Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, published in 2000, is a fragmented, analytical biography of a strange, possibly haunted house delivered as a collaborative dissection of a “found footage” horror documentary. Danielewski’s novel presents the reader with a myriad of questions, one of the most prominent being “What is the house?” Incorporating the postmodernist Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacara and simulation into our reading of House of Leaves as a ghost story, we can interpret the house itself as being the “ghost” of the story and Johnny as being the one haunted by it. By examining these two theories, we can see how the application of the simulacra shifts the focus of the novel from the ontological nature of the house to the pattern of transference that the story of the house follows. The application of Baudrillard’s theory allows the house to be read as an entity that requires transference from person to person to accomplish a haunting, behaving like a virus that requires movement from host to host in order to perform its function.
In his novel House of Leaves (2000), Mark Z. Danielewski alludes to the myth of the Cretan Minotaur as a tactic to emphasize Johnny Truant’s entrapment by his past. Through the process of compiling Zampano’s fragmented manuscript of The Navidson Record, a documentary film that discloses the Navidson family’s encounter of a horrifying maze, repressed memories of Johnny’s past begin to surface. While the Minotaur, a deformed child, is sentenced to walk a physical maze, Johnny is forced to navigate the hidden secrets residing within the labyrinth of his own mind. While Katharine Cox’s article, “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves,’” argues that Johnny’s character parallels the Minotaur through his psychological imprisonment by the concealed memory of his mother’s abandonment, Cox’s analysis can be extended to include additional circumstances of abandonment, parental neglect, physical deformity, and isolation conveyed through Johnny’s assessment of his life by memories, his present condition, and a dream that further exemplify Johnny as the Minotaur and emphasize his inability to escape.
In the process of transcribing The Navidson Record, Johnny recollects repressed memories of his past that indicate experiences of abandonment analogous to that of the Cretan Minotaur. Triggered by the film, Johnny embarks on a “journey of remembrance” and reveals that, like the Minotaur, he was left alone in his adolescence (Cox 4). However, his encounter with familial dissonance and the uncertainty of what lurks within the Navidson’s house prompts the emergence of violent hallucinations of asphyxiation as well as apparitions of an unidentifiable being, often referred to as a “her” and depicted as “disturbingly familiar” (Danielewski 28). These episodes of stifled breathing from sensations of piercing “[finger]nails” indicate that Johnny’s life of desertion stems from more than simply the incarceration of his mother and the early death of his father (Danielewski 27). Through a reflection of his mother’s written confession, sent from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, Johnny slowly uncovers that, like the Minotaur, he was abandoned through “the destructive bond between [parent]…and child;” ultimately fated to suffer the consequences precipitated by a mother’s “monstrous desire[s]” (Cox 12). The Minotaur, bearing the hideous appearance of a beast, exhibits the head of a bull and the body of a man as a product of its mother’s sinful act of infidelity. Afraid to taint his reputation, King Minos, the Minotaur’s father, proves unwilling to “accept” that the “heir to…[his] throne” will be of illegitimate birth and that the future face of Crete will be one of terrifying deformity (Danielewski 110). As a result, King Minos forcibly hides the Minotaur from society inside a labyrinth, exemplifying an act of rejection that leaves the Minotaur to grow up without a parental figure. Similarly, to safeguard Johnny from the hardships and misery of everyday life, Johnny’s mother attempts to strangle him. Although Johnny’s mother perceives death as a “gift,” a freedom from the “pain of living,” and considers her deed an act of love, her murderous desires and violence warrant incarceration by Johnny’s father (Danieleswki 629, 630). Consequently, with an absent mother living in an asylum, Johnny is completely alone when a car accident suddenly takes his father. While the underlying cause resides with the mother, in each story it is the reactive decision of the father that proves the catalyst for abandonment. As a result, Johnny’s childhood is marked by years of abandonment and an inability to develop familial relations as he transfers time and again among foster families. With each new home Johnny maintains the status of a “guest[,]…living with” yet never becoming part of the family (Danieleswki 92). Through tantrums of “throwing things,” runaways, and school expulsions, Johnny is perceived as a beast for causing trouble (Danielewski 587). Just as the Minotaur was spurned for its abnormal appearance, Johnny is rejected for his abnormal behavior. Both Johnny and the Minotaur exist as black sheep, unable to fit within the mold of societal norms.
After uncovering the hidden truth of his childhood abandonment, Johnny reveals physical scars of parental neglect and consequently, further epitomizes the Cretan Minotaur through his beastly appearance. Johnny is finally able to “retrace [the] history” of his deformity to his “familial ties” with a derelict mother and an abusive foster father (Cox 7). Although both Johnny and the Minotaur were disfigured involuntarily by the choices of another, the Minotaur was born malformed whereas Johnny acquired marks of trauma. In addition to the “half-moon” scars on the back of his neck from his near death experience, Johnny wears sleeves of “horror [that] swee[p]” the length of his arms from a childhood accident involving spilled oil by the hands of his mother (Danielewski 20). Displaying scars from a foster father that span beyond a “broken…and discolored front tooth,” white marks on his legs, and a discolored line “intersecting [his] eyebrow,” Johnny parallels the Minotaur’s freakish and monstrous appearance (Danielewski 130). Although Johnny subconsciously attempts to lock away the memories of his traumas as a mechanism of self-protection, his physical disfigurements, like the walls of the Minotaur’s maze, act as a constant reminder of the horrors of his past.
As his attachment to The Navidson Record grows, Johnny further exemplifies the Cretan Minotaur not only by his daily routine that shapes his present state of isolation and physical deterioration, but also through his entrapment generated by paranoia. Johnny possessed a nearly unvarying daily schedule that consisted of clubs and one-night stands prior to his discovery of The Navidson Record. However, it is not until the “transformative effects of…Zampano’s writing” both impact Johnny’s cognitive stability and alter his way of life that he acknowledges a sense of imprisonment (Cox 5). Although his interest in the documentary initially proves to be mere “curiosity,” reading inconsistently, Johnny reveals that now, due to a growing obsession, both hours and days disappear in the “twist” of sentences, scenes, and patterns of the fragmented “scrap[s]” (Danielewski xviii). As a result, Johnny, in response to the fear that suddenly appears tugging at the back of his mind, becomes increasingly closed off from and unaware of the existence of the outside world; ultimately paralleling the incarcerated state of the Minotaur. While the Minotaur is secluded from society by the inescapable pattern of a physical maze, a sentence resulting from the trepidation of others, Johnny is isolated by his own terror, escalating confusion, and apprehension that accompany the arrival of unexplained memories of which he has no recollection. In his anxiety regarding the condition of his social standing, King Minos fabricates accounts of Athenian deaths and “publicly” frames the Minotaur as the bloodthirsty monster culpable (Danielewski 110). With walls meant to “conceal” and the “residents” of Crete “never get[ting] too close to the labyrinth,” it becomes clear that societal paranoia and fear for individual security are what confines the faultless Minotaur to its prison (Danielewski 110). Through a display of claustrophobia, impaired breathing, and hallucinations of “a stalking [and approaching] monster” that threatens to cut his throat, Johnny is similarly overwhelmed with paranoia (Cox 13). With the former routine of his life incapable of providing comfort, clarity, or an escape from the memory of a near-death experience that haunts his present, Johnny reverts solely to Zampano’s manuscript for answers. Johnny turns away from his personal relationships by missing calls, trashing phone numbers, and forgoing social outings. As Johnny further detaches himself out of fear from the outside world, he exemplifies a state of entrapment both within his home and in a lifestyle of deleterious behaviors as he traverses the maze of his mind. In “nai[ling] his windows shut” and layering his doors with locks, “chains,” and “storm proof” precautions, Johnny rarely leaves his apartment (Danielewski xviii). Unable to sleep or keep up with the demands of daily living, he appears “pale and weak” (Danielewski 404). Along with the deformities induced by his childhood, Johnny’s protruding bones and sickly demeanor highlight a bodily deterioration that mirrors the monstrous appearance of the Minotaur.
Although Johnny embodies the animalistic features and seemingly violent nature of the Cretan Minotaur in a dream, the account demonstrates a compassionate portrayal of his character, for like the Minotaur, his perceived savagery proves misunderstood. As Johnny dreams, he “wander[s] lost” (Cox 4) among the seemingly familiar “dead ends” (Danielewski 403). While Johnny expresses the belief that he has been searching the corridors for years, it is not until he undergoes a bodily change that this frequent dream exemplifies a “nightmare of self-evaluation” (Cox 6). As the threat of death from a drunken frat boy’s swinging ax prompts Johnny to physically transform into the figure of a Minotaur, “sprout[ing]” course hair, “long, yellow fingernails,” and an “enormous bulge” on his forehead, it becomes apparent that, like the Minotaur, Johnny takes the form of a monster as a result of external forces (Danielewski 404). Despite the creature’s “gentle” nature, only consuming Athenians who died of starvation lost in the maze, the Minotaur is cast as a villain through King Minos’ “secre[t] execut[ions]” and fallacious claims of his child’s barbarous acts (Danielewski 110). Although the Minotaur is “nearly murdered” by a criminal, it is unable to muster enough brutality to survive (Danieleswki 111). The Minotaur’s inhuman countenance that resulted from its mother’s indiscretion along with a cruel identity determined by its father supersede its benevolence, forcing the it into the role of a feared beast. Although Johnny typifies the mentality and appearance of a monster, expressing a decision to “carve out” the frat boy’s innards, he reveals that true savagery is also not of his innate nature (Danielewski 405). Johnny’s reaction represents one of defense, generated by a situation of survival. Through an acknowledgment of the “melted” appearance of his hands in the moment prior to his transformation, it is apparent that Johnny’s “appall[ing]” marks of disfigurement, resulting from his relationship with his mother, exemplify external factors that begin to change how he is perceived in the eyes of others (Danielewski 403, 404). As people turn their gaze from Johnny’s scars and his emaciated state, “stunned” and “incredibly uncomfortable” at his unsightly appearance, it is revealed that Johnny is perceived as abnormal (Danielewski 296). However, it is not until Johnny becomes consumed with the external force of a growing paranoia that he is viewed as both lesser than human and frightening. Afraid of losing Zampano’s manuscript, a potential key to his confusion, Johnny primitively and aggressively “spr[i]ng[s] forward…[as if] by instinct to fend off his best friend (Danielewski 324). In fear of an approaching attack, Johnny becomes disassociated with society and secures himself within his apartment, epitomizing a beast hiding among the darkness. Although Johnny buys a gun for protection, the degree of his terror proves both disorienting and dehumanizing. With desires to implement pain by hand and “rip open” flesh by his teeth in a fight, Johnny further exemplifies the characteristics of an animal (Danielewski 296). However, along with an initial claim that blood and brutality “disturb” him, Johnny condemns his thoughts of violence as atrocious and “unspeakable” (Danielewski 249, 497). Johnny, innately benevolent, identifies with the Minotaur for his misunderstood character. As a result of the past, the present environment, and how others choose to see them, both the Minotaur and Johnny are mistakenly distinguished as monsters.
In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Dainelewski highlights that Johnny Truant parallels the mythological Cretan Minotaur. Johnny, suffering from a past that haunts his present, is condemned to a life of entrapment. While the Minotaur is physically bound to its prison, unable to break free, Johnny wanders the corridors of his subconscious, lost among the hidden truths.
Cox, Katharine. “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”” Critical Survey. Vol. 18. N.p.: Berghahn, 2006. 4-15. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
Danielewski, Mark Z. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.
The thoughts, actions, and feelings of characters in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beg the question of how fate impacts the blame that can be placed on people for their actions. Victor Frankenstein, for example, claims his creating the monster was forced by something beyond his control, and his creation claims that his own behavior couldn’t be helped. However, their interactions with other characters and their opinions of themselves suggests that the monster was more of a blank slate than Frankenstein, and therefore is less to blame since he was simply a product of his environment and a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
By the end of the story, Frankenstein has nearly chased the monster to the North Pole with the intent of destroying him, as the monster destroyed Frankenstein’s friends and family. Weakened by the cold and his long journey, Victor is spotted by a Captain Walton and his crew and is taken aboard, where he tells them of his tragic tale. This actually happens at the beginning of the novel, though it’s at the end of Frankenstein’s life and story. After he recounts his tragedy to Walton, he dies. As Walton is in another room writing to his sister, he hears something in the room where Frankenstein’s corpse is, and walks in to find the monster hovering over the body, lamenting his creator’s death. Walton is torn between feeling pity and contempt for the tragic, murderous half-man, and in response the creature begins a monologue that will serve as the end of the novel and the last impression left on both Walton and the novel’s readers. As such, it seems fitting that his words can be and should be taken to be of greater truth and weight than much of the dialogue throughout the novel, and thus we can accept the monster’s woes and feel satisfied in pitying him.Frankenstein argues that his creating the monster was compelled by some force beyond his control, but the way he responded to his creation for which he was responsible was inarguably his choice. He chose to immediately reject his creation and condemn him to life a loneliness and hatred, which in turn caused the monster to fulfill what he would begin to view as his “work” and the “series of [his] being” (Shelley 198). Frankenstein essentially told his creation that he was a monster, and so he became a monster, killing Frankenstein’s brother William, his best friend Henry, and his wife Elizabeth. Though the creature was responsible for these deaths, Victor seems ultimately to blame, as the “curious and unhallowed wretch” that chose to play god while not responsible or compassionate enough to handle that power (Shelley 198).
In the end, both Frankenstein and the monster choose isolation in the north, where they both die. The “northern extremity of the globe,” desolate and harsh, seems a proper place to end the lives of two miserably lonely individuals (Shelley 198). The north contrasts heavily to other experiences with nature that they have had, where the “cheering warmth of summer”, “the rustling of the leaves,” and “the warbling of the birds” served to calm and comfort the monster upon his first exploration of the world (Shelley 199). Their lives and tragedies were quite different in that Victor chose his years of loneliness; he had family, friends, and love abound both at home in Geneva and at the University of Ingolstadt, but he rejected them in pursuit of that which defied nature. When his monster came to life, he rejected him too and cast him to a life of misery, which is ultimately the crux of the entire tragedy. After the death of the monster’s source of both his life and purpose, he admits that he feels “polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse” for his sins and seeks solace and redemption in death (Shelley 198). He hopes that his and Frankenstein’s deaths will allow the remembrance of them both to “speedily vanish,” so that no other will commit such atrocities; his suicide therefore makes him somewhat of a martyr, righting his unwilling wrongs before his death the best he can (Shelley 198). This contrasts to Victor’s death, who died reluctantly yet glad that he would no longer have to bear his responsibilities.
Near the end of his monologue, the creature recognizes Frankenstein’s suffering, but claims that “my agony was still superior to thine,” since he acted in such terrible ways because Frankenstein took away his only chance of acceptance and company, though he did not want to be a murderer (Shelley 199). “The bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in [his] wounds” the creature claims, until “death shall close them forever” (Shelley 199). Through his death, the monster was satiating not only Frankenstein’s desire for his “extinction,” but also his own pains and “feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched” (Shelley 198). Readers can’t help pity this pathetic outcast that knew nothing other than rejection, hatred, loneliness, and misery; at least Victor knew love, happiness, and acceptance for a good part of his life. Mary Shelley’s ending characterization of the monster and his woes allows us to recognize that he truly was a product of fate in a way that Frankenstein was not, because the monster was hated by everyone, including himself, and thus was forced to act as he knew.
Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation exemplify negative aspects of humanity: selfishness, a desire for power, an unquenchable longing for love, a need for revenge. The so-called monster, however, at least also shows deep remorse through his self-hated and subsequent suicide, shows an understanding of his misdeeds, and attempts to right his wrongs, even though he was a mere blank slate that had never been taught to act in any positive way. Rather, he was taught to hate and be violent, since he himself was hated and the victim of violence. He was the real product of fate, not Frankenstein, who made choice after choice to act with negligence. Frankenstein reached his potential, and his potential was brilliant but dark and filled with selfish motives. The creature, on the other hand, was never given such an opportunity to fulfill his potential, but in the end tried to do so by protecting future would-be creators of monsters from their ability. Yes, the monster is responsible for the deaths of three innocents since he was the one who committed the crimes; but, Victor Frankenstein is the one who must accept all the blame, because all misdeeds in the novel come back to him.
Third and Fourth Last Paragraphs of Frankenstein:
“Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?
“Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou hadst not ceased to think and feel, thou wouldst not desire against me a vengeance greater than that which I feel. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them for ever.”
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle. “Chapter 24.” Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin, 2003. 198-99. Print.
In the first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter V unveils the pivotal creation scene. Rather than immediately depicting the moment Victor Frankenstein’s goals and aspirations finally come to fruition, Shelly strategically inserts a short introductory paragraph that precedes and delays the illustration of this much-anticipated event. Shelley’s utilization of haunting imagery through her incorporation of fervent diction and grim detail generates both an eerie ambiance and a disconcerting setting that not only exemplify characteristics of a Gothic novel, but also prove as tactics to foreshadow a sense of foreboding disaster as well as Victor’s adverse feelings towards his creation.
Through the employment of dark vocabulary to depict both the daunting influence of the weather and the haunting image of a candle, Shelley, conveying elements representative of Gothic fiction, establishes a ghostly tone and instills sensations of horror. The illustration of “a dreary night of November” with “rain patter[ing]” against the windows immediately emphasizes the somber mood and unsettling sounds that typically accompany a storm, generating a gloomy atmosphere (Shelley 58). The description of Victor working past “one in the morning” on a cold, wet, and dark night to the unsteady “glimmer” and decreasing illumination of a “nearly burnt out” candle further paints a haunting image. Late into the hours of darkness when most people are asleep, stores are closed, and towns are quiet, Victor is interrupted solely by the “disma[l]” cadence of rain drops and the sounds of his own labors. Shelley not only fosters feelings of unease through this chilling portrayal of a bleak night penetrated by a morbid silence, but also invokes sensations of dismay through the insinuation of a growing darkness that threatens to enclose Victor as he works in a perceived state of solitude. The image of a “half-extinguished” candle, exemplifying both the passing of time and the lengthy hours Victor has hitherto devoted to his project, discloses that the darkness from outside is slowly bleeding into Victor’s laboratory. This illustration of an incrementally decreasing candlelight, casting shadows and distorting perceptions, not only conveys panic through the possibility of a negatively twisted reality as objects shift in appearance and take on the mien of terrifying shapes, but also indicates that soon a hair-raising blackness will become all consuming.
In associating what should be a bright and happy moment with the downcast mood of a stormy night, the unnerving depiction of darkness, and Victor’s dehumanizing description of his creation through the integration of passionate diction and grotesque imagery, Shelley foreshadows Victor’s detachment and disgust towards his creation. After much hope, apprehension, research, and “toils,” Shelley reveals that Victor finally succeeds in his endeavor to create life. However, the melancholy and unappealing description of unfavorable weather conditions on a cold night instantly generates a feeling of cheerlessness. Additionally, the delineation of an intensifying and overwhelming growth of darkness that threatens to engulf Victor as he works induces a feeling of suffocation. This juxtaposition yields a sense of foreboding, an element of Gothic fiction, and relays an impression of impending doom, exemplifying a tactic to foreshadow not only Victor’s imminent unhappiness, but also future horror and dread that will follow his “accomplishment.” Furthermore, despite Victor’s aspirations to create a human being, in this passage he solely refers to his creation as a “thing” and a “creature.” Rather than referring to his creation as his child or a person, Victor instantly objectifies his creation as an unidentifiable entity as well as identifies the being to hold the inferior status of an animal. This reaction, lacking the feelings of warmth and excitement, indicates Victor’s disapproval. Through the alarming description of a “yellow eye” like that of a lizard, an unnatural and inhuman characteristic, Shelley exemplifies an act of dehumanization and foreshadows Victor’s displeasure with and condemnation of his creation.
With the institution of a morose and ominous setting as well as the unearthly and disturbing description of Victor’s creature, encapsulating qualities of a Gothic novel, it is no surprise that the following paragraph, the central creation scene, communicates the outcome of Victor’s experiment as an unpromising and negative feat. As Victor looks upon the being that “lay at [his] feet…convulsi[ing with] motion,” he describes the event as a “catastrophe.” As Victor gazes upon the hideous and uncanny appearance of his creation, he acknowledges how his creation’s semitransparent “yellow skin,” “watery eyes,” “shriveled complexion,” and “straight black lips” all conjoin in a disastrous, repulsive, and animalistic manner. With the creation’s grotesque deformations offsetting the only human elements of “flowing” hair and “pearly” white teeth, Victor conveys that the fulfillment of his desire to instill life in an inanimate being did not turn out as intended. Revealing the inhuman characteristics and horrifying physicality of the “wretch,” Victor ultimately conveys his unhappiness and distaste for the life he created. He is left to further endure the tormenting emotions of “anxiety,” apprehension, and terror that reside within his own mind.
Through intense diction, grave descriptions, and frightening imagery, Mary Shelley sets the scene for the dramatic phenomenon of Victor’s installment of life. Displaying qualities of Gothic fiction, Shelley invokes inauspicious sensations of imminent misfortune and calamity. In her depiction of a desolate atmosphere, a disturbing darkness, and Victor’s act of dehumanization, Shelley foreshadows both the devastating outcome of Victor’s experiment as well as his dissatisfaction with and fear of his creation that surface in the following paragraph.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maurice Hindle; Revised Edition (Penguin Classics). Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.
“No doubt about that. My fear’s gotten worse. Hearing Hailey describing my screams on the radio like that has really upset me. I no longer wake up tired. I wake up tired and afraid. I wonder if the morning rasp in my voice is just from sleep or rather some inarticulate attempt to name my horror. I’m suspicious of the dreams I cannot remember, the words only others can hear…”
In House of Leaves, Johnny’s footnotes serve on the surface as a translation of certain parts of the Navidson Record into layman’s terms, but more importantly they give another dimension to his mentions of being disturbed by the Navidson Record, offering a first person point of view to his anxieties.
As the book progresses Johnny’s footnotes stays at relatively the same consistency, never going away for too long, but the length and content of these footnotes indicates a paradigm. Certain footnotes take up at least a page and continue from an ominously toned sentence in the Navidson Record. They tend to deal little with the content of the Navidson Record and more with the feelings of paranoia and delusion Johnny feels from the book as he reads and annotates.
On Page 179, at the 211th footnotes Johnny again goes on his long tangents before the rescue of Jed and Wax, at a time when Zampano is exploring the subjectivity of space. During this small arc Zampano gives a few academic sources discussing to the idea of spaces or rooms feeling smaller or bigger than previously thought to be. In context of the novel, Reston is feeling nauseated after being in the constantly changing black space of the house for too long, with Zampano commenting that the “disturbing disorientation experienced within that place…can have physiological consequences.” This is where Johnny’s footnotes take the wheel.
“No doubt about that,” Truant’s footnote starts, referring to the “physiological consequences” of the house. In this case he is talking about how his fear, particularly how it is affecting him. The Navidson Record as a whole, and the task of reading and annotating has taken a toll on Johnny.
All the delusions, smells, and sleepless nights lead Johnny to see a doctor that prescribes him a low end sedative. Later in the footnote as Johnny is waiting in another doctor’s office, contemplating the claustrophobic and unknown space that surrounds him, he says “I know what it means to go mad.”
At this point in the book it is clear that the Navidson Record is negatively affecting him, but not in a tangible way. The book is not directly making him feel anxious or experience delusions, but rather bringing up some dormant, underlying problem possibly being suppressed by Johnny. The phrase he writes, “I know what it means to go mad” addresses this by giving a familiarity to the feelings and mentality Johnny is going through.
Though the Navidson Record on its own is dense and slightly confusing, referred to earlier in the footnote when he speaks of the frustrating complexities of the chapter 9 footnotes, the book itself does not seem enough to give reason to Johnny’s fear and paranoia. Instead, through Johnny’s footnotes, we come to understand that whatever mystic force gives power to the house’s apparent sentience is what is uncovering or causing his fear. He feels a familiar sense of madness, going so far as to throw away all drugs in an attempt to alleviate any distortions. At this point Johnny is desperate for a way to end the approaching seemingly malevolent force that he senses in his delusions.
The footnotes help to explore these distorted feelings as they don’t happen too frequently. They come almost like a checkpoint in each chapter. As the house becomes stronger and more omnipotent, the effects are felt all throughout, especially to Johnny.
The characters of House of Leaves do not live extraordinary lives. Zampanò, as described by Johnny, lives a very austere life. Johnny works as a tattoo shop assistant and the Navidsons are more concerned with living in an idyllic household than pursuing a fabled lifestyle. It is only when Will Navidson, along with several others, realizes the spatial disparity of the house that they devote their time in investigating its seemingly unending hallways. The idea of pursuing infinity or describing something that has no end is interspersed throughout the novel. In earlier parts of the Navidson Record, Zampanò makes statements regarding reality as being “infinitely more patient” and that “physics depends on a universe infinitely centered on an equal sign.” There are even direct symbols of infinity as seen in the formula for resonance frequencies and explicitly used by Douglas Hofstadter. Despite knowing that the house may never have enough answers for its questions, the characters willingly attempt to deal with the infinite in the belief that nothing was completely immeasurable. Part of the attractiveness of infinity is because of its challenge. Navidson and Holloway both expect a “great deal of fame and fortune” for surveying a staircase that could have no end. For Holloway, his life devoted as an explorer, the house is the ultimate challenge and could finally give him the “recognition the house seemed to promise.” Another part is the unfamiliarity. Although infinity appears throughout the novel, the idea of infinity is better represented through time and space. Looking at the index, there is only one reference to the Infinite Corridor, but if one looks at the page numbers with time and space, it is sometimes paired with “finite” and “infinitely”. It is interesting to note that despite Will Navidson’s interest in recording familiar slice-of-life moments and Holloway’s lack of humor and penchant for conciseness, they are the ones who look the most forward in exploring the house. However, it is neither the challenge nor unfamiliarity that truly makes these characters commit to the unending task. Although critics have noted how the house shapes to the person’s perspective, the characters embark on exploring the infinite nature of the house because they know that it will change them. Given their ordinary lives and the possible lack of fulfillment they may have developed, dealing and pursuing goals that are possibly unceasing forces them to reevaluate themselves despite the consequences.
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves uses space within its story and within its physical pages to mirror the reader and the book’s characters’ emotions. Passages written sideways, in different languages, and in little blue boxes are instances where the reader may feel confused having to turn the book different directions or stop to decipher a language or code, which parallels the characters’ bewilderment throughout the novel as they live in and explore the house and its labyrinth.
In Rune Garulund’s Text and Paratext in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, they state, “nevertheless, for all its adherence to postmodernist literary conventions, House of Leaves departs from these in one very significant way: for confusing as it sometimes is, it succeeds in keeping a strong narrative core, the clarity of which owes a great deal to the visual presentation of the text.” This emphasizes that however strange the upside down words or blank pages may seem, they actually engage the reader in the characters’ journeys. Not only does the audience experience the adventures of the characters of the Navidson Record, but at the same time the audience experiences Johnny Truant’s escapades in different lapses of time as the novel progresses through his footnotes.
Such as in poetry, many times in House of Leaves space is used to dictate pacing within the story. Jed’s death is an example of this, with the moments leading up to it being four to eight lines written at the bottom of otherwise blank pages, the lead-up is calm (193). Once the event happens, it is rapidly explained in gruesome yet surgical detail. The moments after seem to slow to a near-halt as the book may only have one or two words per page in the pages immediately following the scene.
From the beginning of House of Leaves, Johnny Truant displays problems with intimacy. This problem is shown through the opposition of his myriad of sexual relationships to his lack of meaningful and loving relationships with women, even when women seem to be interested in him. Though this lack of meaningful relationships could be Johnny’s choice, it is clear that he wants something more when he expresses his desire to have a family and a lifelong love with Ashley and in his love letter to Thumper. This lewd behavior could also be attributed to Johnny’s close friendship with Lude, whose sexual conquests are detailed by Johnny at may points throughout the novel, but Johnny’s experiences with Zampanò’s notes for House of Leaves have a more prominent effect on Johnny’s love life. These notes deteriorate Johnny psychologically, make him extremely paranoid, and lead to the destruction of his closest relationships. This effect seems to be limited to Johnny in terms of the people who have interacted with the house since in the end, the house leads Karen Green and Navidson to resolve the problems in their relationship and become closer than ever. Since the house is said to reflect the psyche of anyone who enters it, it effects Johnny differently than it effects Karen and Navidson. Just as the house forces Karen and Navidson to confront the problems within themselves to repair their relationship, Johnny must confront his inner demons. In their interactions with the house, Karen and Navidson view the house as the monster because it is what seems to be keeping them apart, but for Johnny the monster is himself. Johnny’s reading of Zampanò’s House of Leaves leads him to viewing himself as a monster, and by extension make him incapable of love through his isolation from the rest of the world, much like the minotaur.
The act of reading Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves requires the reader to abandon any certainty in the idea of certainty. The degrees of separation between the house found in the Navidson Record and the reader creates a sense of skepticism in the ability to effectively communicate anything meaningful about the house. From the very beginning we understand the impossibility of reaching an absolute truth, as the entire novel is centered on a film adaptation of a fictional movie dictated by a blind man. Yet even when one accepts these certain impossibilities, our understanding of the House of Leaves isn’t truly our own, as it is inextricably bounded to the other voices in the Navidson Record, be it Zampano, Johnny, or the score of footnoted authors. In this way the reader is asked to make sense of a giant game of telephone, or more accurately a conference call, but the source itself (the house) may not even be something that can be coherently defined or understood.
Even in this mess of impossibility and ambiguity, the reader continues in his attempt to understand. The act of reading implies an intention to seek order, or at least a sense of closure. And so the various interpretations of the voices presented to us in the Navidson Record begin to take on a new meaning, as each can be seen as an individual’s attempt to define the emptiness of the house. As the house stubbornly refuses to offer up anything concrete, each interpretation of that darkness can be seen as a manifestation of the interpreter. In this way the interpretations are more revealing of the interpreter than the object being interpreted. As Zampano himself says, the house acts as a sort of Rorschach test, with each voice filling that empty space with their unique context.
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewiski uses abstract layouts and abrupt changes in voice to alter how the reader engages in the novel and gathers information. When reading House of Leaves the strange layout and copious amounts of footnotes force readers to struggle to gain pieces of key information. By making it easier to skip sections of vital information with such an unsure and obstructed method of reading within the text. For example, the abrupt stopping midsentence within Johnny and Zampanó’s text makes it hard to read each story chronologically. This brings up the argument, does the method in which you read really matter, and if so how do you gain key information?
In Emily Carroll’s Margot’s Room, the chronological order in which you read the webcomic doesn’t matter; however, there is an overarching order based on clues. These clues can be detected in change in mood, color, and layout on the screen. These changes allow readers to understand the chronology. We can try and string together the events of Johnny’s and Zampanó’s text based on these clues. Without said clues, readers would have no clue how to put together the chronology of the book when basing their reading method solely on Danielewiski laid out.
The footnotes in the House of Leaves, while not as important in other novels, hold a major roles in the novel because of the three clashing voices. A lot of key information is hinted at by the footnotes; for example, the editor tries to clarify Johnny’s footnote “in an effort to limit confusion” and explain the reference to Dante within the text to the reader (Danielewiski, 4). Zampanó’s, Johnny’s, and the editor’s clashing voices all work together to help clarify otherwise non-existent or uncertain information. This essential clarity causes the footnotes to play a vital role in the distribution of information within the text. The vital information stored within the footnotes also alters the audience’s reading method by creating an abrupt or sudden stop in the flow of the story. The method Danielewiski lays out before the reader causes his audience to actively search the text for clues, rather than follow the natural flow of a narrative.