What Denial Reveals in House of Leaves

House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski is made up of various narratives which are intertwined in such a way that disorients readers and obscures facts. Zampanò’s analyses of the documentary The Navidson Record are compiled together with an appendix by Johnny Truant, who also adds his own footnotes to the mix— altogether published by an unspecified group or individual only referred to as “The Editors.”[1] In her analysis of House of Leaves, Nicoline Timmer states how “the different possible meanings of certain references” that all the characters make in their respective narratives prevent readers from figuring out “the ultimate and conclusive true story.” This often proves to be accurate, however, I disagree with Timmer’s other argument that the characters, specifically Johnny, are not in “full narrative control” of what they want to hide or open up about. Instead, Navidson, Zampanò and Johnny make a clear distinction between what they choose to believe as true and what they deny. In consequence, whether deliberately or not, the testimonies they deny turn out more reliable and also insightful of their darkest misgivings.

Within his academic criticism of The Navidson Record, Zampanò decisively crosses out any mention of the Greek Minotaur myth. His narrative control falters only when Johnny, an audience member Zampanò never knows about, takes the liberty of keeping the censored parts in House of Leaves. Through these recovered sections, readers learn foremost about an alternate rendition of the myth depicting the “Minotaur” as the innocent son of King Minos, locked away from the public in a Labyrinth because of his “deformed face” (110). This information alone would have merely contributed to the display of excessive analysis Zampanò becomes known for, but Zampanò’s attempt at removing this material brings up questions about his personal affiliation to the story. Johnny even takes interest in Zampanò’s history and looks into the matter. He finds a “particularly disturbing coincidence” and does not immediately elaborate except with a few comments suggestive of Zampanò suffering from a “secret anguish” and “a fire that burned him” (337). It is not until Johnny discovers another topic which Zampanò chose to expunge from his work— the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau— that Johnny reveals his theory of Zampanò having either a brother, a son or even two sons (249). One hint toward the possibility of Zampanò having a child is the deliberate alignment of a section regarding the Minotaur myth which molded the text into a human-like shape (336). The shape may only be a portrayal of the Minotaur, but its modest size and resemblance to an infant one-piece speaks otherwise. Zampanò lingers on the father-son relationship aspect of the myth despite it having little correlation to the House’s labyrinth explorers in The Navidson Record. This implies that Zampanò chose to reflect on that particular theme because he made a personal connection with it. Regardless of whether or not Johnny’s theory is correct, Zampanò’s choice to get rid of these subjects inadvertently revealed how he was haunted by a certain episode in his past.

In addition to managing Zampanò’s work according to his whim, Johnny Truant chooses to blur his own history by inserting fictitious stories into his narrative. These stories “help [Johnny] to look away” and “protect [himself]” from the truth of his deteriorating mental state and also of his disturbing past. As an example of the former, Johnny’s false anecdote of meeting up with two doctor friends in Seattle who provide him with a “miracle drug” that could “cure [his] nightmares” (509) acts as a sort of wish fulfillment. Johnny wanted to “trick [himself]” into believing he “really was lucky enough” to undergo such a revival. Afterwards, just like with his other fabrications, Johnny exposes its falsehood. This pattern of deception followed by an abrupt confession represents how Johnny is willing to openly admit that his present life is not at all stable nor healthy.

However, Johnny is more on guard over his troublesome past. Despite being locked away in the back of his mind, Johnny’s progression through Zampanò’s writings triggers the re-formation of a traumatic memory involving him and his mother. The reemergence takes a long while to complete, so the memory starts out in the guise of a “Minotaur” stalking Johnny and at one point warps into a human being with “extremely long fingers” (71) who inflicted a “long, bloody scratch on the back of [his] neck” (72). Near the end of Johnny’s journey in House of Leaves, he realizes that his mother was the ‘creature’ following him. Johnny soon denies the truth of the memory by stating, “She hadn’t tried to strangle me and my father had never made a sound” (517). He then follows up with a story that acts as truth in place of his actual memory— a mother-son tale, apparently first told by the “Doc” from Seattle who was previously established as nonexistent. This is a reversal of the sequence for truth revealing Johnny regularly uses. By purposefully placing the contrived story at the very end of his narrative, Johnny ‘tricks’ himself one final time without a subsequent contradiction. However, like he mentioned before, Johnny does not intend to ‘trick’ readers as well (509). The last part of House of Leaves is the Appendix, which includes of a series of letters sent to Johnny by his mother, Pelafina. In one of these letters, Pelafina describes the fateful incident when she made “some half-moon cuts on the back of [Johnny’s] neck” with her “long, ridiculous purple nails” (630) as she tried to choke him to death. Johnny does not blatantly tell readers what they should believe, but he provides enough evidence, such as the “Whalestoe Letters,” to conclude that a certain moment from Johnny’s history, whether it be a near-death experience committed by his own mother or not, impacted his present life significantly. It is just Johnny himself who desires to be excluded from accepting the truth.

Even within The Navidson Record documentary, there are denials of truths later accepted by the audience because of overarching evidence. For instance, Will Navidson purposefully conceals the identity of “Delial” for much of TNR; Once he enters an inebriated state, he writes a repentant letter to his wife and exposes the hidden insecurities and secrets of his life. Navidson’s long-lasting silence on the topic is a form of denial because it is a rejection of Delial’s presence in his life ’. Navidson’s reserve leads Navidson’s wife, Karen, and many others to assume that Delial is a former lover. Instead, Navidson is hiding a truth he considers worthy of even greater shame. Being the subject of a photograph that should be considered Navidson’s finest achievement but is actually his biggest regret. Delial becomes, as Zampanò referred to her, Navidson’s “albatross” (17). Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the albatross represents a severe burden one carries in consequence of a wicked deed. In Navidson’s case, he can’t forgive himself for spending precious minutes on taking a photo of Delial instead of trying to save her (393). This is the only instance out of the three narratives where the truth is ultimately accepted by both the audience and the narrator. Therefore, general agreement compared to one-sided denial is, admittedly, more effective in solidifying truths, yet also less discerning of someone’s inner workings.

Throughout the three core narratives of House of Leaves, denial proves to be a psychological mechanism for each one to get rid of the culpability for a transgression or a grievance toward another person. Thus, the denied truths tend to disclose more of the enigmatic histories of Zampanò, Johnny and Navidson than facts that are given without contradiction and dispute.

[1] Since all these sources come together as one final, real product, I will consider each narrative as ‘real’ and existent.

Bibliography

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

Timmer, Nicoline. “Johnny T.” Do You Feel It Too? The Post-Postmodern Syndrome in American Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. 243-297. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 360. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center. Web.

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“Misery” in Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein and the creature are affected time after time by struggles, including the ghastly deaths of loved ones, persecution and rejection from society. Attributing each other as the cause of one another’s hardships, Frankenstein and his creation are bent on revenge. However, rather than dying at the hands of one another, the troubled characters sink to their demise in their individual pool of miseries. Shelley regularly employs the word “misery,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means “a condition of external unhappiness, discomfort, or distress,” to describe the depressed sentiments of Frankenstein and the creature. This highlights the selfishness both exhibit and how drowning in one’s own miseries can equate to self-inflicting physical and emotional pain.

The frequency of “misery” increases over the course of the novel as each successive death of Frankenstein’s family member transpires. Frankenstein may feel remorse for the losses, but he also does not do much other than complain. After the death of his younger brother, William, Frankenstein takes a couple days leave to dwell in the seclusion of nature in order to contemplate on William’s death and “the misery [he] imagined and dreaded” (Shelley 77) will ensue in the future. Despite this, Frankenstein refuses to alert anyone of the threat the creature imposes. After Justine’s unjust execution, Frankenstein again departs on a journey through magnificent valleys and mighty mountains while “indulging in the misery of reflection” (98). Frankenstein chooses to ignore how he had a chance to absolve Justine of all guilt by revealing the existence of his rampaging creation. His desire for his own continued survival outweighed his wish for Justine’s pardon.

Frankenstein also never considers himself the source of his own miseries. Instead, he blames Fate and, inadvertently, his parents. Frankenstein states his future was “in their hands to direct to happiness or misery” (35) and mentions that if his father had not dismissed the views of Cornelius Agrippa, then he would not have taken a stronger interest in “natural philosophy” and end up with a “tale of misery” (40). To top off the chain of blame is the creature, even though he suffers greatly from his own string of melancholies. The creatures drop the word “misery” down as much as Frankenstein does. He is constantly denied any opportunity of friendship or intimacy because of his grotesque appearance. On the other hand, the creature is not completely cleared of having selfish, condemning tendencies. He points his finger at Frankenstein as the reason for his “insupportable misery” (138). The creature laments about his birth—“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live?” —but believes achieving revenge in the form of murder is the rightful purpose of the remainder of his life.

Frankenstein and the creature each consider themself as the most miserable being of all time. “No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to” (223) to the creature’s and “misery had her dwelling in [Frankenstein’s heart]” (190). As a result of these perspectives, both push aside sympathy for others that actually deserve it and fight each other out of greed for pity. Specifically, Frankenstein completely dismisses the character of a poor woman nursing him to health by negatively labeling her as someone who will not sympathize “in sights of misery” (182). He has no right to assume she lacked a strict dose of miseries throughout her lifetime. The more Frankenstein and the creature despair, the more insensitive they become to the difficulties of others’ lives.

By the end of the novel, misery appears to be a major cause of Frankenstein and the creature’s deaths. Frankenstein succumbs to a fever of vengeance, hatred and misery while the creature decides to escape from a world of vengeance, hatred and misery through suicide. The two, however, fail to ever obtain a desire to try for reconciliation or repentance. They instead act on adverse emotions, such as misery, and thus deteriorate into beings with immoral, hateful mindsets.

Misery can be compared to the fire which the creature was once warmed and later consumed by: it grows and grows, kindled by an excess of the same severe unhappiness. Frankenstein and the creature did not bother to extinguish the flame when it started. In consequence, selfishness and intolerance cultivated within them, and they burned.

Bibliography:

“Misery, N.” : Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Explanation Post: A Maze in Me

For this piece, I was influenced by various aspects of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. For instance, I included references to Greek mythology (specifically about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur), some skewed placements of words and made the maze somewhat similar to the house in book. For the most part, the piece is about a girl influenced by the Minotaur myth (her “father’s favorite”) recounting her traumatic experience in a maze.

At the end of the piece, I wanted to focus on the theme of trauma. In House of Leaves, the Navidsons and Johnny Truant experience severe trauma but they both have dissimilar endings. Karen and Navidson get to rekindle their love while Johnny’s future is left ambiguous and with all his troubles quite unresolved. In this piece, I made the main character’s ending optimistic. Those who experience trauma don’t always have to live the rest of their lives in depression or constant fear. Though they may not be able to ever forget their trauma, they can still learn to move forward from it—especially with loved ones at their side.

A Maze in Me

My father was a connoisseur of Greek myths. He told me countless times, with his silver tongue, the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. As a young girl, I fashioned myself as Ariadne, unwinding a ball of red yarn while prancing down the hallways of old country home. I dreamed of a gallant Theseus to sweep me off my feet. That is until, I learned him to be an abandoner.

I even became an architect. Blueprints clutter the floor of my current apartment in the city. I take inspiration from classical architecture; when I see Corinthian and Ionic columns, I swoon. I wake up excited to start each new day on the job. I love watching an empty stretch of land turn into an empire of diverse structures.

I embraced the myth—my father’s favorite myth. It molded me.

But I’m deathly afraid of mazes. Never have I desired to enter an extensive labyrinth or build one of my own regulations.

– – – – –

It happened when I was thirteen. There was a carnival in a neighboring town that I attended with my friends. The main attraction was the corn maze. The farmer claimed it was his best one yet. Everyone was intrigued—including me.

In the comfort of bright daylight, my friends and I entered the maze. I figured it would be a simple one. Just stick to the left. That’s what my father taught me. And he was right. In no time, we made it to the exit that was marked with a purple flag. There was nothing special or scary about it.

It was disappointing to me, but my friends simply moved on to the candy apples, the games, the zoo animals, etc., etc. I followed them around until it was just too painful. I knew it was probably all in my head but I felt the maze trying to lure me back in.

There was a voice coming from inside. Loud. Imperative.

Come.

The sky dimmed once I stepped back inside the maze.

My father’s voice entered my head again: Stick to the left.

This time, I ignored his advice. I wanted to explore this time.

Instead, I got lost. The moon was too faint of a lantern to guide me. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. But fears come to life in such an ominous place.

I wandered around aimlessly through the erratic paths. I kept telling myself I was Ariadne.

Ariadne without any red yarn.

With my eyesight down, my ears were on high alert. The wind howled. The corn stalks conversed with each other. There whispers came out as a chant, constantly growing, echoing. They were chanting in a language I couldn’t understand.

But I did understand.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

I knew my father’s favorite myth too well to not understand.

I gave up on trying to be brave. I stuck to the left. Step after step. Minute after minute. Hour after hour. Yet I saw no opening. I saw no purple flag. Had the maze changed? Did the walls of corn stalks shift?

Crying out didn’t help either. I could see the faint lights of the carnival festivities from afar but I couldn’t hear anything of the people there. All I could hear was the chant.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Stick to the left. Stick to the left. Stick to the left!

Nothing could block out the chant.

I fell to the ground and clenched my ears.

When I was brave enough to let go, I was blessed with silence. Such an insubstantial blessing.

I shivered. The cold nipped at my nose, my ears, my feet. My hands felt around for something on the ground. Anything. Red yarn.

Instead, I grasped a thin stick.

I wrote a message in the dirt. A message that couldn’t be heard but could maybe be read later.

H E L P.

stuck in a maze.

help

I kept going, even as tears rolled down my cheeks.

A maze.                                   Amaze.                                    A maze.

Amaze me.                 

A                      maze                           me

A                      maze               in                     me

A maze is inside of me.

Get it.                                                               Out.

Let me.                                                            Out.                                                     

Rescue me.

A low growl struck me out of my crazed, cold stupor.

The chant started up again.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Another faint growl.

Against all the reason, the sound lured me in. Was it a beast in the guise of a Siren?

I crawled down the path. Left or right, I have no idea. The growl sounded in shorter intervals. Louder and louder. Even louder than the chant of the corn stalks.

I knew it was the Minotaur. It had to be.

And I knew I was the sacrifice, but I kept crawling. I just had to see…

I turned the next corner—

There was a body.

– – – – –

I woke up and they told me it was just a scarecrow. I couldn’t believe them. But I had to.

I was broken for a while, but I suffered for less than the reasonable length of time. Or that’s at least what the doctors told my father.

I got back up on my feet and continued on with life. I stayed clear of mazes. Of tight spaces. Of getting lost anywhere. Of going anywhere alone in the dark. But I still became an architect. I still listened to my father recount the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.

I also met my Dionysus. My rescuer. He helps me cope with the nightmares and never disparages it to just a ‘child’s fear’ as many have done before.

After all this, I still fear the Minotaur.

But I know he’s not invincible.

– – ♥

Creator and Creation: One and the Same

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it is clear that Victor Frankenstein abhors his yellow-eyed creation. He frequently calls the creature a “devil,” “daemon” and “fiend,” along with many other spiteful names. (Shelley 102) The two are identified as rivals fueled by hatred. Frankenstein’s detestation of own his creation stems from how the creature is an enhanced being who embodies Frankenstein’s own flaws and virtues. Fire against fire merely produces a larger fire.

Frankenstein and the creature are similar in many aspects, just as a typical father and son are. Both are excited and energized by learning; Frankenstein by “the enticements of science” (51) and the creature by literature and “the art of language.” (118) Both are attracted to the beauty and divine quality of nature—the sublime. Victor often seeks solitude in the depths of magnificent landscapes. After being repeatedly deprived of sympathy from the human race, the creature can only be comforted by the “gentleness and pleasure” of nature and the light of the “blessed sun.” (142)

Not all their shared qualities, however, are as pleasant. Frankenstein is known to have selfish tendencies. If he sets his mind on a certain task, such as piecing together a superhuman, Frankenstein goes all in, and any ounce of good judgment disappears along with all caution. By the end of the novel, Frankenstein dedicates the rest of his life to a hunt in which he tries to destroy the creature once and for all. The creature derives the same conviction. Revenge. “Diabolical vengeance.” (222) That’s all they have on their minds.

Both feel they have the absolute right to end each other’s lives. No one has suffered as much as they have. Frankenstein despairs at the death of his loved ones while the creature suffers from neglect and being an outcast. “No creature had ever been so miserable as I was,” says Frankenstein. (201) “No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine,” says the creature. (223) In the end, both are silenced by death but not directly by the hands of the each other.

God created humans in the likeness of His own image.

Victor Frankenstein did the same.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin,
2003. Print.

Explanation Post: In the Darkness

I was partly inspired by the way Emily Carroll deals with ambiguous endings in her web comics—by having descriptions in the beginning and middle hinting at different conclusions. However, I feel that the ending of my piece is less ambiguous. Although, one could vouch for the beast being an actual creature and/or just a monster-like human.

I was also inspired by Frankenstein. For one thing, I borrowed the image of “dull yellow” eyes from the moment when Frankenstein’s monster awakes. Moreover, in Chapter 5 of Volume I, Victor refers to a section of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” when he feels like the creature he created is following him. Almost everyone has had that same fear before—especially when they’re walking around dark places. Darkness can be very scary and your imagination can find all sorts of creatures and dangers roaming in it. And sometimes, there really is something in the darkness.

In the Darkness

My imagination is my escape.

I enter my house without a sound. The lights are all off. It’s late.

I’m late.

With quiet steps, I walk past the living room. Nothing stirs around me. Not until I reach the long corridor leading to my bedroom.

I walk forward. Slowly.

Do you ever get that feeling? That someone is lurking right behind you?

The lights suddenly flicker. Maybe it’s a mischievous poltergeist messing with the electricity. Maybe it’s the lightning of a faraway, nonexistent storm. Because, of course, a storm can’t form inside a house.

But I can imagine one doing so.

I hear whispers coming through the walls. Maybe it’s the voices of fairies. Introducing themselves to me. Maybe they need help and are pleading for me to save them.

But I’m the one who’s trapped.

Turn back. You’re in danger.

My heart is pounding now. Maybe I’m just hearing the pounding of bass drums in another room. Someone playing a concert with an audience of none. Or the pounding of a fist on a table. Angry pounding.

Turn back.

The lights flicker again, and for a second I see a shadow that’s not my own on the wall to my right. I turn my head a bit but I don’t look back all the way.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

A drop of sweat rolls down my cheek and falls off the edge of my jawline. Boom.

I keep facing forward but my eyes close. My mind projects an image onto the blackness.

The looming shadow, a shapeshifter, settles on one form.

Claws. Bared teeth. A hideous face. Hungry eyes. A rabid beast. With a heaving chest, but I don’t hear its breathing. I open my eyes. The lights flicker once more, and the shadow is larger than before.

Turn back.

I walk forward— now with hurried steps. The pounding in my ears grow louder.

Run.

I rush to my bedroom door, open it, go inside with my back against the wall, and shut the door. The whispers are silenced.

I reach my hand out to turn on the lights, but there’s already a small light in front of me.

I should’ve listened to the voices.

There’s a pair of dull, yellow eyes staring back at me. I also see rows of pearly white teeth. I can hear his harsh breathing now—each breath comes and goes at steady pace.

But his eyes aren’t calm. There’s a fire in them. A dull, yellow fire.

The creature takes off a long chain from his waist. I catch sight of a glimmer of gold at the center. He raises his monstrous arm up slowly.

Sometimes, my imagination can’t be my escape.

– – ♥