IJ. You just WANT these movies and books and articles to exist, but they don’t. Not only do the research and movie not exist, the reader isn’t sure if the events actually happened at all, despite their mounting fear for the characters and increasing nervousness about the house. I found myself getting angry at the academics for being so calm, analytic, and theoretical about (what I perceived as) the REAL DANGER Navy et. al were in, before remembering 1) the academics are writing about a film, a piece of art, 2) but nevertheless they are treating a documentary like fiction–though the danger’s all over since it was released by the auteur, but STILL, 3) and this movie doesn’t actually exist. My mind is bending into a Möibus strip.
  • Random side note: Karen Green is 1) DFW’s wife’s name, 2) my name (spelled differently sans Green), and both HoL Karen and I have hazel eyes. I wonder if Karen Green does too.
  • Truant detoxing himself from drugs and sex= obvious IJ correlations. Truant doesn’t go into much detail about his Withdrawal, but it was definitely his cage in which he had locked himself to keep his fear out.
  • Oh and Demerol gets mentioned on page 242 as Wax is being treated– one of Don Gately’s Substances of choice.
  • Allusions to other works that thread throughout: here, Jacob and Esau, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa and Hamlet  in IJ

Quotes

“We all create stories to protect ourselves” – Johnny Truant (p 20)

“Why did god create a dual universe?/ So he might say, /’Be not like me. I am alone.’/And it might be heard.”²

“I’m…in here!” – Navy in the maze (p 68)

“…he can provide no reasonable explanation for what he keeps referring to as ‘a goddamn spatial rape'” – Reston, (p 55)

A researcher named Ruby Dahl shows up on page 165. I was gratified.

(Untitled Fragment)
Little solace comes
to those who grieve
When thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.
– Zampanó

Awesome typography stuff

I absolutely loved how the page layout/textual organization contributed to the story. The pages with only one word to simulate slamming doors, the Morse code markers, the section with rzz‘s (which is a root that means to tear apart, to shatter) separating the fragmentary pieces that were left of the twins segments. The stair climbing, the falling, the disorientation. I’m sure some people would be concerned about trees dying for a couple words on a page, but drawing the kinetic out of the static text was just marvelous.

Covenant refs/ other notes

There is a “Great Hall” in the house. Terrifying indeed.

The house is in Virginia somewhere. PS when Truant is exploring colonial Williamsburg, I stood on the same street he did not long ago.  Last Sunday, we were looking for the tiny theatre where my little sister was to perform in a cello recital–and I can stand super-touristy places. They disgust me as they disgust Truant. Totally IDed with him.

I’m curious about Zampanó’s name. It has the form of a Spanish preterite Ud./él/ella form, but there’s no zampanar or anything. There is zampoñear, which means : 1. To play the bagpipe/panpipe? or 2.  To be prolix and frivolous in conversation, to prose (Metaphorical) (thank you Spanishdict.com). So…a sound-a-like word that definitely describes our Mr. Z in the second case.

H. Bloom’s “The Anxiety of Influence” shows up the in the book, Dr. Wildeman. Awesome. At least I know that exists. It was interesting seeing the combination of source material that definitely DOES exist (Derrida, Bloom, Homer, the Bible, etc) paired with scholarly work that was completely made up. As far as I know. In the introduction, Truant does talk about how this book isn’t true–

“See, the irony is it makes no difference that the documentary at the heart of this book is fiction. Zampanó knew from the get go that what’s real or isn’t real doesn’t matter here. The consequences are the same.”

And Zampanó says in his note that he is grateful this book does not last against the test of time, like true things.

womb envy (358) – I’m so glad there’s a reciprocal to Freud’s theory for women.

269 – first mention of things disappearing in the house proper – I flipped out when I read this.

332- all these missing pieces really does force you to bring what you know to the book. Reader response theory kept coming back to mind in this section as letters/words were missing and you had to reconstruct the document the best you could.

And: though traumatic, the house ordeal does bring them (Navy and Karen) together. Hallelujah.

¹ Okay, now every time I see the word house, I get a little chill down my spine. I love books that make me react to things like this after I read them.
² This just really tickles my brain.
³ PLUS there are competing footnote authors. Omigosh. First, there are Zampanó’s notes, then J. Truant’s notes on Z’s, then the final editors who make notes on everyone else’s notes. The manuscript is unreliable and about a movie that doesn’t exist, but it is so fascinating. The dryness of the academic commentary on the movie at times gave me reactions like this from my notes: “all this sounds so academic but what about the peril!? Oh it’s just a movie, right.” I liked that every now and again there was a note reminding you that this movie doesn’t exist–which means all this meticulous footnoting is imaginary too.
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