Monday, October 3, 2011

Enter the Abyss

“Unfortunately, the anfractuosity of some labyrinths may actually prohibit a permanent solution. More confounding still, its complexity may exceed the imagination of even the designer. Therefore anyone lost within must recognize that no one, not even a god or an Other, comprehends the entire maze and so therefore can never offer a definitive answer” (Danielewski 115).

The novel “House of Leaves,” by Mark Z. Danielewski, defies explanation. It is a vast labyrinth of a book, within a book, about a movie that never existed—not even within the world of the book. When I first began reading this book I started on page 1; I quickly realized my error and turned back to read the introduction, assuming it would lead to some kind of explanation about how to read this book. I was wrong. Perhaps I should have heeded the warning “This is not for you” (Danielewski ix) and closed the book, but I was determined to move ahead so I dismissed the warning. Again, I was confronted with the question of whether or not to press ahead, this time by one of the narrators, Johnny Truant, who right from the very beginning tells the reader, “Zampano’s entire project is about a film which doesn’t even exist. You can look, I have, but no matter how long you search you will never find The Navidson Record in theaters or video stores” (xx). Thus, still having no idea what is in store, yet, knowing that I cannot trust at least one narrator, I plunge ahead. “Muss es sein?” the novel asks without translation, and without knowing the answer I turn the page.

The first aspect of this book that I would like to consider is the way one goes about reading it. Not knowing anything about this book (except what Professor Mueller said in class) I decided to just go ahead and read it in the same way I would read any other book. I resisted going onto the website for the book or reading any reviews about the book until I was finished, because I did not want any outside sources to influence the way I read. That being said, this is not exactly an easy book to read in a linear fashion. When faced with the decision to read Zampano’s book, or Johnny’s footnoted story, more often than not I would choose Johnny’s story. That part of the book felt more immediate; it felt as though Johnny were somehow more real than the rest of the book (which becomes interesting when one considers how time works in the novel). I stayed on this course until told by a footnote from the ‘editor’ that “those…who feel they would profit from a better understanding of [Johnny’s] past may wish to proceed ahead and read his father’s obituary…as well as those letters written by his institutionalized mother” (Danielewski 72). The letter from May 8, 1987 is an acrostic code. I spent quite a bit of time decoding this message from Johnny’s mother, which affected the way I read the rest of the book. Now I knew to look for hidden messages throughout the novel, and once again I was confronted with the fact that the narrators were not to be relied upon.

This brings up the interplay between the reader and the novel itself. It is almost as if the novel were a strategy game: choose A and end up at point Z; choose B and end up at point X, and so on. There are so many possibilities for reading and interpreting this work that one cannot possibly have the exact same reading experience as another person. I wondered too about the fact that the word house is written in blue throughout the book; it made me think of a hyperlink, as if you could click on the word house and it would open the vast space that is the internet, in much the same way that the house itself opens into an unfillable void. There were many times when reading this that I thought perhaps the house was a conceit for the Internet, and in some ways I still think that could be true. However, I’m not completely sold on that idea by the end of the novel, because on the last page of the book is a poem with the word “Yggdrasil” written vertically down the center of the page. According to Wikipedia in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil “was said to be the world tree around which the nine worlds existed” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yggdrasil), and it was also thought to be an Ash tree, which is significant because the Navidson’s house is on Ash Tree Lane. Furthermore, there are several interpretations of the word “yggdrasil” and one by F. Detter states that the word comes from the word for “terror,” which is interesting when one considers the terrifying abyss that was inside the Navidson’s house.

There are so many possible interpretations for the many meanings behind “House of Leaves,” which is perhaps part of what Danielewski is trying to demonstrate with the mind-blowing amount of “scholarship” that has been published about the Navidson Record. First of all, because The Navidson Record never existed the scholarship obviously never existed. However, Danielewski seems, at the very least, to be satirizing academic scholarship’s tendency toward being obtuse, and the tendency to over-analyze every single word or frame. The “scholarship” cited in the novel imparts meaning on every word uttered, gesture made, drawing created, and book read by the Navidson’s after the fact—when really there was no deeper meaning at the time.

There are so many questions that I want to raise about this book, but in the interest of everyone’s time, I will only broach one more subject in this post and that subject is time. How does time work in the novel? I find it interesting that Johnny Truant’s writing is done on a type-writer; I know the editor’s say that the font choice is to distinguish his writing from Zampano’s, and still I can not get over the fact that the choice was deliberate in order to raise questions about when Johnny was writing. When Navidson is lost in the abyss of the house, he has a book with him: “House of Leaves.” It is the same “House of Leaves” that we are reading, and it has the exact same number of pages (not the incorrectly cited 709 pages, but the actual number of pages). Navidson reads the book by match light and then begins to burn the pages one by one in order to have light to read the next page, the book is literally consumed by the act of being read—and yet this action takes place, presumable before the book was ever written. There is also the instance of the band that Johnny meets toward the end of the book, and they have already read the book as well, which causes Johnny to question what he had done. I cannot help but think that this is a reflection on the author; he published the book on the Internet before he published it in book form, and he found that people were actually reading it. In a way the book had taken on a life of it’s own.

Things to consider:

This book was published in 2000, so a good amount of time has passed to ask: What do you think this book’s influence on the novel as a form has been? Have you seen anything directly influenced by this book, whether it is the style or the content or the layout or the publishing process?

How would one go about teaching this novel? In what ways could you incorporate all of the digital resources available for this book, into a lesson plan? (See links below)

What do you think of the comparison between Zampano and Thamyris? Have you found the code on page 387?

How could Johnny’s mother have known Zampano? (page 615 “many years destroyed. Endless arrangements—re. zealous accommodations, medical prescriptions, & needless other wonders, however obvious—debilitating in deed; you ought understand—letting occur such evil” = My dear Zampano, who did you lose?)

What role does madness play in the novel? How does the perception of madness shape the reading?

Why does Zampano try to strike the Minotaur from the novel?

I have a bunch of links to sites I have found useful, informative, and fun related to this book. Have a look if you get a chance! (I have to add that reading about this book is like entering the abyss--I could have gone on forever!)

Interview with Danielewski:

http://www.flakmag.com/features/mzd.html

An Idiot’s Guide to “House of Leaves”:

http://www.flakmag.com/features/mzd.html

I couldn’t help thinking about Jean Baudrillard when I read this book, so I thought I would share this link to his chapter “Simulacra and Simulations - I. The Precession of Simulacra”:

Jean Baudrillard Excerpt from “Simulacra and Simulations - I. The Precession of Simulacra” (1983) Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser

http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/GenresMedia/Readings/BaudrillardPrecession.pdf

The following links are all projects created in response to “House of Leaves”:

(Circa Survive's secret song House of Leaves):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju1H-UuAOPs

(Same song but, reversed):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3eU5KBEfZM

(by Poe, [Danielewski’s sister] directed by Mark Z. Danielewski):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sBvxqB5VT4

Poe “Hey Pretty”:

http://youtu.be/Hvkc2yd1YSU

"You got a death wish Johnny Truant?" by Fall of Troy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOC4wlwzdeM

A student's school project [in the interest of our digital stories]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_1memDlLcQ&feature=related

“If one reads too quickly or too slowly, one understands nothing” (Danielewski 115).


16 comments:

  1. What a fantastic post. It's clear that you immersed yourself in this labyrinthine novel. I guess it might be appropriate to say that this is not a novel, it's an experience. On some level, I think that is what is going on with this book - there is nothing beyond representation and/or the encounter with representation. In other words, the lack of a real referent (i.e. the Navidson Record) does not prevent representation from taking place. We've probably all heard the expression "the medium is the message," a statement that I've always found confusing, but I think this book offers an instructive gloss to this proverb, which is that we cannot get beyond mediation.

    Sam, I really like your suggestion that this book is a conceit for the Internet, because I think the Internet forces us (or at least should force us) to consider the world to be a series of interconnected referents that make up our communal being. I know you are skeptical of this idea, but I think the very fact that your reading led to a Wikipedia entry suggests that this interpretation may be valid.

    Lastly, I appreciate your clear explanation of your reading itinerary. I found it fascinating that you were especially drawn to Johnny Truant's narrative and would be curious to know if others in the class had the same experience. I enjoy Johnny's voice, but I must say that I was entranced by Zampano's. Maybe it's that obscure scholarly part of me . . .

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  2. Hi Sam,
    Thanks for posting such a great account of how you first approached the book, and then how you ended up navigating through it. I have to agree with you – this book is not an easy one to get through in a linear fashion. In fact, I think going about it in whatever manner makes sense to the reader is really a testament to the book itself. Like Alex mentioned, it is an experience and you can sort of create it as you go along. For me…this was frustrating and confusing, but like you, I was determined to just keep pushing through. At one point I even started reading it backwards.

    I guess I want to comment first on your idea about the book representing the Internet in a sense, especially with how the word ‘house’ is in blue throughout almost as a hyperlink. The dark hallways of the house, like the World Wide Web, seem to open up to far distances in all directions. As we think about research, both for academic and for personal reasons…how many times have we looked for one thing, come across a second thing, only to find our way back through some intertwining third thing? Happened to me just today, in fact as I was exploring Paper Monument, http://www.papermonument.com/, and N+1, http://www.nplusonemag.com/ on the recommendation of a colleague at Suffolk. Don’t ask me where I ended up, but I know I got lost in the “hallways” that I entered. Even consider the name of our Internet… World Wide “Web.” A web represents a path of weaving that spiders create to capture prey. Our “webs” are woven through the Internet as we establish our own paths through the searching and finding of information. The WWWeb doesn’t necessarily exist as a constant set or series of interlinking bits of information, the webs exist because we make our way through them just as Navidson and his team went through the hallways. It’s possible that just as he and the team explored the dark hallways, newer and longer hallways were growing farther and deeper. And as I look back at my notes, this very point is asked (of who? readers?), “Is it possible to think of that place as ‘unshaped’ by human perceptions?” (173). For me…No. Not in the book and not on the Web.

    As I think about teaching this novel, I’ve changed my mind at least three times. Over the weekend, I would have run away from the text at the thought of having to teach it…however, now that I’m thinking more concretely for this post, I have some ideas. First, and this references your question regarding time…I would need time to read the book from various points of view, and I’d want to think about the varying relationships. But – I think it would be interesting to use House of Leaves over the course of an entire semester (which I’m sure others have done). I’d request, perhaps, that different groups of students first read from one perspective and then from another. From there it would be fascinating to hear the interpretations. Again, it would take even more time to look into the references made from Truant’s perspective and Zampano’s perspective. And why the intermingling of languages and fonts? And the use of space both in the the actual story of what happens between Karen and Will, but also on the literal pages of the text. Having come from the world of student affairs, it would even be interesting to parallel this to aspects of our own lives, in addition to, or even in relation to the analysis within the text. There are challenges presented in the maze that mimic challenges encountered in life. And there are doors presented to us in life also…doors of opportunity opening and closing. Paths being created with each step. And all this from a fictional account of a fictional documentary with fictional commentary and notes?!?! Had you not posed the question about teaching House of Leaves, I never would have become less afraid of it…or its dark hallways.

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  3. I don't know if I would teach this novel at the undergraduate level, unless the course was devoted to ergodic or hypertextual literature. That said, I did come across this cool way of approaching the book: http://teaching.zachwhalen.net/e-lit/content/house-leaves-project.

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  4. Yet another super-awesome idea: http://www.samplereality.com/gmu/spring2009/660/?page_id=243

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  5. Sam, thank you for providing such an in-depth and reflective post on the House of Leaves. Your additional work locating websites and resources on the novel really attests to its limitless possibilities and controversial nature. I like the “Idiot’s Guide to House of Leaves” link (http://markzdanielewski.info/features/guide/index.html) that you posted and how the top of the website that states, “Below you will find the beginnings of a never to be finished work in progress. We've given up hope of a Compleat Idiot's Guide and suggest that you turn your attention next to http://www.houseofleaves.com/.” The creator’s statement supports the fact that you mention about this being a labyrinth that you get lost in. It seems almost too difficult to pinpoint a direct path that the novel takes or answers to questions about who is really the author of the novel. This is made clear in the 20 questions that the website offers. All of which are recall questions that require the reader to find specific events or names in the text. None of these questions require open-ended responses, but I don’t want to say that they don’t require higher level thinking because I feel as if in order to really work your way through the novel, you need to feel comfortable succumbing to the nonlinearity and have the skills to piece information together.

    You raise many very interesting questions, but I’m drawn to your inquiry about whether this novel has been influenced by other forms and whether this book has influenced the novel as we know it. I took a graduate poetry class a few semesters ago and was exposed to a variety of modern poetry, ranging from sound poetry to that which focused on images and text. I thought that experience took me out of my traditional reading of poetry, which is reading stanza by stanza in a linear fashion, but after reading the House of Leaves, I realized that this pushed me even further than my accustomed reading boundaries. This book seems to be influenced by both printed and non-printed works. Johnny’s notes are in a typewriter font, like you mention, and Zampano’s story is written in what looks like to be Times New Roman. The red font that is crossed out looks like that of the “Track Changes” option in Microsoft Word, which is interesting because I didn’t realize that this option existed in 2000. By including such marked up text, the reader is able to see the author’s thinking process and regards not only the black text but the red text as that of a finished product. The comments of critiques resemble the work in academic journals but some have superimposed boxes on them, which look like text boxes and look like the type associated with electronic writing (122-123). It is almost as if this novel allows all forms of writing and ways of reading to be reunited in one place; each reader is able to get lost in the narrative that he/she feels, maybe choosing one preference of text over another.

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  6. Sam, you raise a question about what you think the time span is in the novel, and Johnny’s use of what looks to be a typewriter makes me think about how Danielewski seems to be bridging different time periods and capabilities of writing and reading. You say that you are drawn to Johnny’s story because it seems more “immediate,” but did you find yourself attracted to the typewriter font? I found myself more attracted to the Navidson Record and I think this was in part because of the Times New Roman font that I am used to and also because I was attracted to the mystery that the actual story held. Regardless of what one’s preference is, Danielewski seems to do a good job of varying the time within the novel and also playing around with the style, leaving the reader to question which text came first and by what medium was it influenced.

    Adding on to my thoughts about the visual aspect of the book, I found myself engaged with the way the Navidson record was arranged on the page. It was if the visual quality of the text made me feel more connected and involved in the story, almost as if I was a participant trying to find myself out of the House of Leaves or at least to the last page of the book. While the characters in the film cannot see an end in sight, I could flip to page 663, the index and a safe zone, and realize that I could put the book down. However, when I was more than halfway through the book, I found myself compelled to keep reading and flipping the book in order to read the slanted or upside down text. On page 465, the author states, “As Navidson indicates on the recorder, he is becoming more and more disoriented,” and I felt that I too was becoming disoriented as I read a mostly, visually-linear narrative up until around page 430, and then I found myself turning the heavy book and almost feeling nauseous as my hands tried to keep up with my eyes that wanted to read on faster. This reading experience makes me realize that this is one of the most interactive printed texts that I have read. In returning to your question about whether this novel has influenced other texts, I think that it is in a category of its own. I feel as if another text tried to replicate what the author has done here, it would provide a similar feeling, but this author’s technique seems so innovate and new.

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  7. Sam,
    You’ve certainly given this text a fair treatment! From the beginning of the introduction, I was confused and mystified by the apparent lack of cohesion. I found it difficult to wade through the endless endnotes, footnotes, sidenotes etc. I’m astounded that you could walk away from this novel with any sense of continuity. Although I enjoy his work very much, it reminded me quite a bit of David Lynch’s films. So, congratulations on getting through it!

    When you ask how one would create lesson plans for this novel, I feel a lot of that work has already been done. It would be hard to read any two pages in this novel without encountering literature, architecture, history, and film to only name a few subjects. I think the largest challenge would be to build up a cultural lexicon that could maneuver students through the many allusions and narrative tropes.

    To answer your question about time, I was surprised by the seeming openness of time present in this novel. I felt like The Navidson Project spanned generations in its discourse and creation. It also seemed that the space created by the labyrinth existed outside of normal time sequences. When days on the staircase can translate into minutes, depending on the climber, it seems that the arbitrary conventions of human time mechanisms are abolished. Even the extensive treatment of echo seems to defy ordinary physics. Trying to place space and time in the typical course of a narrative simply does not work for this novel. Things seem to exist only in relation to the darkness. Again, I applaud you for your hard work in deciphering this novel. I didn’t come up with half the stuff you did!

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  8. In a way I equate the experience of reading the novel (if that is the best word to describe it) to exploring the hallways of the House of Leaves. Every time I descend into the darkness the pages have changed and the story itself (or what seems most important) is at a different angle. There may be some familiar landmarks (like the staircase) however it is not where I remember it being and last time the journey did not take quite so long.
    Like you, Sam, I quickly discovered that it was too difficult to try and read everything. I made a hearty attempt until I looked down thinking I had read at least 100 pages and was sorry to find out I was only on page 47. The entire process of reading seems different. On any given page I can spend either a split second or an entire hour reading a multitude of texts, which, I keep telling myself, are meant to make this story clearer. I began to pick and choose which bits and pieces I wanted to read, in a sense creating my own story. Unlike you, I went with Navidson’s story. His obsession, failing marriage and monstrous house captured my attention, broke my heart and sufficiently prevented me from journeying into my own basement to do some laundry. Upon finishing the collection of texts I went back to try and fill in some holes with Johnny’s story only to find myself uninterested. I had already reached my sense of completion. The story is over and to return to the beginning now would be like starting a new book.
    Lindy, I liked your comparison of the hallways to the web, however in answer to your question “Is it possible to think of that place as ‘unshaped’ by human perceptions”, I’d like to say yes. I take ‘unshaped’ to mean ‘not manipulated’ or ‘unaffected’. In a way, with the web, we’ve almost created a living being that exists beyond our ability to control it. We travel from page to page but where exactly are these sites? It’s not as though I can get in my car and travel there. And when I am not visiting a certain website or perhaps when absolutely no one is visiting a certain website that website still exists ‘somewhere’ regardless of human perception. And just like the hallways, without a human being to define it’s parameters, it has the ability to change and adapt however it wants. This is what makes the hallways so scary, not the darkness or the unknown, but the fact that they are not functioning under the same laws as humans are. Perhaps think of it this way, what would be possible if you did not know something was impossible?

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  9. In response to this book as a whole—not necessarily to your post (which is very good, Sam!)—I am frustrated, infuriated, and irritated. I'm not sure I would ever teach this novel, and I will need to do some serious thinking before I pick it up again to read. As a graphic designer, the typography was less than useful for readability and downright frustrating to follow.

    Is this what Danielewski is meaning to get across? Is narrative supposed to have a linear movement in order to be a great work (I vote yes, but what do I know)?

    When I come across abstract and/or avant-garde works (whether it be fiction, sculpture, painting, installation, etc.) I have to wonder if the author/artist is playing an irreverent joke on the reader/critic/patron/what-have-you. If this is a joke, I'm not laughing. (To be honest, at times I felt myself thinking, "The emperor has no clothing!")

    Having said that ... Sam, your connection that the novel may be an analogy for the Internet is rather insightful, and I don't think it should be dismissed. If the Internet is an amalgamation of properties, it is convoluted, full of narrative, disjointed, frustrating ... and full of bad fonts (couldn't the author have found another typeface other than Courier New to get his point across? I shudder to think if not.). It's certainly an excellent representation if that were the author's intent.

    What I know is for certain is that Danielewski can create one hell of a dialogue among his readers. As Alex (Meuller) said, it truly is an experience. One cannot be passive while reading it, and if Danielewski wanted to get someone fired up about his work, he accomplished his mission.

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  10. Riveting post, Sam! You open up a lot of new doors into what will certianly be a labyrinth-like discussion over this book.

    Danielewski first opened up a door into the abyss for me with this statement:
    “This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to real people, events, establishments, organizations or locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity” The assertion can be found before the “Contents” page and below the Copyright information. Did the editors really need to put this in? Should we consider this statement to be an insult, for us, as fiction readers, not to be able to activate our “willingful suspension of disbelief”? I purposefully quote Samuel T Coleridge here in order to reflect over the meaning of fiction and the implications it has over our perceptions of reality. So, what reality is the Editor referring to? My reality? Your reality? Danielewski’s reality? The world’s reality?And what about this idea of authenticity? If the story is indeed fictional to begin with, why do we need this recognition of truthfulness? Sure, we see references to “real people, events and establishments” all the time in fiction, but the contention here only seems parodical in terms of our experience with reading the novel. It is as if Danielewski is proposing that symbols of our reality are constructed by the people that actually live and breathe in this reality. Yet, if these symbols exist in our supposed reality AND a fictional one, reality in this sense continuously breaks down and is reconstructed through our individual perceptions. We rely on symbols—walls, clocks, numbers, letters to make sense of and move through space and time. So, then if this novel is a conceit for the Internet, where does a sense of “reality” exist? Where space and time seem limitless, our perceptions of reality are fleeting.

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  11. Great job Sam! I agree with you as well about beginning to read this novel. I read it over time and I think it made it worse for me. I had a hard time connecting to it because I took to many breaks and gaps in between readings. It's like I couldn't immerse myself enough to pick up on little things that you clearly mentioned in your post! For instance, the "hyperlink" notion about the word house stuck out to me too, I just didn't think about it in that way. I kept thinking that it had some deeper meaning that I would realize at the end of the novel, but I didn't. Now that you mention it, I think that it could very well stand for or direct towards the internet because of the vast amount of information and "space" available out there. It in itself is like a labyrinth with all of the codes that make up the websites etc.

    I think it's hard to pinpoint what exactly the "meaning" of this "novel" is because there isn't just one. I think it was meant to confuse, to explore, to think. Isn't that the point of a labyrinth? I wonder if the style and setup of the novel itself is reflecting our frame of thought? Especially how it goes back and forth from the documentary to Johnny and to the "critics' analysis". It's like a person with ADHD. It can't focus on one thing for more than a few pages. I agree with Melody about with each change of the hallway the change of perspective happens. Isn't this similar to the Internet? To Wikipedia? It is constantly changing. One day a website can be up and running and the very next hour it could be taken down. It's unreliable and constantly shifting. When thinking about this novel as a labyrinth and in comparison with the Internet, where does that leave us for the future? How will we adapt in this fast-changing world of websites and codes? Where does this lead us in the realm of novels that make us think and explore?

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  12. Sam,

    I'm surprised you enjoyed Truant's intrusions more then Zampano's narrative. Truant disgusts me, and he reminds me of Victor Frankenstein (I hate Frankenstein). In fact, this whole text contains a lot of literary genres that are enhanced by this new form of technology. Doesn't Truant seem as if he was extracted from a romance lovel? Isn't addessing the reader a common among 19th century British literature? Aren't these intrusions something you would expect from an actor addressing the audience in a play? That aspect of the text made it interesting to me. Besides that, I liked Zampano's narrative because he doesn't go on as much tangents as Truant.

    Although Truant irks me, I feel bad for him. He is three times removed from the non-existent Navidson Record, and he is attempting to interpret the material as much as possible. Both Zampano and Truant want to feel a connection to this record. Zampano can relate to Navidson's experience because he's blind (physical), but Truant attempts (really attempts) to relate through his psyche. He keeps imagining he's vomiting, involved in accidents, or placed in dangerous situations. He's so dramatic, but he might also have an impressionable mind.

    What fascinates me about this text is everyone's concern for validation. Truant interrupts himself a few times to lash out at the reader if they don't agree/sympathize with him. The editors gave a cute statement: "Though Mr. Truant's asides may often seem impenetrable, they are not without rhyme or reason" (Danielewski 72). Don't the editor seem more like an agent than an editor? As readers we are affected by this type of writing. It makes the text interactive because there's a web of connection between us and the different characters.

    The frames that are embedded into the text with text written puzzled me at first. I didn't understand the implications until I read the words (I actually ignored it for the first few pages). I might be wrong, but I think it's words that are supposed to descibe whatever image Zampano planned to use. Truant provides the notes for images in the appendix. That ruined it for me. I liked the idea of the words creating an image in our head, and then having that image mirrored on the following page. It's as if that image we conjured in our brain can be reflected on us. It makes you think about how you distort reality. Zampano discusses the notion of the decline of photojournalists (Danielewski 141-3). Is there a connection between our own perception of our image and our perception of our psyche?

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  13. So I have to say, this house reminded me of the bottomless bag that Hermione Granger had in the last harry potter movie...I kept thinning the house was some rouge death eaters idea of a bad joke....

    so now to my real comment...

    Sam,
    Your post really gave me a new way to look at this novel. I didn't pick one perspective to read but really tried to balance both. In some ways, the beginning was like reading Lord of the Rings. I was in the house with Navi then I was I Hollywood with Truant. I was Morder with Frodo and Sam then tracking the other hobbits with Gimli and Legolas. I tended to ignore some of the other footnotes and references to the appendages and spent lots of time flipping through the book and reading random parts when I got bored with one diversion or another. Perhaps I missed the essence of the novel by reading it like piece of epic fantasy.

    All my favorite fantasy novels have appendices as long as this one. Sometimes they are genealogies, guides to made up languages or letters from different characters...

    Of all the comments, Alem's struck me the most. She said that Truant reminded her of Victor Frankenstein, and 19th century British literature. That reminded me of an article I read during a graduate Victorian Lit last spring while writing a paper about Dracula.

    Being There:
    Gothic Violence and Virtuality in Frankenstein, Dracula, and Strange Days
    Jules Law

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/elh/v073/73.4law.html

    If I am remembering right, it talked about how Gothic writers in the romantic and Victorian time tried to transcend traditional means of story telling and in the case of Dracula, used technology(letters, a diary in shorthand and phonographic recordings) to tell the story. There was more to it, but it was complicated and I'd have to re-read it it really summarize it. But i guess the point I am trying to get to via Alem's comment is this: Could this be read as a postmodern reinvention graphic novel? You have a house, men, a beautiful women with an implied reputation for promiscuity...Maybe I'm oversimplifying and trying to make sense of thing that should be left chaotic, but isn't that what scholars do? ;-0

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  14. Part I:


    As I began to read, I felt bad for whichever of us had to blog and lead the discussion this week. At times this tome is overwhelming. It makes Twin Peaks and Lost look like Romper Room. You did a great job, Sam--I think I would have been all over the place.

    After I read the introduction I started to progress linearly through the text. But like Melody said, I could spent little time on one page and an hour rereading another. It was frustrating because, although the pages turned, it felt as if I had miles of text to get through to get anywhere. But I read on, like I know how to read things, left to right, page-by-page, recto verso, recto verso.

    Fragmentation and non-linear storytelling is prevalent in this era of our "print" culture. It's in our faces everyday, but the complexity of such literacy feels as an innate as our ability to walk. Still, as I read Danielewski, I couldn't help but think that writers like Faulkner and Fitzgerald have created monsters--give us an inch... But in a world of extreme sports, home makeovers, and plastic surgery, why not extreme fiction too? And in that case, why not extreme reading?

    Perhaps reading left to right does not serve this form well. It didn't for me anyway, and I decided to go to the back of the book and make my way to the front. I read this way for about 150 pages. It was a freeing experience. So I took a few more inches. Some days I opened up the tome somewhere in the middle. I read to the right if I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I read left if I needed to know more about what happened before the page I landed on.

    Sam, I think you were close to describing my reading experience:

    "It is almost as if the novel were a strategy game: choose A and end up at point Z; choose B and end up at point X, and so on. There are so many possibilities for reading and interpreting this work that one cannot possibly have the exact same reading experience as another person."

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  15. Part II:


    Reading House of Leaves in a linear way was a burden for me. And I love to read, and do read just about anything. Reading is a labor of love, normally. When I let myself experience the story without constraint, things went much easier. And not once did I feel as if I had cheated--which I do when I read the endings of other texts first. It felt appropriate, and I felt liberated.

    And, still, as I read I was less impressed with content than I was with form. And I was impressed by my ability to navigate the form through nontraditional means. The form seems important to understanding the whole of the thing. This is prevalent during pages through 275-312 and 412-489. These pages are clear examples of form informing content. For example, open up the tome to pages 464-465.

    Lay it flat on the table opened to these pages. Before you read you see that the text across the pages has been tilted on a 45 degree angle, and the texts turn in on itself. You may see that the shape of the body of the text creates open space. You may even realize that this space is shaped not unlike a "hallway." Yet, the form makes this less about the novel itself than it is about about our ability to view the world. As Navidson steps slowly, his metaphor of how an "open window..offers vision," can be seen by the shape of the text on the pages in front of you. Windows offer vision, but it is always a narrow view of what there is to see. We fill in these "grotesque vision[s] of absence" with what we know of the world. Prior knowledge narrows our window of vision, as if it were obtrusive curtains covering glass panes. Our prior knowledge, like these bodies of text turning in on each other narrows the path of white space, narrows how we make sense of the world, and affects how we fill in ellipses, empty spaces.

    Content is determined by form, and form relies on the meaning of the content. It's a paradox that cannot be dichotomized when making sense of House of Leaves.

    Yet, I still cannot approach content. If I were to, I would want to talk about how bad the poetry is compared to some of the more brilliant moments shaped by prose. Or how the plight of Gen-X'rs is a self-inflicted hell not worthy of such bitching. This seems less important to discuss--it all comes down to form. And I cannot separate form from its content. It's conundrum, and it's as hard to talk about as it was to approach.

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  16. Nicole, your insight about poetry brings me to consider another viewpoint for House of Leaves. When I began tackling this novel, I found myself extremely frustrated. The confusing logic, the style, it all seemed to deter from pushing a novel along. I kept thinking that the novel was just something trendy, an "Urban Outfitters-esque" novel, perhaps more fit for the coffee table than my bookshelf. I followed the storylines, but awkwardly and disinterested. I feel if I had a summer to put into the novel, I might have had better luck comprehending the content and the thus had a better appreciation for a novel that so many seemed to really enjoy. Nicole's idea about the poetic sense of the novel strikes me. If House of Leaves was written as a book of poetry, would I have been more accepting of the form and the challenges presented by the form? Probably. With poetry, I seem to enjoy the challenges presented, and I enjoy even more the inevitable moments when I do not understand poems. There is something in the mystery that, as an avid reader, I enjoy. Unfortunately, House of Leaves seems to make an attempt at being linear- that we do have a protagonist, that the text will build to a conclusion. As I was reading through a passage with diary entries, in one entry Navidson reveals that the last eight were lies he wrote this morning. At that point, I almost threw the book. We can read and read, and then the narrator can tell us to forget the past, it was all lies. That is not an "unreliable" narrator, that is an author not in control. It was a maddening process, but I do own the book now, and perhaps in the future I will give it another try.

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MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...