Footnotes in House of Leaves

A book designed perhaps just to be as complicated as possible, Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) is a puzzle of sorts, with layers that must be solved before other sections can be viewed clearly. One of the main ways in which a puzzle is presented is that of the footnotes by “author” Johnny Truant. The fictional character that splits his time between compiling a dead man’s life work and nights of binging on alcohol and drugs is a complex point of access to the intentions of this book. Written as a man plagued by perhaps some very serious mental conditions, Truant’s voice is heard almost purely as footnotes in the text. In these footnotes he often goes on long seemingly unrelated tangents. A first glance at these ramblings would assume them to be just the ramblings of a man highly distracted from his work, but knowing the context of the text and the vision with which it was made one can assume that there is some greater meaning to these drawn out passages. With Zampano dead Johnny is the most direct point of access to the manuscript and therefore the way in which he is established as a character can add a great deal of context to the story. Much as the house drives the residents and their friends crazy the writings seem to drive Johnny into some disconnected state when he is studying them. This fascination goes beyond normal boundaries, perhaps approaching obsession at times. It is never clearly stated whether Johnny’s lack of focus can be attributed to the writings, drug use, or just some mental handicap left untreated but this ambiguity serves the same purpose as much of the rest of Danielewski’s tricks to make the book into a riddle. The main focuses of further work on this topic will be delving into possible parts of the manuscript that spark Johnny’s tangents as well as the reverse in how the footnotes provide a deeper understanding of the main text.

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An Examination of Victor Frankenstein’s Struggle with Creation

“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain: I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed: when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch — the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited; where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.”

This passage appears immediately after Victor gives life to the creature. It is also one of the first times when Victor realizes he may have made a terrible mistake, noticing the ugliness and monstrosity in his creation far more than he notices the miracle of manufactured life. In a single moment he transitions from the determined scientist working day and night to accomplish his goals into something else far more afraid and full of regret. “I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed: when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch.” In a fever dream brought upon by his internal turmoil, Victor sees his dead mother in a rather grotesque way showing his twisted obsession with her death. This is one of the main motivating factors of his twisted science. By bestowing life upon the creation Victor wanted to show that he could be more powerful than nature and choose by himself whether someone should live or die. The desire to control life has not often been portrayed as a healthy characteristic and much as people are punished for taking life, Victor must be punished in some way for creating it. He sees this creation as the hideous representation of all the mistakes he has made in his experimentation and enters a state of internal distress for the remainder of the story. He is terrified of this monster not only because of its massive size but also because of what it represents: his self-destructive God complex and all of the punishment that he must face for his actions.

( ) – An Explanation

This formatting piece was composed with inspiration from Emily Carroll’s distinct style of parentheticals, layout, and patterns that so instill the atmosphere of her work. Every quirk, change, or abnormality in the writing is a reflection of Carroll’s intentions. Whether an aside representing the narrator’s internal struggle or an alternation between vertical and horizontal scrolling on the webpage, every detail is planned out by the artist.

My goal in creating this piece was to draw attention to Carroll’s formatting style as an art form and how it contributes to the constant paranoia of her character’s minds. I used words like “doubt” and “repetition” to portray the way in which she gives these brief characters so much depth as well as providing the reader with a more complicated narration style. All of these factors contribute greatly to the ambiguity of her work and how not knowing can be far more suspenseful than knowing.

( )

(CON – FUS    ION)                                                                                  (FE  AR)                                       (REPETITION)

  (SEL     F-DOUBT)                                    (ANGER)                 (      VIOLENCE)
(REPETITION)                    ( DARKNESS)

     (    PARANOIA    )                      (GUILT)          (MISTRUST)

           (PAIN)                                 (REPETITION)        (DOUBT)

   (DOUBT)

(DOUBT)

(DOUBT)

   (MONSTER)                  (DEATH)                                        (       FRAGMENTA    TION)

(ALONE)