Monday, November 17, 2014

Setting You Up To Fail: How to Properly Read House of Leaves

                Mark Danielewski has formatted House of Leaves, at a glance, to slow down the reader. It cannot be read the hour before class or even the day before class. It cannot even be fully understood the first read-through. Danielewski wants to confuse everyone who reads this book, and also empower everyone who reads this book. The overall layout of the book with the spaced words, the intentionally blank pages, and even the sideways writing can be interrupted many ways alone. My focus landed on the unreliability of the first four characters introduced in the novel. All four are giving chances to be the voice the readers are supposed to trust, but through either Zambrano or Danielewski the trust is shattered.
                The introduction and edits are by one, Johnny Truant. Within the first couple paragraphs we learn that Truant has flirted with the promiscuous lifestyle for quite some time. He then goes into detail incriminating himself with all the lies he has told in the past in order to impress girls. Not only does he tell ‘white lies,’ but we get a truly amazingly thorough fake story about how he got his scars that he spun on a whim at a country bar. The story has so much detail it questions how much of his history is really true. At the end of his bar story, however, there is hope for redemption. He admits that “just looking at the story make[s] [him] feel a little queasy” (Danielewski 15). His lies have finally caught up with him. Danielewski takes away his reliability as quickly as he gave it to Johnny when Johnny admits he fully altered Zambrano’s writing. “Zambrano only wrote ‘heater.’ The word ‘water’…I added that.” (Danielewski 16). By using the tool of honesty, which uses increases reliability, Danielewski has tainted Johnny’s narration. Every addition, edit, or even original transcript of Zambrano’s in the hands of Johnny is up for debate.
                Danielewski is a fan of using what is expected and warping it into being the opposite. He once again uses honesty and clear words to foil the integrity of his characters. Navidson has stated for the public that he wanted to “create a record of how Karen and I bought a small house in the country and moved into it with our children…a place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set” (Danielewski 9). Though this may be how Navidson really feels, Danielewski through the voice of Zambrano ruins the purity of Will’s appearance of honesty. Zambrano mentions in his paper how there were several critics who believed that Navidson was too candid, too perfect, and too poised for his words to ring true. Once again, the critics could be wrong, but the seed has been planted. Navidson can no longer be trusted fully because he could be portraying “a man who has already envisioned the rest of the film” and is trying to cover his knowledge (Danielewski 8).
                Karen’s integrity is more forward when it comes to the lack of trust. Through Zambrano’s words we are focused on the scene where Karen is supposed to be saving her appeal as a human being. The children are candle making and she is eagerly waiting for her significant other to return from home. She is constantly looking away from her kids to check every vehicle that passes the window. Zambrano is trying to paint her as the devoted partner and lover, yet once again mentions the critics. Her history as a model paints her as a privileged elite that has been settling as the unhappy housewife. The scene Zambrano is describing in his writing may also be construed as dishonest due to her reaction after Will actually enters the house.  “She [had] quite effectively masked all her eagerness to see him” which makes her unlikable as she is dishonest for a narrator (Danielewski 12).
                The last character is Zambrano himself. His fault is very simple. He is a writer who is blind as a bat. Though his ideas are valid, his words are true, he is still trying to excel in a profession that deals with words and creating a visual picture with scratched on paper. His handicap as a narrator is pretty superficial.

                Danielewski made the point of creating doubt in in so many characters so soon in the novel to set up the main theme of House of Leaves. There is no clear theme, or meaning. The book is an anomaly in itself. The words and the stories found within House of Leaves can mean whatever the reader wants them to mean. Justifying any double entendre is possible depending on how deep the reader is willing to dig. Having this much up for debate within the first couple main characters helps the reader understand that it is perfectly acceptable to not understand, to over analyze, or take what they can at face value. The key point is that the book is constantly changing no matter that the words remain the same.   

1 comment:

  1. "My focus landed on the unreliability of the first four characters introduced in the novel. All four are giving chances to be the voice the readers are supposed to trust, but through either Zambrano or Danielewski the trust is shattered.” — That’s an interesting topic, although it is in danger of being too big for one short blog entry.

    Your discussions of Will & Johnny are good. You move quickly because you need to in order to cover everything - one thing I’d like to see, even early on, is more on the strategy of dishonesty. Why, for instance, is Johny so forthright (to us) about being dishonest (with others)? There are additional levels to the reliability & unreliability of this narrative, where Johnny maybe cultivates trust in some matters by admitting to at least some of his tricks.

    Re: Karen. I’m not sure that you deliberately chose the candle-making project, but note that thematically Karen is the creator & bringer of light, at this moment as well as at several others. Her reliability could use more scrutiny, but this would be best done through the section of the book where she actually *is* the narrator, where you haven’t gotten yet.

    You don’t end as well as you began. Basically this is because you chose a big topic for a small essay. I understand why you did all four characters, but you probably would have gotten better results - especially with the ending - by focusing a little more narrowly on the reliability and unreliability of a single character, rather than trying to do all four, which ended up being rushed.